When you visit Tiruvannamalai, there are some parts of local life that you usually do not see. There was one such event in the first week of 2011 in Tiruvannamalai, near Ramanasramam: the distribution of free color TVs by the DMK political party. Before the 2006 election, the ruling DMK party gave out 15 million free color TVs. Today’s event was a part of another four million free color TVs being given out. There is another Tamil Nadu election in a few months, and the DMK is reminding people to vote for their candidates.
There are (at least) two possible opposing ideas about this. The first is that it is a cynical attempt to use government money to prop up the DMK party’s future in the next election, by handing out free ‘goodies’ to the voters so they will vote for the DMK candidates. The other alternative is that this is a true humanitarian effort to help ‘lift up the lower castes and villagers.
I read an article in the New York Times Magazine recently on this second possibility, entitled ‘The Caste Buster’. It tells of one man, Ravendra Misal, who was able to raise his life beyond that of his parents and others in the village where he was a child. One element in his rise was a speech contest he won as a teenager. From the Times article:
Misal’s speech, which won the prize, was about the impact of television on society, and by that time a television bought by the family was having a great impact on Misal himself. He would spend hours each day watching “He-Man,” “Spider-Man” and “Batman,” piously balanced with the Hindutainment of the “Mahabharat” and “Ramayan” series. In Misal’s world, television was seen, even by parents, as a force of liberation. “TV is the very hi-fi form of everything,” Misal said. “It’s the extreme level of ideas, where they show you everything at top level, so that certainly gives you motivation. On TV you see the things of world-class standard. When you see some person on Discovery catching anaconda, you are looking at the best person in the world for catching anaconda. On TV we never see the strugglers or something like that; we see the people who have achieved what they wanted to.
In the USA, the race riots in the 1960’s were said to be, in part, the result of TVs in the homes of the poor. Through the TVs, they were able to see what they did not have, and then become unsatisfied with the conditions of their lives. It is possible that these free TVs will have a similar effect in India, and raise the expectations of the young, and so increase their efforts to move beyond the caste and village limitations of their parents. This possibility is both encouraging and frightening. It is encouraging, since for India to really move forward in the 21st century, it needs the contributions of the hundreds of million children that are growing up in the villages. It is frightening, since these changes deeply affect a life and family structure that have been the basis of India’s strength and well-being for thousands of years.
On to the photos of the event. Earlier in the day Carol had driven by this spot, and it looked like a political rally, with speakers talking to an audience. Given the cars with the red and black flags, Carol knew that the DMK were involved. Later I drove into Tiruvannamalai on an errand, and saw people carrying big boxes away. As soon as a finished my errands, I rushed home and got my camera and returned. These photos below were taken then.
Already there had been about one hour of TV giveaways. When I arrived there was a snarl of traffic, with many rickshaws, carts, bikes and motorbikes coming and going. Below you can see people carrying boxes: their new color TVs.
The parking area was just full of motorbikes and people carrying boxes.
The man in white in the photo above is a Brahmin priest from Ramanasramam. From this I can see that the giveaways are not just to lower caste people. There are people who get ration cards used to buy low cost food from the government. I heard that the free TVs are given only to these people, and there are not enough TVs so that every card holder would get one. Ration cards are given to the head of each family, we are told.
In the photo below, you can see the pandal (awning) between the two buildings. There is a crowd of people gathered there. Arunachala can be seen in the background.
More motorbikes and people carrying boxes.
A bicycle cart is being loaded with free TVs by the side of the street.
Men and women carry TVs on their heads.
Below, a happy man holding his new TV, standing by his wife and child.
An old man tries to balance his TV on his motorbike.
Carrying out the boxed TVs.
This man is a rickshaw driver who works at the stand in front of Ramanasramam.
Here is the crowd of people waiting for their TVs.
They are being given out from this door.
Men walk out, having just received their free TVs.
A fellow, elated at the gift from the government. Think he will be inclined to vote for the DMK candidates?
A happy man under a box.
This woman stands by a pile of TVs for her and other friends and family.
This old man is struggling to carry the load.
I have my TV!
Now to get it home.
Every possible mode of transportation is used.
This truck is loaded with a pile of TVs and a number of men.
Not much more could fit into the rickshaw.
Two men bike down the road with their TVs. A moment after this photo was taken, the man in the black shirt dropped his new TV, and it rolled down the hill by the side of the road. I sure hope the box protects the TV against ‘shipping damage.’
This was quite an event. In a few hours, hundreds, perhaps thousands of TVs were given out. In the USA during the hard days after the depression in the 1930s, there was a political slogan, “A chicken in every pot!” Never before have I seen “A TV in every house.”
One small note: in some villages where they were given out, there was no electricity. As a part of the program, electricity was also brought into these villages. This has benefits far beyond watching TV. For example, a student can have a light with which to study after sundown. Maybe they can get a computer and connect to the Internet. Electricity is such a basic part of modern life that bringing it to a village is of great importance. With this as an outcome of the free TVs, the program brings benefits far beyond ‘just’ being able to see entertainment and life outside the village.