Media and muslim women in Manipur

Mehnaz N *

Muslim women protesting at the Lilong Police Station in March 2011
Muslim women protesting at the Lilong Police Station in March 2011 :: pix - TSE

"A nation that wants to accelerate its development through media should try to make its people more widely and quickly aware of needs and of opportunities for meeting them. This will facilitate the decision process and will help the people to put the new practices smoothly and swiftly," opined Wilbur Schramm, father of Communication Studies.

However, Manipur, one of the north-eastern states of Indian nation, rarely features in the mainstream media. Consequently, people particularly its youth living in this region are not exposed to the media unlike other states that may prevent them to be well-informed and developed individuals. Worst is the case for its women, specifically Manipuri Muslim women.

Manipur, the Jewel of India (the title doesn't suffice in the current scenario though), is considered to be a literate state with 79.85 per cent literacy rate as per 2011 population census. Of that, male literacy stands at 86.49 per cent while it is 73.17 per cent for female. However, the literacy rate of minority women (including Muslim women) is around 54% only. So, the people here use media intelligently but unfortunately they are less exposed to the mainstream media.

Though media is also growing day-by-day in Manipur, yet there is no proper study of the patterns of media usage in Manipur. To quench the curiosity of media usage pattern among youth, particularly, Manipuri Muslim women, a study has been carried out during my university days. Below I would be happily sharing the excerpts from the research that might change the outlook towards media and the society of the region.

Well, it is a well-known fact that people enjoy watching TV, listening to radio, surfing internet, reading newspapers and what not they do with media. They are using media according to their choice and needs. Audience are not passive anymore, they play an active role in selection and adoption of any media into their lives. People themselves are responsible for choosing media to meet their requirements. Audiences use media to live out their fantasies and other gratifications, including informing and educating themselves about the world around them. People make supplementary and compensatory uses of the mass media. This approach is known as Uses and Gratification theory.

The above mentioned study has been carried out on the lines of Uses and Gratification theory so as to find out how Manipuri youth, particularly Muslim women of the state, use media.The project aimed to identify the media usage pattern among them. Media usage pattern means the habit of using different media by the people at different point of time. The project promised to reveal the media usage pattern through user behaviours and user preferences that are linked up to certain user characteristics. In addition, the study also throws a light on how media can boost development and bring in the much needed change in the society.

Several studies on communication and development by different communication scholars have revealed that media have extended huge support towards development of the nation and have assisted the rate and score of development.

For instance, a well-known Development Communicator Gupta in his book 'Development Communication' in 1996 stated that mass communication brings people closer through developing common understanding of an event or issue. Everyone is dependent on mass communication not only for information, entertainment and politics but also for education, science, religion, charities, agriculture and transportation.

Similarly, an Indian communication scholar Dua on media and development said that there are two tasks of media in two-fold, which are: First task, to help remove illiteracy, fatalism, enlarge aspirations, increase and extend social status and secondly, to lead overall national progress and prosperity. All other are by-products of media inputs and media consumption.

After two months of rigorous study, including field plus desk work, the result through the study revealed that minority women (read Muslim women) have access to almost all the media. However, those living in rural areas of Manipur do not have the privilege to utilise internet, they still largely depend on radio for their information and entertainment needs.

The surprise finding of the research is that large number of minority women watches TV for fulfilling their entertainment needs. 65% respondents watch television and 33% out of this watch TV only for serials and soaps. They mainly watch serials and news although songs and movies have their own audiences too. The increasing number of TV audience shows the growth of their living standards. The literacy among them is also a vital factor in contributing to the increase in TV audience.

Another contribution to this growth is by the local channel called ISTV (Information Service Television Network) that telecast local news, Manipuri songs, movies, dramas and many more. Television is, therefore, booming as a medium in both urban and rural areas of Manipur and its usage is increasing day-by-day by the rural minority women in the state.

Radio still remains the trusted medium among the minority women. 83% respondents happily use radio as their sole asset of entertainment. They listen to almost all the formats of the radio; however, song tops the chart when it comes to listening as 66% of them listen to the songs aired on radio. Despite the absence of private FM channels, radio serves the large rural population for their informational as well as entertainment needs.

Talking about the newspaper and news magazine, only half of the respondents agreed to reading newspaper on a regular basis. This is because the need of the news is fulfilled either by radio or TV. Even though all the respondents were literate, still they showed little interest in reading newspaper or news magazine. Another reason is that there is not enough reach of mainstream newspapers like The Times of India, The Hindu, Hindustan Times and the like to them. So they have to bank their thirst of news on radio, TV and some regional papers like The Sangai Express, The Free Press, Poknapham, among others.

In today's world of internet, rural minority women of Manipur still do not have access to internet except 8% of them. Internet is still a new and complicated medium for them. Only few numbers of their schools and colleges provide internet connectivity.

Even though the rural minority women of Manipur do not have access to this new media called internet but they have trust to the other available media to them. All of them agreed on media disseminating valuable information on education. They say media help in shaping up their career in various ways through their various programmes on counselling, tips of scoring in examination, discussions on various subjects and the like.

It is surprising that more than 45% of the total respondents like watching, reading and listening to entertainment programmes than others which are knowledge-based.

Like women belonging to other states, Manipuri Muslim women too choose media according to their needs and gratification. They certainly use media to satisfy their fantasies and live out their lives. Media do not choose their audience, it is the audience who chooses what they want to see, read or listen to. Majority of them that is 55% of the total say that TV is the most useful media while 35% think that radio is the most useful one.

However, 40% of the total agree that all the media is useful for them. 12% of the respondents still have faith in print media whereas 5% each of them think that both magazine and internet are useful to them. From this analysis, it can be inferred that the Muslim women choose intelligently which media to use for their benefit.

Most importantly, majority of the Muslim women in Manipur agree that media provides valuable information on education, health, career, fashion, entertainment and the like. They fully agree that without media they cannot develop themselves into perfect human beings. Media directly or indirectly help shape them up to become better individuals.They said that development cannot become a reality sans the involvement of media in their lives.

Media, certainly, acts as an amplifier for the development of a nation and its people. And yes, Media in Manipur has the potential to change and develop the society; provided they are barred from threats from various sections of the society and is allowed to function as freely as media in places like New Delhi and other cities does.

* Mehnaz N wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is the Founder of and former journalist at the Hindustan Times and Planman Media
This article was posted on March 04, 2013

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