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Community Radio Informs and InspiresPosted by: admin on Tue, 2010-08-03 10:19
Community radio programs in India give marginalized groups a voice.
There has been phenomenal growth in community radios stations in India since the 1990s, with universities playing an active part in the process. The government grants licenses to community radio operators for 100-watt stations covering up to a 12-kilometer radius.
Three radio initiatives -- Kishor Vani, Allari Muchchatlu and Sangham Radio -- are perfect examples of NGO interventions at the grassroots level that have enabled impoverished people to harness the power of community radio and have an active voice in the country’s media.
Indian community radio stations strive to produce at least 50 percent of their own content with an emphasis on development-related programs in local languages. While entertainment isn’t explicitly banned, the focus here is more on education.
Community radio stations in the country have made an impact beyond educating listeners. They have empowered women and children to find their voice and air concerns related to their situations. They have created a media atmosphere where two of Indian society’s most marginalized groups have finally found an identity. Forging this distinction hasn’t been easy, but, today, women and children reporters are producing and telling their stories. As a result, they are creating an alternative to the more urbanized media that dominates India.
Children’s Radio in the North
Kishor Vani is a weekly half-hour radio program for adolescents. Launched in 2006, Kishor Vani broadcasts programs made by young people between the ages of 12-19 from the Bikaner district of Rajasthan in northern India. Aired on Sundays, this is a joint project by PANOS, an NGO that focuses on media by and for marginalized groups, and AIR (All India Radio), the government-owned radio network.
|"The children couldn’t believe that anyone would actually be interested in their lives."|
When resource people from PANOS first started training the adolescents, there was a lot of suspicion regarding the project. Accustomed to a life of poverty and discrimination, the children couldn’t believe that anyone could actually be interested in their lives. After days of training they gained a better understanding of how the radio worked. The training, which focused on teaching the children radio production, also helped improve their literacy skills. Over time, they have become more confident in their reading and writing abilities.
In a society where caste-based discrimination, child marriage and poverty are rampant, there are plenty of subjects for the young reporters to cover. Dealing with matters of HIV/AIDS and early marriage isn’t easy, but reporting on them has empowered these socially disadvantaged teenagers to raise crucial questions about taboo subjects. Other topics the young reporters address range from health and agriculture to history.
The public response to Kishor Vani has been enthusiastic. According to an impact study from PANOS, All India Radio has been receiving an unprecedented 80-100 letters a week responding to stories aired on the program. AIR Bikaner has named Kishor Vani one of its two most popular programs of all times.
Children’s Radio in the South
The southern state of Andhra Pradesh is host to another children’s community radio program. Called “Allari Muchchatlu,” which means “mischievous chatter” in Telugu (a regional language), this program includes jokes, short dramas and other entertainment segments and airs every Sunday across the Nizamabad district of Andhra Pradesh. Its most popular stories involve children trying to make positive changes in their world.
Most of the child reporters are from the marginalized Dalit communities. Samskar, a local NGO that works with impoverished people, spearheaded the radio project with support from Plan International (http://plan-international.org/), which focuses on child welfare issues. Launched in 2009, Allari Muchchatlu encourages children to address problems in their society through radio stories and urges others to take action to solve them. And they don’t just take up the usual social problems. Programs are created about the children’s daily experiences. One segment was devoted to the detrimental uses of the locally produced tobacco that causes stomach cancer. Music is an integral part of the shows, but they don’t play film music. Most of it is usually folk music or songs composed by the children themselves. The young reporters meet, decide the content and send a handwritten script to the Samskar Sponsorship Manager. The government-run AIR has trained the children to use voice modulation and speak more effectively for radio.
The show has made such an impact that non-Dalit children now want to participate. Rural societies in India are still very much divided along caste lines and such a thing would have been have been unthinkable without the program’s popularity. Children who were never consulted before are treated with a new respect by their parents. They are now considered important people in their community.
To be a woman and Dalit are considered dual hardships in rural India. As the Wikipedia entry puts it, “Dalit is a self-designation for a group of people traditionally regarded as untouchable.” Using radio, some Dalit women from the Medak district in Andhra Pradesh decided to air their grievances, literally, in a bid to rectify them.
An initiative of the Deccan Development Society, an NGO working with groups of impoverished Dalit women, Sangham Radio has been hailed as the first “audible” voice of these women from the region. Medak is a poor area where female literacy is negligible and most women don’t own land and get by on meager daily wages. The radio project was set to launch in 1998, but India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting refused to allow it to broadcast because the government lacked a policy for community radio. Twenty years later it launched. In the intervening years, the women received training on the equipment and recorded programs that were played in front of groups and community gatherings. When it finally launched in October 2008, the radio program already had an audience.
|"For the Dalit women, this is the first time issues affecting them are being heard on the radio."|
To hunt down stories that most mainstream media miss, women reporters venture out into deep rural interiors. They devote segments to various issues related to the interests of the listeners. They find space for such diverse topics as herbal medicines and information on farming implements to stories on women resisting domestic abuse.
For many of the women, this is the first time their voices are finally being heard and issues affecting their lives addressed on the radio. Participating in the radio project has encouraged them to dream of a future of dignity for their children. The two women disc jockeys who control the flow of the program are paid Rs 150-200 a day, a far cry from the paltry earnings as daily wage laborers they made before they joined Sangham Radio.
Paromita Pain is a senior reporter and sub editor working on the Young World and Nxg youth supplements of the Sunday edition. She is currently residing in Austin, Texas.
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