Long before modern telecommunication systems started, the postman was the only mode of communication in India. He was not only a carrier of news and letters, but a friend, philosopher and guide of the people living in far-flung areas. Now that private couriers and telecommunication have reduced their workload, the government must use the Indian postman for reaching out to citizens in backward areas and educate them about the various policies and incentives. The Modi government has done well to appoint a task force under former cabinet secretary, T S R Subramanian, to ascertain how the Indian postman can be used under the current circumstances.
With the world’s largest postal network, India Post has about 1.55 lakh post offices spread across the country. On an average, a post office serves an area of 21.21 sqkm and a population of 7,175 people. Digital boards and panels can be set up at the post offices to educate the people on not just schemes and policies, but also on issues related to health and education. Besides, the postman can be used for collecting feedback from the people in rural areas.
Given the romance and reliability of the postal service, it will be a pity if it fades away into obscurity with disuse. While the romance is exemplified by the stories of “runners” who carried the mail on foot through jungles and pathways infested with animals and dacoits, the reliability was noted by V S Naipaul in his celebrated novel, A House for Mr Biswas. Such a stirring background is a befitting prequel to a new era when the friendly postman, who also read out letters to a blind recipient, as in the film, Sholay, will act as a purveyor of official messages and also be the eyes and ears of the government. Such tasks are not improbable, having found mention in Chanakya’s Arthasastra (3rd century BC) which says that the “chief of the secret service, known as the postmaster, maintained the lines of communication”.