| Every Sunday 38-year-old farm labourer Ramulu wakes up at 5 a.m. and works in the fields till about 8.15 a.m. At 8.30 a.m. sharp, he rushes to catch his favourite radio programme Allari Muchchatlu (mischievous chatter). The title is misleading. Ramulu, a resident of Nizamabad district in Andhra Pradesh, was inspired by the local community radio programme to hold his daughter's wedding till she was 18 and educate his four children. He is one of the thousands of villagers who have benefitted from Allari Muchchatlu's message. Today village after village is taking up self-help projects, building toilets near homes, using cow dung instead of wood for cooking purposes and understanding the perils of child marriages. |
Across the country, low-power community radio stations have been empowering people and changing lives. In June 2003, village Budhikote, 100 km from Bangalore, was grappling with drought. Water pipes dried up. For eight days, villagers had no supply of water. Despite protests by people and promises from the authorities, nothing happened. Finally, Nagaraj, a reporter for Namma Dhwani, a community radio, decided to lend voice to the grievances of the villagers. The message hit home. Within two days, pipes were repaired and water supply was restored.
These elementary, low-cost radio stations were started with the purpose of reaching out to specific communities. On air, ordinary people discuss issues concerning their lives, such as health and civic amenities. They share farming tips and income generation ideas and explore ways to improve education.
|At Bhanaj village, near Rishikesh, community radio helped in exposing the corruption in local governance |
|In Gujarat's Kutch, it addressed gender issues and empowered women who were victims of domestic violence |
|In Budhikote near Bangalore, it helped fix broken pipes and restore water supply in drought-hit areas |
|In Nizamabad district of Andhra Pradesh, it helped bridge the caste divide-now Dalit and non-Dalit kids participate together in activities |
|In Palamau district of Jharkhand, it has helped stop pilferage in mid-day meals for children |
So far community radios have operated by airing tapes through the All India Radio. Usually based in remote areas where neither television nor newspapers reach, they have been operating without licences. However, they have received a fresh lease of life with a recent policy directive of the Centre, which allows community radio licences to non-profit organisations and civil society. Around 10 radio stations are waiting to go on air once the Government notifies the licencing procedures and terms and conditions.
Although community radios seeded in India in early 2000, the precedent for them was set by one Raghav Mahto, 21, who set up a pirate network in his electronics repair shop Mansoorpur in Vaishali district of Bihar in 2001. One day, Mahto stumbled upon a novel way to broadcast audio by fixing a transmitter on a pole with an investment of about Rs 50. He would play everything from Bollywood and Bhojpuri songs to jokes and imitations of popular film stars and politicians. One day a child went missing in the village and Mahto broadcast it on his radio. The child was found and Mahto became a celebrity. He even got calls to increase his radio's range, which got upped from a modest five km to 20 km covering three districts. In many ways, Mahto's Radio Raghav FM Mansoorpur1, India's own Radio Favela, exemplified what an ordinary citizen with an idea and dedication could do for his neighbourhood, before it was shut down by the authorities in 2006, as he did not have an operating licence. He had, however, left a mark. "Many people called me to offer financial help," recalls Mahto. But today, even after a licencing procedure in place, he will not be allowed to run his radio as individuals are not eligible for licence under the new policy. Now, with the Government finally allowing licenced, regulated radio service on the FM platform to the public, floodgates are set to open. Since the announcement of its policy, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has received over 100 applications from different bodies, including educational institutions. What makes community radio important in this cable and Internet age is its sheer reach. If television reaches 60 per cent of the total households in the country, radio reaches 99 per cent making it a cost effective and powerful medium. Globally, community radios have had a profound impact on people's lives by increasing their access to information. In India, the licence issue has restricted its spread and influence, but the change and progress it has brought in places, where it is operative, provides a clear picture of its impact, especially in remote areas.
Deep in the hills of Chamba, Uttarakhand, a radio jockey for Hewal Vani, reminds listeners to tune in again to their programme on dirty water. Started by a group of 20-something youngsters, Hewal Vani is one of the five community radio groups in the state. The programmes usually deal with local problems such as health, superstition, education and civic issues. Says Manvender Singh Negi, programme coordinator, Mandakini Ki Awaaz, another radio, "Our most significant impact has been creating transparency in local governance. Once we found discrepancies in the accounts of works sanctioned by the village development officer and talked about it on our radio. People confronted the sarpanch who removed the officer." Similarly, Hewal Vani's programme on dowry struck a chord with its listeners. "Our national media is obsessed with 'mainstream' India. The real India is made up of thousands of side-streams, and we need community media to tell their story," says Sajan Venniyoor of the Community Radio Forum, India.
Undoubtedly, community radio is giving a voice to the voiceless and empowering them by boosting their confidence and making them celebrities in their own little world. As Mahto claims to have been named 'community radio ka Amitabh Bachchan', many more 'Amitabh Bachchans' and 'Shah Rukh Khans' are set to emerge from India's villages.