How are Transparency and Window-dressing Understood in the Marathi Language?
Around the world, diverse cultures have their own ways to communicate ideas about transparency, embedded in everyday, vernacular languages. These reflections address the ways in which transparency is understood in one of India’s widely-spoken languages, Marathi, including reflections on the flip-side of transparency – window-dressing. In this piece, Nitin Jadhav gives key insight into how these terms are used and understood in the Marathi language, both in everyday life and in the context of accountability.
In India, the word transparency is widely used as a ‘Pardarshakta’ in the Marathi language. All over India, the Marathi language is spoken by more than 83 million people. Pardarshakta means ‘Crystal Clear’ in English. This word is mainly used in different contexts such as in human behavior, a ‘transparent person’ means having clarity in thoughts and actions; when referring to transparency of objects or things, we can refer to an object as clear by observing the rays of sun passing through it.
The word Pardarshkta is used in a limited sense by Marathi speakers in day-to-day life. It’s use mainly conveys an ethical notion, in determining a person’s character. In adults, it’s mainly used to point out or comment on someone’s behavior focusing on interpersonal communication and action taken by individuals. In the adolescent age group this word is mainly used by peers while giving compliments for someone’s openness to express feelings. Unfortunately, very few individuals receive this compliment, as its use refers to the whole personality and not on each action or incidence-based behavior of individual. For example, if a person is not transparent in a particular incidence or providing information at that point then, they are labelled as a non-transparent person. Ideally, the quality of being transparent should be assessed and labelled keeping in view that particular incidence and not as a person.
In a socio-political context, the word Pardarshkata is used by civil society more in the context of sharing information by the government such as official decisions, and important rules and regulations that should be in the public domain. To some extent, it is used to ensure service providers/government officials do not withhold any information and/or provide misleading information to the people, and that they share information about their actions and decisions.
In government, the actions of public sector managers and workers could be described as ‘dikhaupana,’ or ‘window dressing,’ especially when the higher-level officials visit health facilities for inspection. During these visits by high level officials, the health staff engage in window dressing by hiding the problematic things and trying to show that everything is functional and in place. For example, during inspection all staff would wear aprons, the facility premises are kept clean, all beds are covered with (clean) bedsheets, staff show politeness towards patients etc. In these situations, the term dikhaupana is used by people (patients) to point out the deceptive behavior of the clinic staff.
In the western Indian state of Maharashtra (where Marathi is the regional language), the word and concept of transparency Pardarshkata is being used as an advocacy tool by social accountability campaigns and networks. In citizen report card assessments of health services and in public hearings, the transparency of the public health system is measured and decided by getting feedback from communities. Hence, civil society uses the word transparency more in terms of one of the aspects of accountability of any public service or system, whereas in day-to-day life people use the word Pardarshkata for assessing the personality of an individual as a whole.
In the Marathi language, we don’t have an exact translation for ‘open-washing’, but we do speak of ‘window-dressing’. The word for ‘window dressing’ is ‘Dikhaupana’ in the Marathi language. As this word is not prevalent in the rural population, it is mainly used and spoken by the 50.8 million urban middle-class Marathi population of Maharashtra. ‘Dikhaupana’ means to ‘show off’ in English. It has a negative connotation in Marathi-speaking society.
In day-to-day life, individuals frequently pretend that everything is well and fine, i.e. showing the positive part of life to others. For example, in reality, the husband and wife may not have a healthy relationship with each other, but at family functions they behave so cleverly that no one would imagine a dispute between them. Another example is, in marriage functions, Marathi-speaking couples (especially women) used to wear a variety of jewelry to pretend to show that their family is very rich but in reality, it may not be true. So, in daily life, any person behaving or talking in a way that they are hiding the real situation and showing an exaggerated version of it is called ‘window dressing’. It is interesting to see that this word is not communicated to that particular person openly, but the word is used when gossiping about that person.
In government, the actions of public sector managers and workers could be described as ‘dikhaupana,’ or ‘window dressing,’ especially when the higher-level officials visit health facilities for inspection. During these visits by high level officials, the health staff engage in window dressing by hiding the problematic things and trying to show that everything is functional and in place. For example, during inspection all staff would wear aprons, the facility premises are kept clean, all beds are covered with (clean) bedsheets, staff show politeness towards patients etc. In these situations, the term dikhaupana is used by people (patients) to point out the deceptive behavior of the clinic staff. Unfortunately, during inspection visits the higher-level officers usually avoid interacting with patients to get their feedback about the services. Instead, they tend to base their assessment on the window dressing done by health facility staff.
However, when activists visit health facilities to monitor, they do their homework before their visit by interacting with villagers/patients and asking them about issues related to a health facility. The monitoring refers to assessing the present status of functioning of various aspects of the facility such as services; basic infrastructure like water, electricity; quality of care etc. Various methods are being used by communities in Maharashtra, namely Community Based Monitoring and Planning of Health services and Multi-sectoral Social Audit of Public Services. In such cases, it would be difficult for health facility staff to do window dressing, as the activists are keen to identify the hidden issues. They also interact with patients during their visit and patients bring up window dressing by clinic staff in reference to rising gaps and problems when accessing health services.
However, window dressing is being addressed by ensuring transparency, participation, and accountability of public services through various community-based monitoring mechanisms. One of the major challenges faced while dealing with window dressing is the lack of confidence among communities and activists for recognizing window dressing, and naming and shaming the public officials engaged in dikhaupana.
Based on my experience of working on community accountability processes in rural areas of Maharashtra and India, this challenge can be overcome by increased understanding of how power structures and dynamics operate within the public system, as well as providing authentic and updated information about the declared public services and entitlements through a rights-based approach. Then, empowered communities can fight for their rights.