Development Communication: A Mix of Traditional Art and Technology
Tilonia has a reputation for folk theatre and the creation of people’s songs, sung much beyond its confines, for years. The women’s song ‘chet sako to chet, jaman aayo chetanaro’ (Women wake up, it is the age of awareness) is sung almost by all rural women’s groups, and even greeted the Clintons when they came to Jaipur, Rajasthan.
In 1980, a young and very talented adult education instructor joined Tilonia. He used theatre, puppets, and songs with the adults he taught. He wandered in, hoping to work with SWRC where he heard new ideas were welcomed. He was fascinated by puppets and theatre for the development of his own people. He is now a legend in Rajasthan and in India and an alumnus of the SWRC. He drew the interest and participation of numbers of young musicians and artists, traditional and others, who used appropriate art forms to get the message across. He was joined by many traditional puppeteers, drummers and painters, and many who were just interested in communication. They travelled from the intricacy of the traditional string puppet to the glove puppet, thoroughly changed to look like a traditional Rajasthani.
The transition from the string to the glove puppet was dictated to by both the ability to use the puppet, and its dissociation from traditional caste hierarchies. Initially enthused by the possibilities, two of them travelled from Tilonia to the literary house in Lucknow to learn more about puppet making in the 1980s. They came back with a rod puppet whom they called JokhimChacha and who has become the narrator of the Barefoot story.
Jokhim Chacha is 365 years old and enjoys the privilege of a wise old man among the people of the world. Jokhim shares news and new ideas and engages rural villagers in debates on social and community issues.
More than 2,000 barefoot communicators have been trained to produce puppet shows to communicate with audiences on issues of health, education, and human rights. Over 300,000 people have viewed these performances in 3,000 Indian villages since 1981.
Since then, the Communication Team, as they were popularly called, became one of the ambassadors of the vision of the SWRC. In an abundance of songs, puppet shows, skits, street theatre and even formal theatre presentations, in collaboration with the National School of Drama (NSD) New Delhi, they brought the message of human development to many Rajasthanis. Eventually, they toured Europe from the Festival of Fools in Oslo, Norway in 1985, to many places including the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK. They have sung and acted in front of celebrated visitors to Tilonia.
In January 1984, SWRC Tilonia organised the first Lok Utsav, a coming together of more than 300 musicians and with an attendance of over 1000. In collaboration with Rupayan Sansthan, Jodhpur, and under the guidance of Komal Kothari, these Lok Utsavs became celebrated as a genuine coming together of folk musicians and art forms. They also addressed the socio-economic conditions of the musicians. This began a very strong and continual learning experience with Komal Kothari, one of the most renowned folk historians and musicologists of the people, in Rajasthan. The collaboration continued till his death in 2004 and still lives on.
In the many workshops on theatre and music, plays and songs were created which became a part of the repertoire of the NGO alternative theatre world in Rajasthan. The number of puppets continued to grow. When the Dalai Lama visited in 2011, a puppet in his likeness greeted him, to his great amusement.
Khamayati, a project to study the musicians of Western Rajasthan was undertaken successfully from 2011 – 2016 under the SWRC (Khamayati folk music channel). After its conclusion, Khamayati works with the Loktantrashala, continuing its research and socio-economic work further.
In the experimenting of art as development politics, the SWRC’s contribution was seminal and almost all NGOs continued to acknowledge its value.
A variety of modern media is also used by the barefoot communication team at the College. Barefoot screen printers run the College’s printing presses. They produce posters on health, education and other social issues, announcements and pamphlets for Bal melas,(childrens fairs) Mahila melas ( womens festival), and educational material for the night schools.
The Barefoot photographers
It began with a visit of Pablo Bartholomew, now a famous Indian photographer, who came to experiment in his late teens with a camera and a small projector to enthuse villagers to record their own story. This resulted in some remarkable slideshows. Sunil Gupta came in in 1980 to do his Masters research project, staying for almost a year in the SWRC, Tilonia has had excellent informal training and a window to the world of visual media. As a follow up local photographers have continued to be educated, semi-literate staff encouraged to use the camera. It culminated with a book called” Barefoot Photographers”.
The audio-visual section, as it was called, has to its credit, many things. SWRC offered to record and store hundreds of hours of footage on the MKSS, RTI campaign, and recording events of sister organisations and campaigns in Rajasthan. It has got, therefore, one of the most well-maintained and docketed archives on the history of civil society action in the last three decades.
All this has been managed by a barefoot librarian of the highest calibre with just a primary education, who maintains all records, including computer records. His encyclopaedic mind can locate an incident or an event, and produce it from the records in record time!