Media Exposure and Gender Disparities in India

One of the more unusual measurements of social development collected in the Indian National Family Health Survey and posted on the Wikipedia is that of “media awareness,” defined as the percentage of people in a given state “exposed to the media.” The data were collected separately for men and women, and providing a measure not just of exposure to the wider world but also of gender disparities.

The first map, showing male media exposure, fits India’s general developmental pattern relatively well. Southern India ranks high, especially the four states of the far south that speak Dravidian rather than Indo-European languages. The far northeast shows its typical variability. The high rates found in Mizoram correlate with that state’s elevated levels of literacy, attributable to the efforts of Protestant missionaries (roughly 75 percent of the state’s residents are Presbyterian). Manipur’s ranking, second highest in the country, is more difficult to explain. The map also shows some unusual features. In the progressive far north, Haryana comes in with an unexpectedly low figure. In the languishing north-central belt, the normal pattern is reversed, with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh outranking the states immediately to their south. The extremely low figures for Jharkhand, however, are not surprising. Jharkhand’s substantial mineral wealth inflates many of its developmental figures. But the state as a whole remains deeply impoverished, and its large tribal population (28 percent) includes many who live far beyond the reach of information technology.

The media exposure map for women is similar to that for men, although the disparity between “high” states and “low” states is more pronounced (note the adjusted numerical cut-off points in this map’s key). The overall impression is one of a reversed center-periphery dynamic, with high levels of television and radio exposure found in India’s extreme south, north, and east (Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, and Manipur) and low levels in the central areas. Jharkhand’s and Bihar’s female media exposure rates in particular are shockingly low (at 39 and 41 percent respectively).

The final map highlights the gender discrepancies revealed by the first two maps. Three central-northern states stand out; here as with other indicators, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan show low levels of female empowerment, part of why they fare so poorly in terms of general social development.

To be sure, increased media exposure is not a purely positive development. Environmentalists decry it as a spur to consumerism, while advocates of cultural diversity warn of increasing uniformity. Not surprisingly, the spread of radio, television, and video has been linked to the “flagging fortunes of traditional and folk media, [including] street theater.”

Meanwhile, as usual, globalization provides its own “difference engine.” The media streaming into rural villages is not necessarily of Indian origin. In the far northeast, residents of Manipur and especially Nagaland are apparently tuning in to South Korean frequencies. Journalist Renchano Humtsoe is worth quoting on this issue at some length:

“Korean culture is flooding into Nagaland. New trade treaties between India and Korea facilitated the exchange of Korean goods and enabled them to enter Nagaland with greater ease. Additionally, Nagas have long felt neglected by the central Indian government. This is especially the case with Naga youth. Many believe this lack of identity with central India informs Nagas’ embrace of Korean culture. […] Naga youth have now started to adapt Korean culture. Korean television channels, programs, movies, and clothes are popular among Naga youth. Korean companies are looking into investing in Nagaland. The Nagaland State Government has even taken steps to embrace Korean culture: it hosts an annual Indian-Korean cultural festival.”

Declining Violence In Northeastern India

On January 19, 2010, a grenade attack near the Manipur Police Chief’s residence in northeastern India critically injured three people. No one has yet claimed responsibility, and it would be risky to venture a guess, since for sheer diversity of insurgent groups it is hard to beat northeastern India. This remote and little-known area is divided into seven states. According to the website South Asian Terrorism Portal, the state of Manipur has 15 active or proscribed “terrorist/insurgent groups” (as well as 25 inactive organizations), while nearby Assam has 11, Meghalaya four, Nagaland and Tripura three each, and Mizoram two. No such groups are listed for Arunachal Pradesh, but it too has seen insurgent violence in recent years – and it is claimed in its entirety by China, greatly complicating Indo-Chinese relations. Insurgent groups in northeastern India have a strong tendency to divide and proliferate. The Kuki people of Manipur, for example, are “represented” by the Kuki Liberation Army, the Kuki National Army, the Kuki Liberation Front, and the United Kuki Liberation Front – with another nine Kuki insurgent groups currently listed as inactive.

Historically speaking, the uplands of northeastern India have closer cultural affiliations with Southeast Asia than with South Asia. They belong to India only because British imperial agents were determined to secure the vulnerable borderlands of their Indian empire. Local peoples tend to resent Indian authority, as well as the authority of the larger local ethnic groups that dominate the region’s seven states.

In most parts of the region violence has receded in recent years. Whereas Nagaland saw 154 insurgency-related deaths in 2007, the 2009 total was only 17; in Meghalaya, the death count dropped from 79 in 2003 to just 4 in 2009. Only in Manipur and Assam have body counts remained high (369 and 371, respectively, last year). Due to the lessened violence, India has recently opened parts of the northeast to tourism. For those interested in visiting the area, Northeast India Diary (http://www.northeastindiadiary.com/meghalaya-travel/wildlife-in-meghalaya.html) provides information on local attractions. On a trip to Meghalaya’s Balpakram National Park, it claims, one might see “elephants, wild buffaloes, gaur (Indian bison), sambar, barking deer, wild boar, slow loris, capped langur as well as predators such as tigers, leopards, clouded leopards and the rare golden cat.”

In Nagaland and Mizoram, some observers attribute the recent decline in fighting to peacemaking efforts by local church organizations. Owing to successful missionary activities during the colonial period, both states are now strongly Christian: more than 75 percent of the population of Nagaland is Baptist, whereas Mizoram is more than 90 percent Christian (mostly Presbyterian). Missionary schooling has led to high levels of education. Mizoram boasts India’s second highest literacy rate (91%), trailing only Kerala. Education, however, has not led to economic prosperity. Lack of infrastructure and insecurity are the major problems, but so too are the famines that occur every few decades after the synchronous flowering and then death of the state’s massive bamboo groves. When the bamboo flowers and seeds, rodent and insect populations explode; when the plants subsequently perish, rats and bugs invade fields and granaries. The most recent such famines occurred in 2006-2007.

The decline in violence in northeastern India is quite in contrast to the situation in east-central India, where a Maoist insurgency is gaining in strength. But that is a topic for a later post.