By Nirmaldasan

-- This article appeared in the inaugural issue of Eclectic Representations (May 2011), published by the Department of English, Madras Christian College. --

Abstract: Development Communication has to perform two tasks: first to challenge the anarchic and modern notions of development; and second, to reveal the relationship between Nature, Culture and the Sacred in any society, whether urban or rural or tribal. To perform these tasks, we need an integrative model of development communication based on the principles of Ecocriticism. This paper proposes a holistic model based on Tolkappiyar’s eight elements of the human act, Selvamony’s six principles of tinai societies and W.J. Everett’s oikos language.

Key words: development communication, ecocriticism, nature, culture, sacred, holistic model, tinai, oikos.

A SOCIETY MAY BE CONSIDERED TRULY DEVELOPED if its people enjoy an integrative and harmonious relationship with Nature, Culture and the Sacred. Primitive societies were holistic, being based on six key principles: 1. indigenousness; 2. controlled diversity; 3. traditionality; 4. integration; 5. smallness of scale; and 6. value-orientation (An Alternative Social Order 228).

In “De-development: A Case For Tradition,” Selvamony challenges the modern notions of development (growth, evolution and increase) which have adverse social consequences. He offers tradition as the alternative to development economics. Analyzing the etymology of development, Selvamony points out that two words from Old French came together as de-voloper, from which the English word development has taken its being.

Since the meaning of de-voloper is to unwrap or unveil, he argues that development is the process that makes visible what is already there. He also points out that in the field of photography the term retains its original sense. (86-97)

But what is already there? The first is the habitat with all its fauna and flora which we may call Nature; second is Culture consisting of human acts such as singing, dancing, weaving, hunting and fishing; and third there is the genius loci — the spirit of the place which we may call the Sacred. E.F. Schumacher says: “Development does not start with goods; it starts with people and their education, organization, and discipline. Without these three, all resources remain latent, untapped, potential” (Small Is Beautiful, 140).

Thus, the tasks before development communication is twofold: first to challenge the anarchic and modern notions of development; and second, to reveal through education the holistic ties between Nature, Culture and the Sacred in any oikos or habitat, be it an urban or a rural or a tribal community.


The oikos is a Greek term that means habitat/household. W.J. Everett traces the terms ecumenism, economy and ecology to the oikos (Everett 38). He identifies five types of oikos and explains them: “With the oikos language we can now talk about a ‘fused’ oikos in which all the parts are one structure of life. We can talk about a ‘tight’ oikos, in which perhaps only religion exists separately from the rest of the parts. Or we can talk about an ‘open’ oikos in which the parts are distinguished from each other, creating a rich and often frightening variety of ways people can link together. When we looked at the impact of industrialism we described the ‘split oikos’ which divides men and women between the public and the private spheres. And finally, we can talk about a fragmented oikos in which the parts are so separated that people can no longer link them together in a meaningful way. Indeed, the conflicts among the parts can destroy their lives” (42).

In “Oikopoetics And Tamil Poetry,” Selvamony distinguishes three types of oikos: 1. integrative 2. hierarchic and 3. anarchic. (tinai 1, 1-14). The ancient Tamil tinai societies are examples of the integrative or fused oikos. Modern societies, intoxicated with its idea of individuality and post-modern celebration of fragmentation, are examples of the anarchic or fragmented oikos.

Development communication

Jacob Srampickal quotes Nora Quebra: “Development communication is the art and science of human communication applied to the speedy transformation of a country and the mass of its people from poverty to a dynamic state of economic growth that makes possible greater social equality and the larger fulfillment of the human potential.” (Understanding Development Communication 13) Srampickal also discusses Paolo Freire’s position that culture is at the root of development and that nothing brought from outside can really develop the people. Writes Srampickal: “Again development workers need to realize that our economy continues to rest basically upon its relation to nature. Its indispensable substratum is soil, water and climate; and it is becoming rapidly ever clearer that if these, the world’s life-support systems, are spoiled or destroyed irreparably, there will be no viable economy for any of us” (12).

While Quebra’s definition is unsatisfactory and goes against the real meaning of development, Freire’s and Srampickal’s position takes us closer to an integrative model of development communication. What is missing is the Sacred. Donald Worster argues that a material approach without a spiritual dimension to ‘sustainable development’ is ‘destructive to ourselves and the whole fabric of life on the planet’ (The Shaky Ground Of Sustainability, 417). Anand Amaladass argues that sustainable development — in its ecological, social and economic dimensions — has no meaning if it lacks the forth dimension of spirituality, ‘which is a kind of attitude towards oneself, one’s neighbours, one’s surroundings and that which transcends all these’ (37). Ramona R. Rush says: “My own spiritual ecology or ecocentric worldview has been emerging from philosophical and conceptual work on ‘global Eco-communications’ and ‘Deeper Communications’.” By Deeper Communications, he means ‘the notion that all forms of life have something important to say, each in its own way, day by day’ (312).

Sunderlal Bahuguna, environmentalist and Padma Vibhushan awardee, writes: “A new religion has taken birth in the development era. This is the religion of economic growth. The market is its temple, technocrat and experts its priests, and ‘Dollar’ is the new God. Our political leaders are impatient to possess this God. They are prepared to make the highest sacrifice to bring it home to their respective countries” (‘Development And Environment’ 193). Like Gandhi, Bahuguna is also a development communicator. A passionate advocate of tree farming, he suggests the 5Fs (trees for food, fodder, fertilizer, fuel and fibre).

Making a case for appropriate technology, he writes: “There has been an obsession for building big dams like Tehri, Sardar Sarovar, the Narmada, Koel-Karo in Bihar, and Bedthi in Karnataka, whereas harnessing of the Himalayan river for small hydro-electric projects has been grossly neglected. Big dams are anti-social, ecologically disastrous and economically too costly. Big dams are the short term solutions of a permanent problem, more so in Asia where there is a high rate of siltation (13 times more than the European rivers)” (‘Technical Education And The Environment’, 151).

tinai society

Selvamony relies on the ancient Tamil text tolkappiyam to describe tinai society. “The ancient Tamils,” he writes, “divided the entire world into five major habitable regions: the mountains, the grasslands and scrub jungles, the riverine plains and the seacoast. They also conceived of a corresponding indigenous human society which could be sustained by each such region” (“An Alternative Social Order” 216).

Each habitable region is called a tinai. The five tinaikal are: kurinci (montane), mullai (pastoral), palai (desertic), marutam (riverine) and neytal (littoral). And each has its natural, cultural and spiritual features governed by the six principles of indigenousness, controlled diversity, traditionality, integration, smallness of scale and value-orientation. Selvamony has thoroughly discussed the importance of these principles in his article. “The fact that it [tinai] has sustained our people for thousands of years,” says Selvamony, “shows clearly how viable and recommendable a social order it is” (“An Alternative Social Order” 215).

Barriers to tinai society

First, let us look at the principle of indigenousness. Says Mahatma Gandhi: “Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote. Thus, as for religion, in order to satisfy the requirements of the definition, I must restrict myself to my ancestral religion. That is, the use of my immediate religious surrounding. If I find it defective, I should serve it by purging it of its defects. In the domain of politics I should make use of the indigenous institutions and serve them by curing them of their proved defects. In that of economics I should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbours and serve those industries making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting” (India Of My Dreams 120).

Nothing seems indigenous today. Our God is a foreign God; our ‘kings and queens’ are foreigners; our economy is bound up with that of America; and the language that we use is foreign too. Our social institutions have drifted like flotsam and jetsam from this ideal principle of nativism and carried away to exotic shores. The rapid advances in science and technology and human greed are constant threats to tribal societies that still bear traces of the ancient tinai order.

A second barrier to tinai society is seen in modern civilization’s craze for globalisation and homogeneity. This goes against the principle of controlled diversity. Let noble thoughts come to us from every side, says the Rg Veda. Controlled diversity, or tinai mayakam, allows a dynamic interaction between land-based communities without endangering the identity of each. Here is Gandhi’s famous quote: “I do not want my house to be walled in all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” (The Mahatma And The Poet 36) Selvamony throws more light on tinai mayakam: “Borrowal could be explained by means of the guest-host relationship. Even as the guest could never become the host himself, the borrowed feature never became an indigene. Moreover, even as the guest was treated well and made to feel at home in the new environment as long as he stayed there, the borrowed feature was used well so that it could be returned intact to its native environment in the appropriate time” (“An Alternative Social Order” 229).

A third barrier is the celebration of individuality instead of community in all fields of human endeavour. In Literature, T.S. Eliot had to write ‘Tradition And Individual Talent’ to show that tradition was of a much wider significance than just handing down the ways of the previous generation to the new generation. He writes: “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead” (49). But are we ready to become a communitarian being? Are we not intoxicated with the idea of individuality? The selfish self seems to be an insurmountable barrier for tinai to become a mainstream.

A fourth barrier to tinai society is disintegrated massification. The new world order has succeeded in destabilizing the ontic continuous dimensions of Nature, Culture and the Sacred. Nature is exploited; Culture is no longer bound to the oikos (habitat/household); and the Sacred is found only in renunciation. Writes Selvamony: “Every aspect of culture was closely bound to the natural environment. For example, even education was one such. It was basically an education of and through the environment. Students learnt different aspects of the environment and so their knowledge was intimate and first hand” (“An Alternative Social Order” 230).

Rabindranath Tagore saw a world broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls (Gitanjali XXXV 20). But the walls that separate Nature, Culture and the Sacred seem more difficult to scale. If I may be allowed poetic utterance, here is a glosa (a verse commentary) that I wrote on Tennyson’s “Flower in the crannied wall…”:

“Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;—
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower — but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.”

But how did you in the crannies grow?
Perhaps some bird let its droppings fall
On a perfect wall without a crack.
But fallen seeds no strength they lack
To cranny the wall sure and slow,
Flower in the crannied wall.

A potted plant cannot flower so well;
You break man’s wall and bloom with ease.
I do understand Nature’s mystic power
That makes kin each bird and flower.
But for reasons I may or may not tell,
I pluck you out of the crannies.

In maiden’s tresses flowers lie
Lovelier than those across the land.
Lovely flowers bloom in crannied walls,
And blessed flowers in sacred halls
Decking household Gods; but I
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand.

The world seems so dry and stiff,
The world seems so dry and bland.
There be moments of bliss and pain
And yet no sense of loss and gain.
All cannot but only be fine if —
Little flower — but if I could understand...

Yes, I will think and try my best
To know why man has built a wall.
But I think God, Nature and Man
Form a tight-knit human and divine clan.
So I ought to know, count myself blest,
What you are, root and all, and all in all.

Once I know what you are, root and all,
I should know that life is bliss.
Once I know the deep roots of life,
I should know both love and strife.
Once I know why man has built a wall,
I should know what God and man is.

Within a poem, one may achieve the integration of Nature, Culture and the Sacred. But mass society, based on exploitation on a large scale, will have nothing to do with it. This leads us to another barrier marked by the prefix ‘mega-’. As we have been uprooted from the land, we seek mega-wings to scale the skies. Everything must be large: mega-technology, mega-profit and megalomania. E.F. Schumacher has written a whole book titled Small Is Beautiful to lay emphasis on smallness of scale. Subtitled ‘A study of economics as if people mattered’, the book argues for an integrative smallness.

Schumacher writes: “Everything in this world has to have a structure, otherwise it is chaos. Before the advent of mass transport and mass communications, the structure was simply there, because people were relatively immobile. People who wanted to move did so; witness the flood of saints from Ireland moving all over Europe. There were communications, there was mobility, but no footlooseness. Now, a great deal of structure has collapsed, and a country is like a big cargo ship in which the load is in no way secured. It tilts, and all the load slips over, and the ship founders” (56). But how can Schumacher’s voice be heard in a footloose society that travels faster than sound?

Smallness of scale is connected with value-orientation. Selvamony writes: “Tinai societies were nurseries of values. Values could be cherished mainly because these societies were small. Today, we are unable to check corruption and crimes chiefly because our society is sprawling and unwieldy” (231). In Tamil philosophy, the ultimate values are aram (virtue), porul (wealth) and inbam (happiness).

Today’s society has success for its watchword, not virtue; it seeks money, not wealth; and the noble institution of family is replaced by the anarchic live-in relationships. It is hard to dream, even imagine, of the possibility of going back to tinai. We need to draw lessons from tribal communities, whose culture is integrated with Nature and the Sacred. And the least that we can do is to leave them alone to their harmonious ways as we plunge willy-nilly into the abyss of anarchy.

An integrative model

The foregoing discussion has prepared us for an integrative model of development communication based on an ecological perspective.

The human act, as described in the ancient Tamil text tolkappiyam (II.3.29), has eight factors: doing, doer, product, place, time, medium, recipient, and end. In a development communication context, let us take a look at each of the factors.

Doing: act of communicating about development
Doer: development communicator
Product: message/awareness/knowledge
Place: relevant oikos
Time: appropriate season
Medium: suitable technology / folk arts
Recipient: natives
End: communitarian living

Development communicators need to have an understanding of the oikoses they wish to develop. Obviously, they have no role to play in oikoses of the integrative type as these are truly developed in the French sense of the term. In hierarchic and fragmented oikoses, the development communicative act must be in tune with the six principles that make tinai societies possible. None of the three elements — Nature, Culture and the Sacred — should be sacrificed or even compromised in the development communication process. There is a need to discard the modern notions of development and revive a community’s traditions. Durgadas Mukhopadhyay says that tradition is an assertion of an identity, a revival and regeneration of the life-force of the community. (Folk Arts And Social Communication 1) As Selvamony admirably argues, the development communicative act must make visible the lost traditions of a fragmented oikos and hasten the healing process.


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--- “Oikopoetics And Tamil Poetry”, tinai 1. Chennai: Persons For Alternative Social Order, July 2001. 1-14. Print.
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Web Source: Nirmaldasan. ‘Tennyson’s Flower: A Glosa’, A Quiver Of Arrows, 2007, Internet: . 14 February 2011. Web.

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