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Reaching Out in Many Ways

The Communications section is one of the most well-known in Barefoot College. Tilonia’s skilled puppeteers regularly mount street performances on themes such as water conservation, the importance of the environment and education (especially for girls), land ownership, women’s issues and caste taboos. These performances were especially effective in keeping villagers informed about Covid. The Communications team also runs a popular community radio station while its audio-visual department trains young people in how to use still and video cameras, and makes regular visual records of Barefoot College’s work. Over time it has become a valuable repository and archive.


A meeting in Tilonia in 1981, between Ramlal, a Barefoot string puppeteer, and Shankar Singh, a gifted young communicator and adult educator, turned out to be a fortunate one. The two made an instant connection, and soon gathered like-minded young people around them. As a group they met with traditional musicians and performers and created a rich world of puppets, theatre, sketches and songs, all vibrant starting points for conversation with all manner of people. This was the starting point for one of the most innovative and dynamic aspects of Barefoot College’s work. From it, a new model for interactive communication evolved, one that spread the idea of equality, justice and participatory development.

MORE: The phenomenal energy generated within the group sparked thinking and debate about many issues, particularly those that touch on discrimination and the inequalities in people’s lives. Patience and humour made it possible for this team to make the most critical of comments without stirring up strife and anger.

MORE: In a rural India, which was still largely feudal, traditional forms of communication remained as alive as ever. Now, as mass media changes form and makes inroads into rural landscapes and traditional cultures, Barefoot College is well placed to promote Rajasthan‘s rich cultural heritage at the same time as keeping up with the changing times. It has become a new patron of the arts, and given them a new context.

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The Difference We Are Making 

Over 40 years, more than 2000 Barefoot Communicators have been trained to produce interactive puppet shows that communicate with rural communities about many development related issues. In this way the group has used street theatre, interactive puppetry and songs as powerful development communication tools. Since 1981 over 3,00,000 people in 3000 Indian villages have watched these performances. They have contributed to changes in attitude, mindset and behaviour in rural communities.

The community radio reaches out to 60,000 people within a 15 km radius of Tilonia’s Barefoot College campus. It acts as a powerful medium for communicating important information about issues affecting local people.

From 1984 to 2014, nine Lok Utsav – folk festival programmes – were held, in which 1,450 folk artists participated.

Our Initiatives

At Barefoot College, our puppetry tradition began in 1980, evolving from string to glove puppets, embodying Tilonia's ethos. Lok Utsav, since 1984, celebrates Rajasthan's culture, nurturing artists and dialogue. Community radio connects villages with vital information, bridging gaps in education and health. Our AV Department archives our journey, enriching films and publications, preserving our legacy.


Performances for Fun & Social Change

From 1980 on the magical group of Barefoot performers created many opportunities to share ideas, create theatre and song, and build bridges between rural talent and development needs. In time, traditional string puppets (made of wood for a very small audience, and showcasing myths and legends) gave way to the more egalitarian glove puppet. “Egalitarian” because, made as they are of recycled paper, anyone can use them and they are easily carried in a shoulder bag. This raises the visibility of the puppet theatre even more. Both nationally and internationally, puppets are Tilonia‘s ambassadors.


A further transition from traditional string to rod puppets resulted in the making of Jokhim Chacha, the bard of Tilonia. Jokhim Chacha is Barefoot’s mascot and commentator, a wise and widely travelled old man whose extreme age (365 years!) gives him leave to speak his mind and engage in frank discussions with anyone. When he has something critical to say, he does it with humour.


MORE: The Lok Utsav, a celebration of Rajasthan’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, began in 1984 with the blessings of Komal Kothari, who is an icon for recognising and preserving Rajasthani culture. It became an important focus, a get-together for over 200 performers and artists. This annual event has seen three generations of musicians grow and develop, and Tilonia has become a byword for how to begin a genuine dialogue with performers in Rajasthan.


Over time a rich repertoire of plays, skits, and songs has addressed a range of issues, like the importance of water, conservation, educating girl-children, land and ownership, the environment, women’s issues and caste taboos. Through theatre the performers speak to rural India – about sending children to night schools,  the need to collect rainwater,  the rights of women to be paid the minimum wage. But they also speak to dignitaries as equals, and have participated in folk festivals in Norway and in England.

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Community radio - Connecting With Modern Technology 

In 2009, Barefoot College set up its own community radio station. The radio jockeys working there are young people from surrounding villages who use the radio to entertain listeners with folk songs as well as to relay news, celebrate national events and disseminate important information to do with government schemes about education, health, livelihoods, agriculture, and so on. The radio jockeys speak in the local language, and its young village reporters can forge an instant link between the radio and the people.

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The Audio Visual Department

The Barefoot College has brought in new technologies and trained many young people in how to use still and film cameras. Its coordinator is a Barefoot cameraman who has not only filmed hundreds of events but who is remarkably efficient in storing our stocks of completed film. He has made the AV section into a valuable archive, a repository of information about SWRC‘s history. The photographs and footage recorded by this unit have been used in many important films and books. Particularly noteworthy is the publication called ‘Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia’.

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