Soap operas are changing the world one episode at the time




Taru is a young educated woman who worked in Suhagpur village’s center, an organisation that provides health services, carries self-help activities and fights injustice by mobilising community action. She is idealistic, intelligent and polite. A Bihari from a higher caste, she befriended the likeable Shashikant who is also involved in social work, but he is from the lower caste. Together they challenged many of the prejudices of in a society where caste and gender taboos were strictly enforced.

In rural Bihar, girls children are subject of despair, where sex or family planning is difficult to talk about, child marriage or new-born girls killing are common happenings. But fictional characters of Taru and her friends inspired a real change in community.

The Hindi speaking population of rural north India has a population topping 600 million people. And in the rural hinterland, radio is still the most accessible medium. Taru was one of the most popular radio dramas ever to be broadcasted in India, with an estimated audience of 60-75 million people. It was a 52 –episode entertainment education radio soap opera, broadcast in India from 2002 till 2003. Each episode of Taru began with a theme song and it has ended with en epilogue that posed a reflexive question to the listeners inviting them to write in their responses to All India Radio, the Indian national network that broadcast Taru.

A community transformed:

Inspired by character Neha, who establishes a school to educate dalit (a lower caste) children in the fictional storyline, young man and unmarried women, listeners of Taru for the first time come together to establish a school for dalit children in Abipur.

Moved by celebration of a young girl’s birthday in Taru storyline, a couple in Madhopur village decide to celebrate their daughter birthday. Boys and girls receive different treatment and only sons’ birthday was joyful occasion for a celebration so far. The action of this couple led to string of celebrations for girls in Madhopur with sweets, balloons and cakes.

Vandana’s, another listener family undertook a few social actions, which previously would have been unthinkable. During the wedding celebration of the Vandana’s elder sister within 600 guests being invited, dalits were invited to prepare and serve food in public. So far their roles were only limited to cleaning of toilets and collecting garbage. This family engaged in conversation and dialogue about the social issues with other community members who came with a resistance of breaking a tradition. Once tradition was broken , new codes of social behaviour about participation of dalits were legitimised through further amplification . The daughters urged her friends to do the same . Taru played a key role in empowering communities to make a tough choices with courage and conviction. Discussions, dialogues and conversations among the audience members clarified doubts, overcome fear of breaking patriarchal norms and provide a sense of collective efficacy to act.

Gandhi who has led India freedom struggle believed that each of us need to embody the change we wish to see as opposed to changing others. By changing ourselves we can change others. Communities of Bihar and Madhopur started to define problems in themselves and deciding on how their community whey live in should look like. Power of collective imagination once again.

It reminds me of the Arora and Rangaswamy article (2013) that argues that ‘adopting the narrow development lens can miss actual engagement strategies communities use to instate technologies in their every day life (903)’. Entertainment, for instance soap operas not only gives people daily pleasure, thus enables emotional connection and engagement. Entertainment, leisure can become a key behavioural tool that enhances technology use.

Arora, P., Rangaswamy, N. (2013) Digital leisure for development: reframing new media practise in the global south, Media Culture Society 35

Singhal, Rao, Pant (2006) Entertainment and Possibilities for Second- Order Social Change. Journal of Creative Communication 1 (3) 

Singhal, Harter, Chitnis & Sharma (2007) Participatory photography as theory, method and praxis: analysing an entertainment education project in India. Critical Arts 21 (1) 

Singhal, A. & Rogers, E. M. (2004). The status of entertainment-education worldwide. In A. Singhal, M. J. Cody, E. M. Rogers, & M. Sabido (Eds.), Entertainment-education and social change: History, research, and practice (pp. 3-20). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Yala N (2015) The Role of Community Radio in empowering women in India. Mass Communication Journalism 5 (2) 

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