India has been grappling with complex issues related to human development since time immemorial. Regrettably, the country hasn’t fared well on accounts of human development indicators. India ranks 135 in the Human Development Index (HDI), and more recently, India’s hunger status continues to stay “serious” according to the Global Hunger Index.
Development schemes have been deployed by the government and civil society, and communication has been at the centre of those schemes. The use of development communication has evolved, especially since the coming of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) and new media technologies.
The discourse of development communication has moved from using media to inform and make aware masses to engaging the beneficiaries in the communication process itself. A participatory paradigm has been instrumental in successfully reaching out to the marginalised communities and assisting in their development.
Mainstream media has touched the correct chords every now and then using entertainment education as a means for development (for instance, Balika Vadhu on Colors TV was started to spread awareness against the practice of child marriage, but it soon lost the plot and is now like any other Indian television soap opera). But it is the alternative media, and the participatory paradigm that has done what the mainstream media hasn’t – it has worked at the grassroots alongside the targeted people for their self-development.
To quote a few initiatives:
- Khabar Lahariya (Bundeli for News Waves), a weekly newspaper in Bundeli, is being run by a group of women from various sections of the society from the interiors of Chitrakoot and Banda in Uttar Pradesh. The paper has editions in Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Hindustani and Bajjika, the languages which are not common in written form. Khabar Lahariya started with a purpose to bridge the information void in these rural areas left by the mainstream media. This hard-working group of rural women journalists has succeeded to a decent extent. The readership of the newspaper is now 80,000 across 600 villages of UP and Bihar.
- Gaon Connection, started by Neelesh Mishra and Karan Dalal, is a professionally-run rural newspaper. Gaon Connection aims to bridge the gap between rural and urban India, by providing a passageway of content of both sides of the divide. It aims at bringing democracy to villages, give a voice to rural India and provide urban India, a lens into its villages.
- CGNet Swara is a voice-based portal, freely accessible via mobile phone, which allows any individual with a mobile phone to report and listen to stories of local interest. Citizen journalists work from villages and create awareness regarding this initiative in the vicinity. The power of oral narrative has been used by these journalists to ensure that the grief and apathy of people reaches the policy makers. It is remarkable how a single missed call can solve the gravest of problems.
The bottom-up approach of alternative media has reaped noteworthy results, as substantiated by the examples aforementioned. The approach has also justified that there is a need to change the development process upside down. Meaning, the top-down approach needs to be transformed to a bottom-up approach. Bombarding the public with information is no solution, as suggested by the visible failures of programs like Krishi Darshan.What is needed is an interactive tool to engage the rural population that encourages them to participate in their own socio-economic development. More initiatives like these need to be undertaken if India’s social indicators have to reach respectable numbers.
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