Communication, culture and power

Pandit Padalghare and Jitendra Maid

Village Community Development Association (VCDA)

This is an excerpt of a paper presented by the authors in the April 1997 seminar "Culture, Communication and Power" organised by Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH, New Delhi) and CCRSS.


The word 'communication', samvad, is not known in our villages. But people use other expressions and words which convey the same meaning and refer to the themes of our debate. It is obvious that if we do not speak with each other how could we understand one another? But in our society, who is speaking with whom? How is he/she speaking? What will he/she speak? How is he/she behaving? All this is predetermined by the norms of traditional social structures which offer a ready made framework for different prescribed patterns of social communication. The first breach of communication is precisely between villages and cities as a result of education.

Representations about villages

The gates of education were open to all since the nineteenth century in India. Students flooded educational institutions. But the framework of education is traditional. This type of education creates chiasm in the society far from facilitating communication. The following examples are revealing.

We have a friend who passed with success D. Ed. (Diploma in Education). He appeared for entrance examination for a post of teacher under the State Board of Education and the Corporation Education Board. He got a letter of employment from both the bodies: one was giving employment in rural area, the other one in the industrial area of Pimpri Chinchwad Corporation. Though being from a rural area he accepted the job from the Pimpri Chinchwad Corporation. Curious about his decision we asked him questions about it. His argument was that "I have come from a village where not even State Transport bus goes. There are no amenities available. I have therefore developed a nausea for village life. That is why I have accepted the offer of employment in a city area."

Nowadays youth have developed the idea that village means 'inferiority', 'debasement', 'impossible progress', 'habit of bearing hurdles'. Rural youth are not willing to utilise their intellectual and physical skills to improve the villages from where they come. For employment or education they go to cities where they become urbanites. They do not even look back to the village from where they come. And if by chance they happen to go and visit their own village, they behave in a self-important way to show their superiority and express their feeling that those people living in villages are very unfortunate. Really speaking this youth remain alien in urban areas. They become rootless by a double rift of communication.

A culture of power

In school, the teacher tells and the students listen and accept. In the village, the social or political leader tells and the villagers listen. People listen to and obey those who have wealth and knowledge (information). People give honour and listen to those who enjoy social prestige. In this society people have imbibed such ideas that 'one has to obey teachers and elders', 'no genuine knowledge without a guru, a 'master', 'knowledge comes with physical exertion and punishment'.

People are proud of a culture which gives honour and status to elites, high castes. This cultural power is a comprehensive culture of power which has the strength of wielding altogether social and political power. Generally local leaders do not proceed without prior permission and consent of Brahmins. They are leaders just for name sake. Brahmins become social workers. This is the situation in the village. At the State level, the same thing happens through such motto as swadhyaya parivar, viz. moral and religious 'rearmament' of 'teacher groups'. At the national level, same thing through shankaracharyas and mullahs. That is why when the communication media go in the hands of higher caste people, they try to impose these cultural patterns which repress and exploit the oppressed.

The oppressed classes lack information, they are rather purposefully deprived of access to information. They have never had the opportunity to examine and analyse the whole social fabric. They are maintained in the dark or purposefully kept ignorant about the possible consequences of things.

The effectiveness of social communication depends on the personality, sex, age, caste of the individual as well as his position and authority in the society. Let us take the example of government servants: we see that they cannot take a clear stand regarding their superiors. Let us take the example of the farm owner and the farm labourer: we see how the land-owner spreads his ideas to guard his own interest and that the farm labour accepts them out of no choice for the sake of his own survival. Government servants in the lower rank are always afraid of transfers or dismissals. Farm labour accepts subservience for fear of losing the job.

In short, this is a one-way communication. This method of communication reinforces the rigidity of the existing social system. To 'keep the honour' of the superiors, people have imbibed the tendency to behave according to prevalent value systems and observe traditions and customs, caste rules and habits, all that goes under the name of niti-dharma.

Family as a pattern of disharmony

Educated people belittle others: they insult their old and illiterate parents. They do not communicate with their parents. We came in contact with some educated boys when we were collecting grindmill songs. We enquired whether in their family women knew grindmill songs. They emphatically told us that nobody knows grindmill songs in their family. But when we visited one of such houses and discussed with the mother of the boy, we discovered that the mother knew many grindmill songs. Her son was shocked to know that his mother can remember and sing a number of grindmill songs. He then felt guilty because he did not know anything about his mother.

If we consider the way husband and wife mutually look at each other, we see that the man by right needs a 'servant' to serve him while the woman needs an 'owner' to exercise power on her. We can imagine the kind of relationship which prevails between husband and wife through the words that they use when they address and call each other. A wife calls her husband 'owner', malak, 'master of the house', ghardhani, 'manager', karbhari, 'they', te, 'god bride-groom', navardeo, etc. A husband calls his wife: 'family', kutumba, 'our people', mandali, ''she', ti.

The rule of the family system states that there is the one who tells and the other who accepts. The head of the family tells and the other members of the family accept. The mother-in-law tells and the daughter-in-law listens. The husband tells and the wife listens. The father tells and the children listen.

(See A performance capacity reactivated)

The son is considered the future support of the family. 'The lamp of the lineage' or 'the stick for the old age' are idioms used for son. Parents educate and shape their sons in such a way that he will be their support in old age and behave all his life according to their wishes: if a son behaves against the wishes of parents, for example, if he marries without their consent, then the parents do question his attitude with the following terms: "Have we given you birth to bear such a misbehaviour on your part? We repent from having given you birth." Children have no authority to take their own decision. They have to obey parents unless they prefer to bear the wrath of the society.

Mis-communication, vi-sam-vad

When we consider all such types of examples, we come naturally to the conclusion that society lacks communication. What exist is 'mis-communication' vi-samvad, distorted communication and not samvad. Where nobody communicates on an equal footing how can we call it sam-vad.? Under that name, one tries to cultivate a false culture and through that to establish one's own power over each other. Everybody tries to subjugate someone else. We only see conflict in that culture.

In such a cultural environment, people become status quoist, passive, obedient, they behave like sheep. As a result, the existence of a number of deprived groups and communities raises serious concerns in some quarters. Social workers and non governmental agencies are bound to crop up and come forward for the upliftment of 'the poor' and the destitute. Government itself is obliged to chalk out some schemes for these people. NGOs and Government make up their mind and resolve to work for the progress of the poor and the development of a backward society.

The fact is that people who conceive of themselves as leaders, social workers, educated elite feel that 'others do not understand anything', that society is 'stupid and ignorant'. They intervene under the illusion that 'society will develop if they listen to me'. That is why they are always lecturing, taunting and advising people about ideals to be followed. If the society ignores them, they stigmatize that society as adamant. They show off a great concern for the upliftment of 'the poor' and 'the backward'. Pretentious and self-conceited, they always deem themselves different. This is the reason why society never allows them to come close or does not enthusiastically respond to their initiatives. Society never feels in affinity or communication, su-sam-vad, with them. Moreover we disagree with their attempts and ideas of development.

Elusive alien development

VCDA is presently organizing a self-learning workshop for rural youth and volunteers where issues of development are freely considered and discussed on the basis of the actual experience of the participants. The workshop is unanimously concluding that the existing ideas about development are wrong.

After Independence, leaders felt that it was possible to do development according to our own ideas, but in reality development meant the increase of the salaries of government servants and organized sector. Their standard of living increased and only a few people became rich. We built dams, with the belief that dams will lead to development. But in reality, the water was supplied to industrial sector, irrigated land and cities. An atmosphere was created for social equality through industrialisation. The result was contrary. Inequality increased and a different type of untouchability was created. The development schemes were beneficial in the main to people who had political connections.

In the regime of mixed economy; dependence, indebtedness, poverty, unemployment, inflation and pollution increased. Once the present New Economic Policy was implemented, multinationals took hold of Indian companies. The rate of economic development per capita income or national income completely ignored the simple and hungry people.

The Gandhian concept of Trusteeship has not given rights and power to the people. The percolation theory has not much percolated up to marginalised people. Some voluntary agencies and government departments extend economic aid to some people. But this does not reach to the needy population.

In this process common man remembers only the resounding word of development. Some people commit themselves to social work out of egotism with the intention that all decision making will remain in their hands. They make use of marginalised people in an attempt to increase their importance. They do it for their own selfish interest but outwardly they create the impression that they are socially committed. As systems of hierarchical values are imbibed in the minds of people, those around them admire and glorify them. Instead of communication, 'miss-communication' prevails, or in other words real communication never started.

What is development?

Everybody proclaims that development should take place but for them development means material growth. If basic needs of human beings are fulfilled and production increases, they consider that to be the development. We disagree with this concept.

According to us the whole of society must be taken into account. Man should be at the centre of development and the environment around him should not be neglected. The differentiation of caste, religion, nation, sex should be avoided. We conceive development in a world context. Development should make human being physically and mentally able and powerful. This process must be free from exploitation, creating mutual love, concentrating on bringing the depressed at the level of well-off, providing opportunities to the skills of every individual, giving priority to collective decisions and collective planning, instead of exploiting nature work should be in harmony with it.

The process of development as we understand it would not really start as long as there is no wide exchange of ideas. If we want development we must have mutual communication based on equality and friendship. Without fulfilling these preconditions, the real development will never take place. For a better understanding of our point of view we can take some examples.

No communication between Government and people

A significant example. Inside the Mulshi dam (district Pune, Maharashtra) on the slopes of the mountain, a village called Pomgao, where the agriculture depends on rain water. In the village, only one well which provides drinking water, but it dries up in summer and people have to walk a distance to fetch water from dam. The Govt. has sanctioned a tape-water scheme which will cost thirty lacs of rupees and the cost is supposed to be reimbursed later on by the villagers on the basis of water taxes. The scheme is prepared with no consideration for the ideas of local population: it is based on lifting the water from dam and will provide only drinking water. People have an alternative scheme in their mind. A stream flows near the village and a much less costly tank can be built on it. The water from that small percolation tank can be used for the fields. The percolating water will feed the well which will not dry up in summer. In irrigated fields, people can take cash crops like vegetables. This will provide them with an opportunity of increasing their income and paying the increased water taxes. But the government or local leaders do not listen.

The consciousness must be created that common people have some traditional knowledge.

We the animators of the Organization of the Poor of the Mountain do not consider the people as stupid and ignorant. Local communities can determine themselves their own 'ideal development' programme. Somebody from outside should not impose it on them. Local collectivities are themselves conscious of what is proper or improper. This is our conviction. The communication between local population and those from outside, experts and officers, should take place on equal footing. They can talk with each other and behave with each other without any assumption that one is superior and the other one inferior. We are engaged ourselves in creating an atmosphere conducive to a dialogue and a behaviour taking place on a basis of full equality between all those concerned.

Animators of the Poor of the Mountain take advantage of their activities to analyse together with the people existing ideas and structures; through such discussions the limitations of the thoughts and structures prevalent in the society are brought to the notice of the participants of the discussion. In other words we are trying to develop a concept of culture which will give opportunity, dignity, self-respect and power to the oppressed. It will be easy to understand the process if we shortly take into account some of our programmes.

See also:
Grassroot socio-cultural action and development
Street drama

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