The first four chapters of the Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet proved to be an interesting and fascinating read. I was drawn to the writings on the Media and the Public Sphere in Early Europe. I was struck by the many parallels between the role of the media during the time of Reformation and the Indian Freedom Struggle. While print media was arguably the most used during the reformation, Briggs and Burke note that there were also a variety of other media forms were utilized to propagate the message during the time of the Reformation, one of it being ‘Oral Communication’ to appeal to the illiterate (Briggs and Burke 2002, page 79). Hence to reach the masses the Reformation propaganda was advocated extensively from the pulpit to the public sphere.
Similarly during the Indian Freedom Struggle while dailies such as the Lok Manya Tilak and the National Herald were circulated, they targeted the elite and the educated. The common man, on the other hand, was roped in to the Freedom Movement through campaigns and public meetings addressed mostly by Gandhi himself or other freedom fighters. Those who championed the cause along with Gandhi also spoke in universities, in meeting halls and in public wherever people met until it became a matter of common concern ultimately bringing an end to the British Raj. Oral communication in both instances served to be a powerful media that advanced both movements at different times in history for different causes.
Interestingly, I find history repeating itself again in India with yet another ‘freedom movement’. Despite advancement in the fields of science, technology, media and communication, this ‘freedom movement’ still relies on ‘oral communication’ for information dissemination and processing. As a vast majority of India continues to live in the bondage of extreme poverty, both physical and spiritual, illiteracy, health and gender issues. Raising awareness about issues, educating the masses, advocating for the underprivileged and bringing true freedom to counter the negative impact is still undertaken only through ‘oral communication’ through an actual messenger. Street theatre, street corner meetings, and face to face presentations accompanied by visual aids is the only effective means of communicating.
There are two reasons for this use of media. Firstly, it is due to a high percentage of illiteracy. Standard education is still not accessible to children in the rural areas leaving only 52% of them to make it past fifth grade. A majority of women are illiterate for socio-cultural reasons, which for the most part excludes them from even receiving information. Secondly, while this sophisticated media is available it is only selectively accessible. And therein is another blaring paradox in a land of paradoxes; a select few who are well educated and emancipated have access to an active and sophisticated media and communications industry allowing them to participate and exercise their rights to speech and information while totally disregarding the rural uneducated populace.
“…How then shall they hear…?” (Romans 10:14 KJV) I believe for India, oral communication still bridges this gap. Today for the spread of the greatest message of love, liberty and hope this proves to be the most effective means of communication. This church is growing in India not because of the mass media and technology but because a messenger is ‘called’ and ‘sent’. Unless someone actually goes to these remote villages and communicates with them the good news will remain a best-kept secret. However, when the message is shared it catches on like wild fire.
My visit to Thenmalai was one such personal experience. It was a village that had never heard the gospel message. I was making my routine visit to pastor Paulraj’s village where IGL initiated socio-economic development through his church. After I was done with my visit and review, Pastor Paulraj invited me to go with him to this neighboring village called Thenmalai. He warned me that we had to trek a bit to get to this village and so we set off at around 4 in the evening. Upon arrival, the village headman welcomed and greeted us. After pleasantries were exchanged, the village headman looked at me and asked me the reason for our visit. We told him that we had come to share the good news with him. We came to share about a God who loves him and his village. He was curious and asked us to share. We sat in the village square and began sharing the gospel message. Hearing us share women and children gathered and soon men stood around to listen.
The village headman and his people listened intently. After we had finished, the headman turned to me. He was overwhelmed by the message and asked, “How can I have this God in my life? How can I have him in my village?” We had the great privilege that evening to pray with him and lead him to the Lord. Many others came forward for prayer seeing their village headman’s new commitment. Three weeks later with frequent visits from pastor Paulraj a church was planted there.
Like in the past, here in the public sphere, the message was communicated. It was owned and the path towards freedom began. As dialogue continues to revolve around this message in the public sphere, without it being institutionalized, it fans the fire in people’s heart. The novelty of the message and its meaning is retained for generations to come. And “consequently, faith comes from hearing the message…” Romans 10:17 NIV