Many development planners in the third world have appreciated the value of using traditional or folk media as an alternative communication strategy in development programmes.
There is a renewed interest in the use of the folk media for development as newer concepts of development advocated such themes as local participation and integration of indigenous media and mass media.
The new paradigm of development current in many Third world societies now is that which seeks to emphasize the quality of life including the integration of traditional and modern systems of communications, labour intensive and appropriate technology, self- reliance, user-oriented strategies and popular participation in development planning and implementation.
Historically, the folk media have often a role in the communication and promotion of new ideas and the adjustment to a new social or political order, apart from its traditional role of preserving and teaching established values.
For example, in India, Indonesia and the Philippines during colonial times or wartime, when the mass media were under the control of foreign rulers, the folk have been used to ridicule the oppressors, present strategies for resistance, and rally popular support for rationalist and independence movements.
Bascom (1965) spelled out four functions of folk media, namely: to mirror familiar details of everyday culture, to validate the rituals and institutions of culture, to educate in non-literate societies, and to maintain conformity to the accepted patterns of behaviour.
To these four, Cland adds two more functions, the entertainment and cathartic function.
There is a great potential in using the various folk media in development campaigns, but there is a lack of enough research or academic interest in this particular area of communication.
While some studies on the folk media have been undertaken, their scope is limited to one type of media in one geographical area.
In Philippines, projects on assessing the impact of folk media were taken up in seventies. The favourable results of these initial studies have led to the inclusion of the folk media in the overall communication strategy of the Philippine Populations Programmes and development programmes.
In the forties of this century, IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) the cultural front of the communist party of India, successfully handled some of the highly popular regional theatre forms like the Jatra of Bengal, Bhavai of Gujarat, Tamasha of Maharashtra and Burrakatha of Andhra Pradedsh to change to the face of India.
Jawaharlal Nehru welcomed the movement because it aimed at revitalising the traditional theatre of the people, for their own entertainment and enlightenment. It also inspired the country.
In the mid fifties, the dramatic medium was effectively used to tell villagers the story of Independence, the programmes of Five Year Plans and other specific projects for village improvement.
In the first two decades of experimentation with traditional media, the Indian communicators often mishandled the medium by overloading it with modern message or by not matching the natural theme of the medium with the modern message.
They failed to achieve balance between the natural entertainment value of the medium and the deliberately crammed information, and no evaluation of the impact of these media was carried out scientifically.
In the social reform movement in Maharashtra, the Tamasha of Satyashodhak Samaj and Jalsas of Dr. Ambedkar’s followers made powerful use of the traditional media.
All the performing arts whether in Gujarat or Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh, have been used directly for dissemination of message on the radio and TV with suitable changes.
Puppetry has been used both for educational purposes in non- formal education programmes as well as in primary schools while imparting moral education or narrating stories, Pathak (1984) conducted an experiment to study the effectiveness of puppetry as a means of communication for educating rural women in the areas of parent education and health, in the village of Gujarat. Nine puppet plays were performed.
The findings of the study revealed that there was knowledge gain and change in opinions of rural women in the areas of parent education, health and social evils. Change in opinion was retained better. Kaur, Malaviya and Rami (1985) experimented with traditional media in communicating Home Improvement Messages.
They found that string puppets were the most potential traditional media for communicating child development and nutrition messages, folk theatre for messages on time and energy saving devices, consumer education, saving and credit facilities and storytelling for messages on income generation. Melas and festivals were reported to be the most potential media for messages on clothing and textiles.
Gupta (1986) also found puppetry effective in imparting education regarding supplementary income activities and importance of educating girls and women. Folk media have also proved effective in carrying the message of adult education.
Street plays also have been used widely by many nongovernment organisations in generating social awareness and fostering the process of social development. Street play was revived during the emergency period (1975-77), as an expression of the suppressed freedom.
In 1987, number of street plays was staged as a protest against the assassination of Safdar Hashmi. In 1990 street plays were used widely to popularise science under, ‘Bharat Gyan Vigyan Jatha’ all over the country.
Many women activists have used street plays frequently to express their concerns, demands and issues. Gurusharansingh is honoured as the ‘king of Street Plays’. He has written more than 135 plays and they have been played to bring about awakening in the farmers and labourers.
In spite of all these efforts very little scientific evidence is available on the impact of street plays. Ahmedabad women’s Action Group (AWAG) conducted an experiment, ‘Violence against Women’ the street play as vehicle for consciousness rising in Gujarat.
The study revealed that street play was effective in rais;ng consciousness regarding women’s problems.
Yadav (1993) found street play effective in raising the awareness level of high school students regarding differential treatment to women and in developing unfavourable opinions regarding differential treatment to women as a result of exposure to street play.
Pandya (1993) studied relative effectiveness of the two selected strategies namely live programme and videoed progremme of Bhavai for promotion of solar cooker among the boys and girls of secondary and higher secondary schools of Baroda district.
The study revealed that both live as well as videoed bhavai was effective in raising the motivation of the students to using the solar cookers.
Darpan Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, staged series of message oriented Bhavai under its ‘Parivartan Project’. It aimed at a change of attitude among the Dungri Bhils, considered to be the most backward and with maximum cases of violence against women.
This project was an alternative to the education system and the political system, which have failed to drive home such messages.
This three year project was launched in June 1995 under the aegis of the MacArthur Foundation from the United States of America, picked 35 villages around Khedbramma in Gujarat and attempted a change in attitudes through cultural programmes themed on alcoholism, witch-craft, blood feuds and family planning.
Out of 35 villages, 10 villages banned alcohol after the project was over. There was positive change in the villager’s attitude towards family planning.
Ramanathan and Srinivasan (1988) found that the use of folk drama and folk recitals increased the farmer’s knowledge about the treatment of paddy and influenced in retaining the same in Tamil Nadu.
When we look at the urban scenario, it becomes difficult to appreciate the relevance of traditional media in minimizing the ever increasing social problems. In urban areas folk performers are very few.
It has become an aestatus symbol to attend a programme of folk performance. Many a times it is a feeling of obliging the group by attending it. In such situation, it is futile to expect behavioural changes from a status conscious audience of the traditional media.
Separately and collectively, folk media have provided both entertainment and education for the rural folk. In order to communication with the rural people at the community level, it is crucial to understand and utilize the various folk media which characteristically operate in the rural milieu.
Song and Drama Division as an arm of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, conducted field experiments with folk arts. The experiments showed that puppet; Katha and Song varieties became effective live media for communication of any message. They did not demand elaborate experimentation or in-depth studies.
A Karnataka experiment with temple based songs known as yellamma songs revealed the necessity for pre-testing the medium before feeding it with a pre-determined message. A South Indian experiment with Yakshagana threw light on certain interesting facts.
It was used to handle the messages on communal harmony or national unity without offending the traditionality of the medium. Initially crowds refused to take the message seriously, since it came from the joking jester.
Drastic changes had to be made and new thematic situations were created. After six years of experimentation in the field, Yakshagana became a powerful medium in 1978, in the hands of a team of skilled artists.
Today, Tamasha is widely used by the Government for the propagation of its development programmes. The adaptation of Tamasha for the sophisticated theatre has greatly enhanced its communication scope.
In African and Asian countries, folk media have been subjected to purposeful communication. In Zambia and Indonesia, folk media are used in development communication in a big way. Agencies such as USAID have tried it for introducing American wheat in Jawa.
In Iran, puppets have proved to be convincing communicators of family planning messages. The shadow puppet and ballad were also found dually effective in Egypt.
Folk tunes were developed to convey even instructional messages regarding change of currency and change over to the right hand drive in Nigeria. Thus, folk media have acquired significance in developing countries.
There is a decline in the popularity of these folk dramas. Shah and Joshi (1992) point out various factors responsible for their diminishing popularity. Firstly, in part kings, landlords and other rich person’s patronage the performances. The artists were well looked after. Such patronage is gone.
The second factor is their length. They can be stretched into many hours with dialogues and songs as per the demands of the audience. Change in the lifestyle of the people does not permit them to spare much time frequently for these performances, ‘thirdly, there is a dearth of writers for these folk dramas.
People get tired of seeing the same old themes. The then languages and dialects were vastly different from what is spoken today. Lastly, the urban and rural audiences are also lured by other programmes on radio, television and films.
To survive these, folk forms must adapt to present day life styles. With the continued efforts, folk arts would reach new heights and enrich communication and offer to mass media weary people a new super medium exploiting the dynamic potential of the human personality.