Information is only useful when it can be understood – Muriel Cooper
Sawai Madhopur is a small district at the eastern end of Rajasthan, where the major revenue generating sectors are Agriculture and Hospitality (due to Ranthambhore National Park located in the district), where around 70% of the rural population and 78% of urban population is literate, where the language changes every few kilometers and where most of the villages are homogeneous in nature. Other factors affecting local economy in the recent past include a cement factory shutting down and regulations on forest activity. The district has been witness to its various villages being displaced for expansion and conservation of the National Park.
The communities in Sawai Madhopur are close knit and welcoming to their regular guests including tourists, government officials and social workers. But there is little exposure to the rest of the world, country and or even their own state. The villagers are highly occupied with their daily struggles of farming, making ends meet and ensuring that there is enough food for the family, leaving almost no time and/or midspace to get updated with the current affairs. With the advent of social media platforms, such information is reaching them much faster than before which has, to an extent, helped in bridging the information gap in rural areas and has played an important role in increased awareness among people.
However, there is an underlying danger. The trickling down of information through social media is just akin to the Chinese whisper game we used to play as children. Even though it reaches people in local communities, it cannot be assured that the information is accurate.
We live in times where news is manipulated according to the requirement of the propagator — the Post-Truth era. Everything is a mixture of opinions and facts. Media propagates their agendas and half truths become headlines on news channels. What is further skewed is the fact that most of the news covers those who have the money to get their voices heard. But what about the rural areas that comprises more than half of our nation’s population? What about their voices, opinions and needs?
At Gramin Shiksha Kendra, we believe in constant improvement and to achieve that, we conduct various workshops during school holidays. The purpose of these workshops is to enhance the knowledge and skills of teachers and to discuss different learning methods that can be used to improve the quality of school education. During one of the winter workshops, a teacher was asked about his opinion on the recent decisions taken by the central government to which he said that he doesn’t know much about it. This made us realize the information gap and therefore, began a discussion on current affairs among teachers. We started with every individual’s understanding of the NRC (National Register of Citizens), which was the only familiar term in Sawai Madhopur out of all other popular terms in News these days. The perceptions and understanding differed drastically from one person to another, a big reason for that being access to different sources of information.
With the help of the team leader, the teachers went on to decipher the terms, concepts and reasons for the current situation in the country. They made an effort to know about previously passed bills, regulations followed, arguments being made and reasoning given by the government. With every new finding, a different point was made which was enough for everyone to guage multiple versions of the story and the importance of finding the correct source. On observing this, the teachers sought to look for government documents, bills and acts on official websites to find out the actual information.
The teachers started to understand the difference between news and facts, half-baked information on social media platforms and legitimate sources. It gave them the information on acts, bills, processes and their affect on communities we work with as well as on themselves as Indian citizens.
The discussion led to other topics such as the idea of a nation, citizenship, legality, patriotism, Kashmir, Assam, state flags, diversity, unity and what it means to be an Indian. It also led to the understanding of the dangers of a single story. The beauty of the conversation lay in the diversity of responses for each of these words and ideologies. We also talked about the deep rooted causes of our ideologies. It was fruitful in terms of beginning conversations on the role of media and effect of government’s decisions. We could build upon each other’s knowledge, fill gaps and clear misconceptions related to the topic.
It is important to ensure that the communities we work with, form the roots of our country and must have the access to the right and accurate information. More such spaces for these discussions should be created and promoted. As people working in different regions and with communities from different social, economic and cultural backgrounds, I believe that we can facilitate more and more such conversations, bridge the gap of information, and understanding people’s viewpoint in the light of such bills and acts. In small but effective ways, we can and should ensure the growth in awareness for all of us.
“Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; and argument an exchange of ignorance.”-Robert Quillen