Augustine Veliath, Chairperson of the Nonviolence Project Foundation (India) shared his perspectives on listening as the core for ideal communication. Veliath shared a case study of Jawaharlal Nehru and his political cartoonist friend Shankar, who created 1,500 cartoons on Nehru and those were satirical, humourous and sarcastic but to-the-point. Nehru took the cartoons as the finest way of listening to the real voice of the people. Then, he critically gave an overview of how the present political scenario lacked the practice of listening in the Indian fabric of democracy.
Augustine Veliath is a media professional for over 40 years – an experienced communication strategist, imaginative writer, publisher and mentor. Now, he is the co-founder and director of the Asian Center for Entertainment Education. Till recently, he was a Communications Specialist at UNICEF. He has also served as a media advisor to the Ministry of Woman and Child Development under the Government of India. Apart from that, he is a passionate advocate on child rights and has led many UNICEF movements including child survival revolution, global movements for children, universal immunization programmes etc. With a great track record in mobilizing and working with young people, he has worked in the most challenging states of India including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan for long spells. In the year 2002, he got Karuna Maitri award from the Dalit organization named Buddha Mission for his unrivalled contribution to the life of oppressed Dalit children in Bihar.
Development of Communication Campaigns
Veliath shared his experience and lessons from his polio communication campaign and said, “Don’t make anybody hostile.” With his great skills of imagination, he explained, “Virus is a hardworking phenomenon, you cannot convince or manipulate the virus. It will come back to you and strike back and make you look very stupid. The virus wants you to invest in health and do hard work.” According to him, “The biggest lesson we need to do is the housing for the poor.” He also spoke about public health and said, “This is one big opportunity for us to go back to the public health and the public health should begin at the 250,000 Gram Sabhas and every Gram Sabha should have special public health compartment.”
Restore the Process of Listening
Veliath said, “We need to get down to the people and listen to them. Don’t give them plans and promises, tell people how much and when will you give.”
Veliath said, “The biggest lesson of the Coronavirus was to invest in health.” He then drew the example of Shailaja Teacher, the health minister of Kerala, who dealt with the Coronavirus crisis and tackled the issue with proper communication. Finally, he said, “I don’t know why we use the term migrant workers. I travelled throughout the country and no one addressed me like that. In Kerala, they called these workers Guest Workers.”
Veliath also spoke about his work and experience. He defined three kinds of violence as situation violence, domestic violence and racial and caste violence. He also talked about some upcoming changes in creating the educational programme by the Nonviolence Project Foundation (India) on the post-Covid-19 situation.
Veliath said, “The kind of work I do is to make the child as a self-confident person and we teach them conflict management. That’s the campaign we are doing for the last 30 years and so we would try to reach out to the schools but now in this Coronavirus situation, we will mostly go online so that we can train a lot of teachers online. We are now in a situation to create a massive online community, we are also trying to promote spirituality above all religion.”
Speaking about his work in the challenging Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, he said, “In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, I was working as a UNICEF communication officer and my work was mostly with children and their rights. So, I had created some 14 different kinds of platforms where children participated as child reporters, child parliamentarians and members of children’s rights congress; and some of the neighbouring states adopted that.” He added, “There are many kinds of challenges. One big challenge is that we take children for granted and we don’t listen to children. But, they have great ideas and great things to tell. Another problem is that we are also not investing in children. Therefore, we created a platform where children can speak.”
Lastly, he made suggestions for the media students to develop their personality and skills in the post-Covid-19 world by saying, “In media, a lot of people sold themselves out. They created the kind of news that ministers want to hear, which is very dangerous. So, instead of getting journalism, we are getting a choir. Our entire hope is in the honest media, which criticizes the government. The moment you surrender your right to criticize, then journalism is not worth it. So it’s my suggestion to all of the media students – you have to expose them, investigate and tell the truth to the people who can make a difference.”
The author, Rituparna Mukhopadhyay is associated with Adamas University Media School.