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Submitted by Abhilaksh Likhi on
The problem of ‘village elite’ and ‘elite capture is a critical grassroots issue. Infact, inclusive growth in rural India is a phenomenon that continues to attract tremendous public attention. For the real village community, access to relevant information and its sustained communication is a critical factor for such growth. Exclusion, either due to systemic or socio-economic reasons, directly impacts their level of participation in the communication process as also empowerment for ‘bottom up’ planning in rural development. A cross section of the real village community includes minorities, scheduled tribes, scheduled castes, women and other marginalized groups. Academicians, experts, social activists and administrators argue alike that the village community could be more effectively empowered to plan, if access, participation and ownership become key defining parameters of the various tools of communication. In context of the participatory communication paradigm, well thought out information, education and communication (IEC) activities are increasingly being envisioned as a critical component of rural development programs of the Government. The purpose is to enable such programs to achieve the objective of not simply reaching out to the village community but rather to sensitize them to be partners in the process of ensuring livelihood security. In this context, rural local self-governance bodies, the district administration, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders are to act in cohesion to make the IEC activities a grassroots reality and hence strengthen the process of empowerment in rural areas. Flagship Government program in India such as the Total Sanitation Campaign, National Rural Health Mission and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act aim at providing to the village community the much needed social safety net. They also aim to protect them from the complexities of distress and other socio-economic imbalances in rural areas. But the crucial question is, are we able to effectively implement IEC activities prescribed for the above programs and painstakingly establish horizontal community access with the village community? Further, can community media play a vital role in widening the scope of such access and participation? In the above context, the caste system in India and its associated social hierarchy is a major factor that deeply influences the communication matrix amongst village communities and affects most aspects of an individual’s life too. The latter’s position within the social structure has implications for access to development resources of various kinds - where an inhabitant lives, the type of housing he or she enjoys, patterns of interaction with others and in fact communication of all kinds - non-mediated, i.e., inter personal, intra personal, group and mediated, i.e., mass media communication through radio, television etc. Thus, communication patterns amongst the village community follow a complex process conditioned by power, status and differential access to development resources. Besides, the information flow is also influenced by family, kinship, sex, age, religious and occupational links. Even today, due to widespread backwardness, illiteracy and ignorance opinion makers and information receivers play a critical role in the flow of information amongst rural inhabitants that usually occurs at public places such as tea stalls, petty shops and informal interactions. In fact, the entire process has implications for the implementation of any IEC strategy through various activities in a typical rural scenario. It could also have implications for the involvement of local rural self governance bodies and their delivery mechanisms for such activities. Without doubt, the above generalizations about the dynamics of rural communication in India would vary from region to region. They would be supplemented by the specific ethno-cultural milieu of village communities spread over the length and breadth of the country, which is very diverse in terms of language, cultural practices, mores and folkways. But it is certain that an individual’s position within the social structure has considerable influence on the village community’s opportunities, experiences and patterns of interaction with each other. This also impacts their outlook about how to perceive social change since their world view, like a tunnel vision, remains limited to the immediate ecology - their village, block or at the most, the district headquarters. Thus, effective sensitization to inculcate participation through IEC activities, that form a part of various rural development programs, has to trigger both behavioural and cognitive change amongst the members of the village community. First and foremost, use of traditional folk media such as street plays, puppetry, dance dramas and ballad is a necessary perquisite. Such media are more familiar, personal and credible. Since, they are a part of an oral tradition in villages for centuries, they are a very effective means of communicating social messages and empowering village communities. Start up and entry point communication activities under rural development programs often, either due to lax implementation or lack of trained NGOs, do not make use of the immense potential of participatory rural appraisal techniques (PRA). Techniques such as social mapping, transact walking, seasonality analysis etc are the most accessible means to plan the village level ‘shelf of projects’ by and for the village community themselves. In this regard, despite constraints of power politics, the lowest tier of institutions of rural local self government i.e. the ‘Gram Sabha’(village assembly) within a ‘Gram Panchayat’ (village body of elected representatives) is still the most effective forum where feedback, by the village community, can be shared about such grassroots appraisals. Messaging strategies, other than group communication, include hoardings, wall paintings, advertisements, fairs, exhibitions and public announcements. Such tools are particularly beneficial when it comes to making a visual impact about a rural development program’s basic objectives and operational elements, especially, on school children and women. Messaging material such as books, newspapers, brochures and other capacity building manuals, due to constraints of varying literacy levels, have to consciously focus more on pictorial depiction than cramped instructions in print. Besides, motivational incentives such as exposure visits of the village community to other successful pilot rural development program projects are the biggest capacity enhancer mechanisms. Ownership of a television set is limited in the village community to those who can afford it. Similarly, though the Internet and multi-media are vibrant mediums of development communication, the latter involve constraints of computer literacy amongst the village community. Nevertheless, use of multimedia tools in rural India is a critical component that needs to be factored constantly in IEC strategies of our flagship programs for purposes of global knowledge sharing, accountability and transparency. Radio broadcasts are known to be the cheapest and easiest medium to access, permitting real time communication with the community. Other than AIR (All India Radio) and private FM channels, the new Guidelines on Community Radio licensing have tremendous potential for empowering village communities in rural hinterlands. They can be a very effective tool, amongst many IEC activities, and enable broadcast of focused program content in local dialects on felt needs about program implementation in a specific geographic area. The themes that need to be the focus of engagement for IEC activities amongst the village community, in today’s development communication context, are wide and varied. These could include micro-credit management, self help groups, lack of water resources, rural housing, road connectivity, cyclical drought, female foeticide, girl’s right to education, disregard for natural environment, livelihood security opportunities, indigenous knowledge, computer literacy etc. It is thus evident that inclusive growth, in today’s context of a ‘global village’, is not just about economic aggregates. It’s more about engaging the real village community as stakeholders through IEC activities to plan for their felt needs. The programs for rural development do emphasize capacity building and communication for information dissemination but there are more synergies that need to be explored to make program implementation accessible, effective and empowering for the poorest.