Photo: Second Chittagong Hill Tracts Rural Development Project in Bangladesh. Credit. Asian Development Bank. - Photo: 2021

Indian Univ. Fight against the Pandemic Adopts ‘Communication from Within’ Strategy

By Moumita Maji*

SANTINIKETAN, India (IDN) — Different units of Visva-Bharati University have come together since the onset of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, in an attempt to fight the virus and ensure the safety of the community with minimum expenses but maximum courage. The home-grown strategy developed is unique with an emphasis on a scientific approach that enables maximum penetration within and outside the campus.

The endeavour which went into the Action Phase on May 18, is an ambitious project that engages most associated with the institution and is unlike anything that is being attempted elsewhere.

Viswa-Bharati is the famous university set up in Santiniketan in the West Bengal state of India by the revered Bengali poet and Nobel Literature Laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

Owing to the surge of cases in Santiniketan since the beginning of May, Visva-Bharati’s teaching and non-teaching staff held an emergency meeting, on May 17 presided over by Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Bidyut Chakraborty, where the Covid Pandemic Campaign Steering Committee was formed.

The committee with its chairperson, Prof. Biplab Loho Choudhury the head of the Centre for Journalism and Mass Communication (CJMC) finalized the strategy meant to raise the interest, desire, and activity level of people to fight the pandemic effectively.

Tagore’s approach of using many communication modes together influenced Prof. Loho Choudhury to develop the CJMC Visva-Bharati – Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore Foundation Research Project on Communication in Developing a Community from Within, back in 2017. The present campaign works utilizing the ‘Tagore Loop Communicative Action Model’ through four interlinked communication processes (social media communication, human group communication through home visits, inter-personal communication, and app-based event communication). It is connecting ten participating units to the entire community and neighbours in participatory modes.

Prof Choudhury says the ‘Developing a Community from Within’ is an empowerment strategy where the “knowledge generated from the process and the results of the research involving peoples’ active participation come to be shared with and owned by local people. Thus the professional monopoly of information used for planning and management decisions, is broken”.

A four-fold method has been adopted—App-based authentic yogic and para-medical instructions every morning and evening by Yogic Science faculty is improving immunity at least cost, and behaviour change for positive Lung Practices regularly.

Prof. Samiran Mondal, Committee member says: “For the development of physical health, we are conducting yoga classes for an hour in the morning for the teaching and non-teaching staff, and the students. In the evening, we have arranged for special physical and mental wellbeing classes, following the government’s guidelines, for those who are home quarantined due to infection. After that, we conduct a class with the Covid-19 recovered patients.”

The National Cadet Corps is offering services during medical needs like oxygen, medicine, etc., the contact information of doctors and medical staff, hospitalization, supply of prepared food, or items of daily use. and home visits to raise people’s spirits. National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers are also aiding in this process.

The Health Communication specialization of CJMC is checking messages for factuality, curating, and researching to provide authentic content through University Social Media Groups to save the receivers from the perils of an infodemic. As most of the students are outside, it gives them the right guidance to follow to keep safe and help others. 

The Physical Education department runs programmes for children of two schools, and families of Visva-Bharati staff to keep them physically fit and mentally strong to fight the anticipated third wave, while the Dean of Student Welfare is conducting psychological well-being programmes. Prof. Rahman of the strategy group said, “The strategy finalized was formulated keeping in mind both the physical and mental health of all potential beneficiaries.”

Other units of the university such as Pearson Hospital, VB Lecture series, Visva-Bharati Computer Centre, and the IQAC Cell are working within their own capacities to carry out these responsibilities. As per the strategy, a Scientific Committee is constituted with experts from the university.

The committee agreed upon developing scientific content with an emphasis on “immunity with home and locally grown, with least cost” for all. Prof. Rahman, who heads the Scientific committee stressed the importance of proper scientific knowledge about the virus and the protocols associated with it. The scientific committee with research experience and nutritional expertise will work and feed into the Authentic Covid-19 Information initiative of the University.

The information shared constitutes of announcements of actions taken by Visva-Bharati against Covid-19, instructions for PLP’s (Positive Lung Practice), home remedies to fight the virus, means of sanitization and hygiene maintenance, medical and allied care information, simple innovative ideas to tide away from the crisis without hampering the home economy and most importantly, “Win From Within True Stories”.

All the information collected by the groups is first sent to the project committee group from where after fact-checking, they are circulated to other groups. Like the National Service Scheme.

The communication processes, events, and activity episodes on a daily or recurring basis create several loops where nodes, such as the COVID Campaign Steering Committee (responsible for strategy-making, coordination among units, reporting to authority, etc.) are spaces of heightened activities, as per the strategy document.

The programmes and activities in the campaign are meant to give access to each and every member of the Visva-Bharati community. The Vice-Chancellor takes a performance review almost every week.

As the campaign is showing signs of success in making the community strong to fight against the pandemic, benefits may be extended to Visva-Bharati adopted villages and nearby towns soon.

Ex-Prof. Gunindra Chattopadhyay, a committee member says, “the Visva-Bharati community is comfortable with the online mode but outside, there are many who are still not acquainted with it. They may face some difficulty in contacting us. So, to extend our help to them, we have decided to put up hoardings with contact details for inquiries or to avail any service.”

Visva-Bharati, through this experiment, wishes to create standard protocols to fight extreme human disasters in the future and help other institutions, the strategy document stated. [IDN-InDepthNews – 01 July 2021]

* The writer is a student of the Visva Bharati mass communication program. This article was originally published in Visva Bharati Chronicle and has been slightly modified since.

Photo: Yoga class online against the backdrop of Upasana Griha, prayer hall, built by Debendranath Tagore in 1863, Santiniketan. Wikimedia Commons.

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