Valued communication is essential for macro level development: Biplob Loho Chowdhury
“Communication for development, needs to have certain values, which are often absent in mass media-based communication strategy and action,” says Prof. Biplob Loho Chowdhury, (Project Director of Centre for Journalism and Mass Communication (CJMC) of Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan. Prof. Chowdhury has developed the concept of ‘Community Communication Spectrum (CCS)’. “We need to use the communities’ own communication strategies to motivate them to act,” he points.
According to Prof. Chowdhury, the time to look closely at the trans-generational communication systems that started as early as from the Vedic period down through the centuries is of vital importance.
Recalling how CCS was initiated, Prof. Chowdhury explains: “Six years ago this remote village of 130 households (village community) about 80 km from Santiniketan – the hometown of famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore – was surrounded by paddy fields, but without a sustainable development concept”.
But today, it is a confident community with most households having access to water and sanitation, and most of its children are keen to pursue their education. One of the community leaders is even doing research in development communication at Visva-Bharati University.
In 2011, it was Prof. Chowdhury and his group of students had spent many days in the community, meeting members, to find out their needs and perception about their own resources. Three main problems surfaced: – lack of knowledge on health issues; lack of community organisation and apathy of government agencies in assisting the community.
“Surprisingly, adds Prof. Biplob that on inspection by a doctor, the health conditions of the members of the community was found good and therefore, they were encouraged to maintain their good health standards. A workshop was also organised on good parenting for better progeny.
Further the Namokanda Prochesta’ (NP) or Namokanda Effort was initiated by members of the community, mostly teachers in order to improve the developmental organisation structure of the village and take forward educational programmes.
The Namokanda Prochesta at a glance…
- “From grade1 to 12 every student needs to be under the ambit of the NP programme
- NP has been giving free tuition for students and offering annual scholarships
- The ‘helping from within’ concept has encouraged villagers to share each other’s vegetable harvests and special food preparations.
- Utilise local resources for self development
“With the help of Visva-Bharati and Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore Foundation, (an organization based in New Delhi), we are learning to make progress from within ourselves by utilising local resources”, says the community coordinator Srimantha Mandal (a CJMC graduate and a primary school teacher)..
The community has also set up a ‘Shishu Panchayat’ (SP) consisting of school-going children with its own chief minister and a cabinet of ministers to promote the ethos of active citizenship in them. With the help of students from CJMC, the young members of SP have produced their own newspaper with articles, poetry, cartoons and other cultural expressions. Their chief minister Rituparna Mandal (14) is also an accomplished singer.
“My role is to solve problems for our youth,” says Rituparna adding that she looks after the information, culture and ecology of the village. She further related a novel way of overcoming a gender barrier in the community through acting within the ambit of the SP. “We had a problem with our community because our families don’t want us to play with the boys. So we found a land outside the village where girls could play together”.
Smilingly ecstatically, Pooja Mandal, sports minister of SP shares: “We girls can play a lot of sports now. “If any child wants to play and doesn’t know how to, we guide her – whether it is football, volleyball, badminton, gymnastic and even yoga.”
Another unique culture of the community is that no fund of any form is accepted from outside for implementation of community-initiated development programmes, because the people here believe that such a model is not sustainable.
Prof. Biplob Loho Chowdhury cites an example: He pointed out how the community had to spend over 30,000 rupees (470 dollars) every year to repair the road to the village after the rainy season. “Now they have learned how to carry out studies and prepare documents for advocacy to the government for projects (which require huge funding). They have prepared a document to ask for government funds to bank the adjoining Dwarka River so that the houses and lands by the riverside can be saved from erosion during the next rainy season”, he informs.
Prof. Chowdhury further points out that ‘social media’ because of lack of its human touch, is not liked by these communities.
However, CCS is not the first of its kind in India. Prof. Chowdhury introduced his concept to three other villages in Assam in North-East India in 1998 to test the strength of DCFW for advancing communities into the path of sustainable development.
“The communication process must make communities realise their relevance, interdependence and interaction with the macro society”, he concludes.