32 years old Kanshiram undergoes a complete transformation as he goes behind the microphone talking to his listeners on the Community Radio (CR). Formerly a bus conductor who used to ferry passengers to and fro from the remote village of Lalitpur, today he works as a radio jockey (RJ) at the newly set up community radio station here. "I can't believe I am now a RJ broadcasting and anchoring radio programmes. It gives me an immense sense of satisfaction that I am doing something for the society. What makes it even more meaningful is the fact that I get to see the real issues through my work and and also provide solutions for it."
Sentiments that are also echoed by Sunita Chandel, a village housewife, she is now one of the twelve community reporters the radio station has, “It was unheard of until now that a daughter-in law of the village, would be actually recording programmes, editing, reporting and getting involved in solving women related issues. Initially there were lots of questions and refusals to grant permission at home but once my family and society realised how productive the work was they gave their permission."
Interestingly both Kanshiram and Sunita are part of a new era in communication, one that was much needed until now. But then the concept of community radios has long been the demand of rural India, so much so that today it is a reality. Predictably doubling up as a medium of entertainment and an effective mode of information and awareness, the first community radio station in Lalitpur, UP is all set to go on air soon.
An initiative of department of Planning, Government of Uttar Pradesh (UP), UNICEF office for Uttar Pradesh and Ideosync Media Combine, community radio is being geared up as an important means of community outreach. Not only in the state of UP but Uttarakhand too. Jharkhand, Gujarat and Bihar these conventional radio stations have been making waves ushering in a change no other form of communication could achieve so far.
But will it work as a powerful mode of information dissemination for the community by the community?
Mr Tapas Datta, Programme Manager, UNICEF elucidates, “The few examples we have seen so far on how community radio can be used as a powerful tool of information and awareness goes on to prove that it is now become an integral part of democratic process. It is like a double edged sword which focuses not only on the interactive roles of individual shaping lives of people but at the same time facilitating a more horizontal spread of information which is ushering in a remarkable change in behaviours and attitudes."
And with Lalit Lokvani, situated 22 km from Lalitpur in Alapur village of Birdha block, making a beginning with over a lakh of eager listeners within its 15 km transmission range covering 60 villages, radio will never be the same again. While dry run has been initiated the actual transmission will start after getting the license from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting soon, the station has been granted the frequency at 90.4 Megahertz.
And what programmes will the villagers get to hear?
Says Mridul Srivastava, station director of Lalit Lokvani, “Community radio is the real voice of the people, it is a communication service that caters to the interests and needs of a certain area, its culture, craft, cuisine and above all social and development issues. Most of our programmes will have participants from within the village community itself. In fact the narrow casting has been so successful that we are getting requests by the local candidates of various political parties to campaign for them through our community radio station.”
Adds Mazboot Singh, Community Reporter, Lalit Lokvani, Lalitpur, UP, recounting his experiences on how CR station in Lalitpur helped bringing about women empowerment "Lalit Lokvani proved to be a powerful motivator for the local women to come and participate in the radio programmes and also campaign for their rights and rights of the community as a whole. Though we are yet to start broadcasting the demand for our programmes are so high that we are narrow casting even now."
But what is extraordinary is that the community radio stations are doubling up as nerve centres in the villages of Uttarakhand and Jharkhand as well.
Citing examples of how their community radio station 'Mandakini Ki Awaaz' in Uttarakhand was raising relevant issues, Manvendra Negi, Station Manager of the community radio station elaborated, "Community radio can be used to solve many issues of social and cultural nature simply as it involves active participation of the community. As it’s a collaborative effort of SSGs, NGOs, gram panchayats and community reporters the impact it has is far more lasting than any other medium. Every social issue and government run programmes for the benefit of the community gets attention and information reaches those who need it most. What more can a communication media ask for?"
Darmyan Rana, Station Manager, 'Hevalvani' a community radio station also in Uttarakhand explains how their community radio station was also using the local cable network to disseminate information and programmes to the community.
"Using photographs as the background we run programmes with audio provided by our CRs and it has been very well received. The two pronged approach of CR thus makes it doubly meaningful for community outreach programmes as the impact of visuals are always more."
But does CR have an impact to address social evils like corruption?
"Why not," says Suresh Kumar, Programme Coordinator, AID Jharkhand and Radio Vikalp, Garwha, a community radio initiative, "Take the example of programmes like Chala Ho Gaon Mein, which addresses topical issues of the village community. Here matters of violence, women rights and even corruption are addressed regularly specially now with the elections around the corner. I feel the community radio is not only a cheap and best option for rural outreach programmes but is also pro poor as it helps fight for solidarity justice and good governance. Through the folk songs and dramas that we produce we have managed to do away with social evils and superstitions, raise child labour issues, highlight corruption and campaign against illiteracy etc. Awareness and information about AIDS, Polio, Malaria and TB have also been addressed through our CR programmes."
Making a mention of the utility the community radio can have for disseminating information of govt policies and schemes, Kumar further says, “CRs can support the govt efforts to spared awareness about their schemes and policies and at the same time also help educate the community about the how they can benefit from these policies. As far as we have seen the impact of the policies through listenership of CR is higher than publicity material the government has printed so far.”
Now that's what we call making waves and literally!
Anjali Singh - Citizen News Service (CNS)
(The author is a senior journalist and Director of Saaksham Foundation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
[Photo credit: Anjali Singh]