By Tania Goklany:
Mahatma Gandhi had once declared that ‘The soul of India lives in its villages’. India has a population of 1.15 billion, more than half of the population lives in more than 700,000 villages. Almost half of the population is illiterate. They languish in poverty, suffer from pestilence and squalor. They are faced with unemployment and under-employment. There are wrinkles of frustration on every face. This is rural India – the real India.
Establishment of a fully functional rural press could be a saviour, but what are the prospects? What is the status? Why no initiative?
It is of common knowledge that like rural people, rural press also is poor. The publisher is Editor, Reporter, Clerk, and Advertisement Collector all rolled into one. Rural newspapers that are published are small in size (four to eight pages) and most them are a one man show. Some of them have a small printing press with a Treadle machine and a few cases of type. They do small jobs to meet the printing expenses as well. They collect advertisements from local business men, hair-cutting saloons, laundry, coaching centers etc. It’s like a small cottage industry, not equipped with modern technology.
In their struggle for existence, the rural newspapers sometimes do not adhere to the ethics of journalism, that is, truthfulness and responsibility, objectivity and fair play. They are rather eager to cater news with some added spice to it in order to suit the tastes and preferences of their masters, their readers. Development news is far away from their mind, they just want to push their sales anyhow so that they can meet their ends of the day. In spite of the fact, that they run these newspapers for their sustenance, many of them are short-lived. The contents and presentation of these newspapers are unprofessional.
The most important aspect of the rural newspapers is the message they convey. The rural newspapers should be a mirror reflecting the local people’s anxieties, worries, tribulations and concerns. Hence, they should deal with development programs initiated by the government in order to alleviate poverty. They should work for the implementation of national slogans such as ‘Education for All’ and ‘Health for All’. They should highlight the Integrated Rural Development Programme for the people’s participation. They should make efforts to revamp the rural co-operatives. The readers will become more aware of these schemes and might participate to increase their own standards of living.
A rural newspaper provides a forum to articulate the urges of common man. It takes up local issues and immediate requirements affecting the people. It gives greater importance to the problems agitating the more ordinary people like unemployment, scarcity of agricultural inputs, and the law and order situation at the village level.
Rural press seems like the most promising medium for disseminating information and knowledge to the rural people in our country; the kind of knowledge they should have, that is essential in order to lead a hygienic and more comfortable life considering the economic factors as well. Family planning measures, improved farming practices, developmental plans etc. can all be conveyed through the newspapers.
Apart from broadening the educational base of their readers, the rural paper breaks down the barriers of isolation. Also, it makes the public participation more informed and relevant. Such newspapers also provide written material to villagers who have learnt to read and prevent the learned villagers from lapsing into ‘illiteracy’ yet again.
Mahatma Gandhi also observed, rather dreamt, maybe in vain, may be mistakably, “When our villages are fully developed, there will be no dearth in them of men with a high degree of skill and artistic talents. There will be village poets, village artists, village architects, village linguists etc. In short, there will be nothing in life worth having that will not be had in the villages. Today the villages are dung heaps. Tomorrow they will be like tiny gardens of Eden where highly intelligent folk whom no one can deceive or exploit dwell.”
Seems to me like his dream will remain ours as well for a long while now, not unless the rate of literacy and awareness goes up will anything substantial and promising come of the rural people.