Participatory Media in Jharkhand : Immense Possibilities by Cyprian Ekka*
A fresh graduate from the Journalism faculty of Ranchi University once asked me if his skills may be further honed and productively utilized by and for the Tribals. Another young Tribal boy sought to check with me if we might engage him in some video/TV project, which to his dismay we had not even contemplated. Armed with a working knowledge through a temporary contract with a private production unit, he was desperately looking for the proverbial holy grail, a break.
Tribals Media Profile in Jharkhand
Notably, the local All India Radio (AIR) payroll flaunts over a dozen Tribal men and women, including Ms Roseline Lakra as station director, while Ms Grace Kujur is the station director of AIR, Patna. At least three Tribals occupy executive positions at Ranchi Doordarshan. At times one is startled by a Tete or a Kujur rattling out AIR Hindi news bulletin on the national channel or a Bhengra filing occasional Doordarshan reports from Ranchi. A few Tribals have also dabbled with film production, while many may be presently trying their hands on video production of sorts. Yet, bylines of the Hindi dailies of Ranchi and those from elsewhere in Jharkhand fail to resigster Lakras, Kullus, Hembroms or Topnos. In the absence of scientific data, one may not be too far wrong to guess that accredited Tribal media persons do not even constitute 5 percent of the over 5 thousand odd media professionals in Jharkhand.
Local Mainstream Media Scene
Tirkey being pronounced as the Australian fowl Turkey, confusing Toppo with Topno, Archbishop being designated as Arc-bishop or Marcel being glossed over as Marshall are common occurences in the beats, without anyone bothering to sub-edit them for accuracy. For all claims to being insiders of Jharkhand since infancy, the so called mainstream non-Tribal journalists seemingly dismiss as a slip of tongue similar ludicrous designations of their indigenous neighbours. The tongue slips may tickle us with humour, but their habitual occurence betrays the malaise within. The slip however shows more distressing items in their lexicon. Vanvasi (Forest Dweller), for instance, seeks to unscruplously replace Adivasi (Original Settler) and Sarna (Tribal Worship-Grove) gets unilaterally personified as Sarna Mata (Mother Sarna), ostensibly as one of the Sangh Parivars syncretic inventions to be ushered into the Hindu pantheon of 33 crore deities. That Tribals were never Hindus is repeatedly scoffed at as a separatist missionary gimmick -- all historical, linguistic, sociological and anthropological testimonies thrown to the winds. Blurring distiction is the operative principle to which both the spin doctors and betel-shop stringers routinely adhere. In addition, fallacious content, gross misrepresentation of facts, dubious propaganda slant and, worse, highly editorialized stories pass for news, especially when they deal with crucial Tribal issues like cultural identity, self determination, human rights, ecologically sustainable development and so on. Maliciously biased reporting, villainous editorials and orchestrated columns in certain sections of the local press, coupled with the governments gross apathy towards the victims of Kurpania incident and Tapkara Police Firing only remind the Tribals, like in the past, that they just do not count in the new Jharkhand state.
Why do so few Tribals make it to the media? This is a crucial question, which can also be raised regarding politics, commerce, law and, now, information technology (IT). In the name of education, the present system chiefly produces white-collared employees, who gun for scarce government jobs. Most celebrated among the products of this educational system are the IAS, IAAS, IPS and IFS officers, for whom Ranchi is a cradle, adding 3 or 4 new ones to the national bureaucracy annually.
Media explosion, like IT, is a very recent phenomenon, when compared to the century old general literacy drive to which our educational institutions are committed, for excellent reasons, even today. However, hardly any teacher of the present system is competent or comfortable to teach media, which unlike the familiar disciplines are extremely fluid and volatile. Teaching media places frightening demands on the instructor to constantly update his/her skills so as to cope up with the uncharted course. This seems to me the main reason for and challenge to our timid response. Invoking institutional compulsion towards prescribed syllabi over delayed media lessons does not seem to fetch much water.
Overview of Our Educational System
The corporate logic seems to be simple. We wanted literacy right from the beginning, so we designed the infrastructure accordingly. Funds were garnered for buildings, laboratories were equipped and resources were allocated to remunerate instructors, while the general framework was cosmetically adapted to suit more contextual educational objectives and philosophy. In the course of time, new initiatives emerged in order to form managers and executives for industrial houses. Today, Jharkhand is unbeatable in that field too. Had we really wanted to form charismatic political leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers or IT experts from among the Tribals, we would have tailored our system likewise and gone through the gruelling callisthenics to perfect it. Institutional change is always a long process we know and, I am affraid, it applies also to media instruction. Never mind, if media come at our door step with a shattering thud or a deafening boom. Never mind, if most existing disciplines converge today, more than any other time, on the media.
The over-riding concern, especially of the minority-run educational enterprises, has been to make Tribals literacy-rich. Today they are literacy-rich, well to a considerable extent, but information-poor. The village panchayat (village court), akhara (village dance floor) or story-telling grannies no longer summon Tribals together, but the prime time serials and tele-films do. Even as most village Tribals presently have little access to TV, the trend will surely engulf them in the near future. Besides, it is a known fact that media can more convincingly subvert moral, ethical or religious norms among the present generation than the traditional Manki-Parha (supreme legislature and judiciary of the village confederacy), Church pulpits, Mullahs ajan (call for prayer), temple chants or classroom lectures are capable of inculcating in them. As for the educationists, they are concept-rich, but image-poor. Media are the culprits for this equilibrium tilt. To the extent therefore we respond to the media world, to the same extent it will make us information-rich and image-rich, for it thrives on them. We are, in a sense, yet to begin.
As elsewhere, while the Tribals made a bee line to schools and colleges, unambiguous message was imparted to them through the Babu-producing educational enterprises. Many of them ended up where they were supposed to government offices. Equally powerful messages regarding politics, entrepreneurship, law, IT and media have not been transmitted yet. That is why our youngsters hardly opt for such alternatives. Even if they may pursue media studies, which are extremely expensive, they are much less certain of durable and fetching careers than are the Babus (clerks). The likes of the aspiring journalist and his TV counterpart I spoke of, know this. So why get into media, their friends seem to say. Indeed, they need to be informed that like doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and techies, media persons never fall out of job, despite their advancing age.
Our Media Notions in General
Talk of media and we immediately lament about the absence of audio-video programmes (in technical language, media text); cameras, microphones, VCRs and TV monitors (hardware). We are justified to lament, for these things (particularly the media text) are indeed in short supply, that they merit immediate attention. Talk of media skills and we have a ready-made list too : handling cameras, recording music, producing programmes, writing reports and all other how-tos. These are unavoidable tools of communication, but real concept is much broader than they. Media tools are like a glass of water to assuage a parched throat, but the broader meaning of communication may be comparable to digging a well, which calls for greater resolve, planning and commitment. Yes, fiercely consistent commitment. We will have to mobilize our resources, human and material, to achieve comprehensive media objectives much the same way we did to general literacy and certain professional training programmes.
The Evergreen Print
Amidst the glitter of electronic media, let us recall that no medium, however fanciful and modern, cancels the conventional media. Print medium is here to stay. In his Jharkhand a New Dawn Chronology of a Struggle, posted on this website, Arthur Ekka has observed that when in 1915 the Chotanagpur Unnati Samaj (Chotanagpur Progressive Society) came into existence, the forerunners of the Samaj Thewale Oraon, Joel Kharia, Bandi Ram Oraon, Paul Dayal, Alphonse Kujur, Elias Topno, Veer Singh Munda and others felt that in the face of a tumultuous political scenario, it was imperative to assert the Tribal identity. Hence Adivasi, a multilingual periodical in Hindi, English, Mundari and Kurukh, was started though not at the inception of the Samaj itself. When the magazine was later adopted by the governments public relations department, well known Hindi literateur, Radhakrishan, was said to have associated himself with the venture. However, gradually Adivasi lost both its lustre and sting before vanishing like a dinosaur. Short lived publication attempts of various interest groups have continued to dot the history of Chotanagpur.
As of now, despite having a sizeable number of Tribal intellectuals, Jharkhand is yet to make a mark with significant literary, anthropological, historical or cultural works, authored by the Tribals themselves. Even the few works available, are confined to academic libraries. One such example is Menes Oreas little known classic narrative Matura: Kahni (Stories of Matura:). Attempts to develop scripts for major Tribal languages are on. Such efforts, besides encouraging research, will give distinctive identity and survival to the ancient languages, but will be too rudimentary to fulfil immediate requirements of highly specialized fields of study. While this work may continue, respective organizations and Tribal intellectuals should not cease to produce literature in prevalent languages, which may enjoy public patronage.
In the mid-nineties, after going through a spate of vigorous peoples movements against displacement, a few like-minded journalists of Ranchi, decided to experiment with a periodical on the purely areligious and apolitical line. Janhaq (Peoples Rights) was that experiment. The alternative forum died a natural death after 3-4 years, but not without paving its ideological way to the present Janhool (Peoples Movement) and Jharkhand Ki Pukar (Jharkhands Call). Incidently, about the same time Janhaq had come in circulation, some Jharkhand-minded political parties also launched their publications. They claimed to be on the same line as Janhaq, but obviously they just could not be so. Various individuals and institutions were requested to become life-members. However, in the course of such a drive, some people (read political parties) responded something to the effect : Do not come to us with life-membership request. Tell us what you need (i.e. infrastructure, including capital) and you will have them all. Now, that was precisely what Janhaq team was not looking for. I mean, the political control.
Anyway, to cut it short, as a corollary to publication Janhaq recruited some young Tribals to provide on-the-job journalistic training to them, but resource crunch made it impossible for most of them to persevere, including the founding member journalists. One young lady, however, stayed put. She is Miss Jyotsna Sheela Dang, now doing very well. Meanwhile, more such aspirants have joined the team of Janhool and Jharkhand Ki Pukar. In the eighties Nishkalanka (The Immaculate) also groomed a young man, Mr Ajit Paul, who is now freelancing for various papers. Similar experiments may have been carried out by other oganizations, though I have no information about them. However, I am confident that concerted efforts in this line may significantly add professional and semi-professional Tribal journalists to the Jharkhand media scene.
On account of specific nature and purpose, publications like Nishkalanka may not be banked upon to address areligious and apolitical issues, though in the absence of suitable fora it has occasionally done so. It also must be noted that thanks to the Tribal household subscriptions to its over 15,000 copies, Nishkalanka enjoys the widest circulation in the category of Catholic Hindi periodical. One of the elements in the editorial policy of Nishkalanka has been to encourage Tribals to write. Thanks to this policy many Tribals bylines, unlikely to have appeared in print otherwise, have gained familiarity in the monthlys editions. For want of research and testimonials, most of the write ups inNishkalanka as also in other similar publications are what may be called discourses, rather than journalistic reports or articles. However, the raw material of prospective journalists is present among them, waiting for a fillip.
Millennium Print Venture
I strongly feel, Tribals have to graduate to a mainstream print venture as early as possible. Corporately? Yes, indeed. Ideally, it should be a multi-denominational venture, especially in view of editorial resourcefulness. Let such a venture, besides fulfilling the urgent needs, be a nursery of aspiring Tribal journalists who in the Third Millennium will effectively assert their identiry and demand fair play.
Observations regarding Skill Training
Sporadic seminars and workshops with Tribal youngsters have revealed to me that they were extremely interested and enthusiastic about media. Who isnt? But their enthusiasm ebbed soon after those intensive days, because no infrastructure is in place to support them. Our young students suffer from yet another problem : deficient English. Although remedial material in Hindi may help vernacular journalists, yet for specialization in journalism craft, IT and law, English is indispensable. We failed to provide them with follow up material in Hindi nor did we reinforce their enthusiasm with refresher courses.
Skill Training Project
In view of quick results, the lacunae of sporadic workshops and seminars may challenge us to emphasize on tutorial workshops rather than lecture based seminars, particularly in journalism, which enshrines most of the basic elements of communication. In order that the workshop participants may carry home their exercise hand-outs for future reference, we need to appropriately design the course material, obviously in Hindi. On account of the regular media courses being scarce and expensive, we have to provide qualitative and economic alternatives to cultivate bare-foot journalists among the Tribals. All said and done, suitable infrastructure is a must.
Possibilities of what are termed as occupational courses are now open; more colleges should offer communication courses as part of an academic alternative, especially in view of the wider needs indicated in this article. I am aware, some courses are already being offered, but we need many more. Despite harping on education as a priority in the new state, the Marandi Government has conspicuously ignored Tribal academicians in the educational planning, let alone encouraging participatory media, probably because there are enough sycophants in certain sections of the local press to right its wrongs.
In the eighties, a certain Xalxo, then a young FTII graduate, had produced a half-hour celluloid documentary regarding environment conservation. In 1993, nine-episode Tribals of Chhotanagpur, produced by EMRC, Calcutta, with Satya Bharati Ranchis collaboration became the first professional TV documentary of note. Rare, empathetic portrayal of the Tribals drew wide acclaim for these series. On public demand entire series completed a second transmission round on Doordarshan. Authentic information on Tribal life and philosophy from Dr Agapit Tirkey and Dr Christopher Lakra went into the script. Luminaries like Dr Ram Dayal Munda, Dr Nirmal Minj, late Prof. Pius Lakra and many others shared their insights on the screen, while little known village pahans (Tribal priests), sirpanches (village headmen), women and youth demostrated ancestral faith and wisdom through rituals, and rustic exuberance through dances. In sharp contrast to the Tribals of Chotanagpur, a commemorative episode on Param Veer Albert Ekkas life-sketch, produced by someone for Doordarshan, belittled the valiant solidier, especially in the fictitiously stereotyped prtrayal of his boyhood. Evidently the producer did not consult any informed Tribal on this matter. In the nineties two or three feature films ran in the Jharkhand theatres. As ridiculous imitations of Bollywood formula, they merit a mention in this article only insofar as they involved some Tribal artistes and composers.
While AROUSE, Gumla, was already in the field of domestic video production for a few years, Satya Bharati produced four video documentaries in the nineties. The productions, however, could not be mass distributed for technical discrepancy. Most private production centres would agree that production cost of such projects outweighs the return. While local concerns dictate the content, approach and message of our productions, fast technological change makes it impossible for producers to stay up-to-date in the market. Both these aspects adversely affect the distribution thereby quickly turning the projects into a financial liability. Hence additional funds are a must. I do not rule out other productions in which Tribals may have played central roles, while in the purview of this article I omit those produced by non-Tribals.
Video, a Veritable Future
Investment and distribution hazards notwithstanding, video cannot be ignored any longer. In addition to Print, video is the most effective means for supporting media education, value education, social action, people's mobilization, human rights, cultural preservation, health education, development and much more. Both for technically acceptable quality and reasonable distribution possibility, adequate investment in video equipment is necessary. In the present state of affairs regarding the media, acquiring non-professional equipment will be counter-productive. For domestic (VHS) format to be good enough for mass distribution, the original masters need to be at least of semi professional quality. Minority-run academic institutions should avail qualitative training and production facilities to the deprived sections of society.
Rewarding Audio Enterprise
Besides publication, one of the most successful media ventures in Jharkhand has been audio production. It has lent a commendable support to cultural promotion. Thanks to persistent multi-decade promotional initiatives, the talents of local music composers, singers and instrumentalists are now being accorded a due status. So much so, some Tribal youngsters have turned into professionals in their own right. Thanks to such artists Tribal folk songs reverberate through stage shows, though their form and content leave much to be desired. For the past several years cultural compositions have significantly replaced decadent film music at feasts, in public buses and households. The trend seems to be irriversible. But we got stuck with music only.
Production of radio features, radio plays, topical interviews, sound tracks for dance dramas and puppet shows may easily find a place in the existing set up. In keeping with its promotional role, the local All India Radio may encourage such endeavours to improve upon its Sarkari (governmental) brand of productions.
Media Education Imperatives
Last but not the least, media education. If we are not decisive enough, this may be easily relegated to the back bench, citing more uregent needs. I am aware, Christian educational institutions have initiated it through what is known as the Integrated Pedagogy Programme (IPP), which certainly provides with a commendable matrix. While IPP primarily seeks to heighten the educators general awareness, more homework is needed to perceptibly carry its fruits to students and creatively marry the pedagogy with media education, which is a distinct discipline. It primarily deals with teaching media (structural constituents, process of meaning construction, analysis of manipulative effects etc) rather than teaching about media or training technicians. The aim of media education is to help the media consumer become judiciously and responsibly independent. As such, nothing may be more illusory than to wait for the arrival of expensive media gadgets, which may play only superficial role in media education lessons. In fact, media gadgets hardly qualifiy the user as a communicator, unless he/she has developed anlytical insights regarding the content, structure and message. Equally misleading is the notion that media education may be excusively confined to class rooms, for neither are the young students any more avid consumers of media, nor are they any more susceptible to the ill effects than other human beings.
Evidently, an all-pervasive communication programme requires a multi-discipline approach and it extends far beyond the portals of one media institution.
(April 30, 2001)