Friday, August 1, 2014

Join the Dots

What does one do with information? Use them as dots to draw themselves the larger picture. Information empowers not because it informs, but because this information provides the basis on which opinions are made. The process of joining the dots has to be done by the receivers of the information and if they become lazy and cede the task to others, they run the risk of being shown a picture which is not necessarily the one that the dots would have inked. They run the risk of becoming recipients of projections manipulated by the draftsmen presenting it. That is a risky proposition and actually quite inexcusable in these times of substantial literacy and reasonably good access to authentic updates. People have to stop remaining passive recipients of interpretations and seek out information, demand reliability and then distill an understanding out of the information. Don’t demand authenticity and accountability, and you tempt the providers of information to infect information with their biases and projections. And that is where the crumble begins because once the medium carrying information starts inflecting information with its preferences, biases and suspicions, it is only a matter of time before the medium also starts ‘censoring’ information, passing on only what its deems right and useful. That cannot be good because the compromise and colouring begins too early in such a process. What the people at large should endorse is information as untouched by opinion as possible because an opinion is for them to make, because once public opinion has formed, the public representatives are required to come up with matching policy decisions and course corrections.
This exercise has worked well for Sikkim in the recent past. The Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act, for instance, evolved from a joining the dots process when policy-makers responded to increased media coverage of addiction and of over-dose deaths in the State and decided that a new law was required to keep a generation safe. Conscious reporting on suicides has also at least succeeded in convincing Sikkim that suicides are a worry. Unfortunately, these were top-down initiatives and not policy interventions brought about by social consciousness. That is unfortunate because if these policy interventions had come about because of civil society pressure, they would have definitely been more effective initiatives. Ask any recovering addict whether SADA has helped combat substance, and you will most likely be greeted with a scoff. Look at the suicide figures for Sikkim and they have shown no reduction despite Sikkim-wide realisation that this was an area of concern. The failure is not the government’s, but the people’s because although they have received the ‘dots’ [with the daily coverage of these issues], they are not joining them themselves. When one says stop being passive, one means, start thinking after you read, say, even a mundane report about a coordination meeting. Most coordination meetings are still scratching the basic levels about directing who should be doing what when one would expect more refined levels to have been attained by now. For instance, when one reads of directions having been passed for officers to make more site visits and tours of the ‘districts’, more people should wonder why this was not already being done. Ditto for the still continuing awareness programmes for organic farming. The continuing cycle of awareness camps repeating routine information should have people wondering about their effectiveness. Once people start doing this, the quality of service delivery will be forced to improve. Once they develop a more enquiring attitude, they will also receive the respect of being served more effective delivery by government servants and more intelligent political debates, not routine charades of crying wolf by one side and claims and denials by the other. The march to empowerment would have begun.

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