Literacy has become a Holy Grail in the world of development. Development
groups working in rural areas suffer from a feeling of inadequacy if
they are not pursuing literacy programmes. They maybe doing excellent
work through harnessing people's knowledge in the fields of forestry,
fisheries, natural farming, land development, natural resource management
whatever. But literacy programmes haunt them. The irony is that in most
of these activities literacy has very little to offer. People's knowledge
and peoples science in all these areas are so strong that they need
very little external help in the form of technology. But still the feeling
of inadequacy prevails very strong among non-literacy groups.
Time has come to question this exaggerated importance given to literacy
in development. I would not like to be misunderstood as an anti-literacy
person. I value literacy very much. What I am pointing to is in valuing
literacy we should not devalue other capabilities and skills present
in non-literate people. By doing so, we might kill all the self-confidence
in these people. I am itching to tell a story which I had heard in my
childhood. I still cherish it for the message it gives:
Three scholars decided to cross a river. They asked a boatman to
help them cross the river. The boatman was glad to oblige them. As
the boat sailed out, one scholar asked the boatman: Have you read
Vedas. The boatman humbly replied "No Sir". He felt very
ashamed. The scholar rubbed it in. "A quarter of your life is
wasted". After they sailed a little further, the second scholar
asked: "Have you read Upanishads?" The boatman felt further
small. "No Sir". The scholar said contemptuously: "Half
your life is wasted". They sailed halfway into the river. The
third scholar asked, "At least have you read Puranas?" The
boatman felt totally humiliated. "No sir, not even that".
"Then three quarter of your life is a waste". By then they
hit a whirlpool. The boat started sinking. The boatman, for the first
time, asked the scholars: "Sir, do you people know how to swim?"
All the scholars said "No" in total panic. "All your
lives are a waste now sir", said the boatman and leapt out of
What I am trying to say is that in our part of the world there is a
generation of women and men, people who are in their thirties and above
who are not literate. But they have deep reserves of knowledge in farming,
forestry, ecology, natural resource management -- areas where survival
knowledge, which is paramount for the human race, eludes us the literates.
Why should we discount this rich knowledge and skills with which they
survive in the harshest of environments and push literacy towards them
as THE SKILL ? This has been one of the key questions that bothers my
mind in my work with disadvantaged rural women in Medak District of
Historical background of DDS
DDS started in this environment as the commitment of a group of professionals
to the people in the Zaheerabad region to continue a rural development
project abandoned by an industrial house due to its own compulsions.
The earliest objectives of DDS was to combine ecological and employment
parameters to regenerate the livelihoods of the people in the area through
a string of activities:
- Ensure 100 days of employment per year per person
- Use these employment days to work on their lands to enhance the
productivity of their soils through bunding, trenching, top soil addition
- Galvanise communities of women to lease in lands from large farmers
and work on it collectively.
- Green the area through planting in the village commons.
An associated objective was to transfer people-oriented technology.
This included housing technologies, use of solar energy, permaculture
way of organic farming etc. Gradually all these efforts have moved in
a reverse direction. Today we recognise that people have more knowledge
than us, more appropriate technologies than we can think of. Therefore
our programmes have evolved into three principles:
- gender justice
- environmental-soundness and
- people's knowledge
Education at all levels was a very strong component in this
string of efforts. Education, for DDS, encompasses a range of
activities starting with balwadies to provide a creative learning
environment for young children to Pachasaale, a unique school
for working children which takes formal learning and life skills
under one umbrella and redefines education into an area of relevance
for rural children. Within this range are fitted intensive workshops
for adult women, village night schools for out of school children
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Central to these attempts is the relocation of people's knowledge in
the areas of health (through revitalising the traditional healthcare
systems), agriculture (understanding, documenting and promoting people's
knowledge of farming systems and practices) etc.
New forms of expression
When the commitment of an organisation is to value peoples knowledge
and build its work on their confidence, the need to explore various
tools of expression with which people can communicate with the outside
world. Because the outside world is a reality and their necessity to
communicate with it is also a reality.
In this effort, literacy was not the only choice. We felt literacy
can actually become a constraint for non-literate people whose aural
and visual narratives are so powerful. So what else can one think of
? For me the possibility of providing video and audio technologies as
a means of expression for the disadvantaged rural women was an exciting
idea. So I have made efforts to equip a group of ten women with the
skills to handle this media.
Communicating through video
I began a series of video workshops from January this year. Each workshop
was for a duration of four days. Spread over eight months these workshops
have trained a total of seven women of whom four are non-literate. Of
these seven women, two are students and the four are farm labour and
one is a DDS worker. All of them are dalits in an age group of 16-35
years. The workshops started with a total of eleven persons, ten women
and one man. But of them four dropped out during various phases of the
workshops and seven have made it to all the workshops.
The women chose to learn video production for various reasons. Their
are as follows:
- We would like to let our issues known outside(Ippapally Mallamma)
- Our news must go outside (Zaheerabad Punyamma)
- We are working on the Gene Bank in our village. Several times you
people come to shoot our work. But there are seasons when it is very
important to shoot. At that time you people may not be available.
Therefore when you people do not come, we can do our own recording
and give it to you. (Humnapur Laxmi)
- So that we can communicate with people in other sanghams. Whenever
some events take place in our sanghams, you people come to video it.
When you don't come, we have to wait for you. Instead we can do the
recording ourselves and take it out.(Pastapur Narsamma)
- To photograph; marriages etc.(Bopanpalli Nagamma)
- When big government people come to our village, we would like to
record what they tell us. That becomes a document for us. (Eedulapalle
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Their expectations from the workshops were also varied.
- How can we tell about the work we are doing?
- To know whether it (the video) can record what we talk and
- To understand what parts it (the video) has
- To know whether it records from a distance; how to make pictures
big and small; how to make sound big and small;
The training objective was to familiarise the participants with the
grammar of television, with the operation of video cameras and in editing
their shoots and make their own stories. These workshops were conducted
by three of us:
- P V Satheesh, a television Producer/Director (who incidentally is
Director, Deccan Development Society and is an experienced producer
and trainer and familiar with the rural ethos).
- Vijendra Patil, a Cameraman- producer who has a variety of experiences
training and production.
- Yesu, an 18-year old rural boy, who had recently apprenticed with
a video production house and who was being simultaneously trained
on video operations and editing.
The training was done with one DV Camera and two VHS video cameras
and a makeshift editing set up.
The trainings were conducted using the following methods:
- Group discussion on what the motivation of each person was to come
for the training.
- Visual explanation with the use of drawings on the blackboard of
the various concepts and terms.
- Creation of a new technical vocabulary in the local dialect using
the women's words and their experiences. This became an exercise in
participatory glossary formation in the local language.
- Creation of learning games to bring home the concepts. For eg. hopscotch
was a game used to teach the principles of varying the image sizes,
camera distances, heights and angles when shooting a given object
for successive shots.
- Hands on training in using the camera and editing the pictures
- Group analysis of each other's work to facilitate a group learning
Through these processes the women learnt the following :
- Parts of a video camcorder and how to operate each of them
- Use of a camera tripod
- Shots and image sizes
- Camera frame and simple principles of picture composition
- Camera distance, camera angle and camera movement
- Simple microphones and simple techniques of sound recording.
- Shot breakdown for a simple shoot
- Plotting camera positions for a simple shoot
- Logging the shoot and finding editing points
- Executing an edit on a VHS system
Outputs and linkages
The training cum learning processes involved have been videoed and
have been through a rough edit. After learning video skills for 30 days,
the women have filmed one aspect of their sangham work namely pre-schools
for their children and their significance to their lives. Together these
two films highlight the capacities, experiences and communication skills
of the village women.
In October there was unprecedented rain in our area and crops in the
field were severely damaged. The women decided to tell their story on
video. The group discussed their ideas and planned the story. Ms.Narasamma,
a 25 year old non literate farm worker was selected as the reporter.
The group also wanted to highlight in the story, that this video was
being shot by the rural women themselves. Two cameras were taken to
the field and the reporter stood in ankle deep water and gave her piece
to the camera, briefly but passionately telling the facts regarding
the destruction of bajra and jowar and the black future of the farmer
and the women.
Caption goes here
The quality of shooting with the play of light, close up of the
blackened jowar was made more poignant as it was these women's
fields that we were looking at. The story has gone on air on the
regional Doordarshan network and on ETV, a commercial channel.
This gave us confidence that the group can make short videos of
broadcast quality. It was evident that the group had confidence
in themselves and was beginning to handle their ideas, equipments
and find space on air.
This gave us an idea and we have negotiated for a regular chunk on
their channels both with the Doordarshan and with the ETV channel. Both
have agreed to provide them space. Doordarshan has said that it is interested
in giving them space on their Women's programme while ETV has in principle
agreed provide a five minute slot per month for stories on organic farming.
- Video can be a very effective tool for use by non-literate rural
people to express themselves to the outside world
- Being non literate is no barrier in learning video as a mode of
expression. Therefore instead of literacy being pushed down the throats
of adult rural women and men, new media of expressions can be found.
- Non literate women can turn into excellent videographers. Their
traditional narrative and pictorial understanding of the world around
them can find wonderful expression in the videos made by them.
- The trainers in these workshops who have long experiences in training
professional television practitioners in the Afro Asian region, were
struck with the ease and quickness with which non literate women were
able to learn and use video. In many cases they started wondering
whether literacy is after all a barrier in learning new media of expression.
- In their ability to understand and express through video the non
literate women were not even a slight shade inferior to their urban
counterparts who come to media education with formidable academic
- Video has a great potential for use in rural communities as a mode
of exchange of ideas and thoughts. This must be recognised and the
use of simple video by the rural communities in developmental communication
must be supported and encoraged.
- Non literate communities can handle video extraordinarily well
to express themselves and communicate with the outside world. Therefore
as a tool for direct communication between communities and governments,
policy makers, funders and international development organisations,
video should be explored more widely. The burden of being non-literate
gets lifted if video can substitute communication through literacy.
With such and effort, non literate communities can regain their confidence
for expression with outside world.
- Women in traditional communities are normally kept out of the realm
of communicating with the external world. Interpersonal communication
with outsiders, written communication and participation in large groups
to express themselves normally becomes very difficult for thesse women.
As a first stage of helping them find their own expression video can
be used as a very effecive tool..
- Civil Society groups should be helped to establish and run Community
Media Centres which include video and audio communication facilities.
This prevents them from seeking literacy as the only tool of expression
for their rural client groups. This also releases the latent energy
among their communites whose confidences are normally shattered wit
the existing heavy emphasis on literacy.
- This is not to suggest that efforts towards literacy must be stopped.
On the contrary. What is being suggested is that we must recognise
that to be effectively literate is a generational effort. In the meanwhile
people of the middle generation who are past their teens should not
be made to feel subhumans because they are not literate. If they are
given other tools of expression their confidences can be rebuilt and
literacy can follow as they start effectively communicating with the
outside world with the new found tools. Video can be one such tool
which they can easily master and handle.
The video training has tremendous value as it comes at a time when
women are required to communicate more widely, their experiences and
expertise in permaculture, empowerment and leadership training. Handling
the camera also gives visibility in the community and empowers the women
to document the stories of the community.
Overall, the women have demonstrated the potential of becoming a rich
independent, human resource for region in communicating indigenous development
Community F M Radio
The other medium we are trying to explore with the non-literate rural
women is Radio. Annexure A gives in detail their own expectations from
a radio of their own. Their arguments are extraordinarily original and
are unmatched for their logic. For the women who are equipped with extraordinary
oral narrative skills radio is a natural medium. We feel very excited
with the possibilities of using it.
We have built a low cost radio station which is 90% complete
and will be operationalised by January 1999. It is designed
as an FM station capable of working on audio cassette technology.
It has a 100 watts transmitter which can reach a radius of 30
The station is part of the Women Speak to Women programme of
UNESCO, which has supported us in this venture. Once the station
is in operation dalit women from 75 villages will own and operate
it. They will bring their form and content into it and make
it a tool for their horizontal communication with their communities
and to reach out to the outside world.
Recording a programme
at the Radio Station
As the women get equipped with the capacities to express their thoughts,
their knowledge and their vision for their future through pictures and
sounds, we feel, we have made a major breakthrough in providing a technology
for the education of deprived rural communities. And for the education
of the outside world about what these communities are capable of.