When it started broadcasting in 2012, the station received 700 calls — none from women. In 2016, 16,784 calls were received, of which 883 were from women
When residents of Mewat first heard a woman radio jockey’s voice on community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat, the reaction was a mix of shock and awe. Cut to present day, five years later, when Alfaz-e-Mewat not only has women RJs, but also has women listeners calling to participate in live shows, and some even coming to speak on the radio. Officials at the Sehgal Foundation, which founded the radio station in 2012, said the journey involved a continuous dialogue with the men who had objections, and women who had apprehensions.
“We used to have a show called Aap Ki Farmaish, where people could call in and request for songs. We noticed that all our callers were men. We could often hear women in the background, telling their husbands or sons who were on the phone to tell us to play a certain song, but they would never speak. Then we insisted that we would only play the song if the woman speaks to us. We had to coax people to get to where we are now,” Pooja O Murada, founder representative of Alfaz-e-Mewat, said. Data with the station attests to a trend. When it started broadcasting in 2012, the station received 700 calls — none from women. In 2016, 16,784 calls were received, of which 883 were from women.
“Today, around 25-30% of calls we receive each day are from women,” said Sohrab Khan, the station in-charge. Located in a red building at the foothills of the Aravallis, in Mewat’s Ghaghas village, the community station initially faced stiff competition from radio stations in Delhi. But as residents were keen on being involved, it gained a listener base across 224 villages. It is now operational for 13 hours a day, up from four hours in 2012.
Farida (23), a mother of four, has been a constant follower, and is now training to be part of the station. “I wanted to be involved in running it because of the kind of work it’s doing for people here… I have also become a lot more confident,” she said. RJ Anuradha Dubey, from Madhya Pradesh, joined the station two years ago in the hope of “doing something for women”. She recently hosted a show on sexual assault, which she said was “a great success”, with people calling in to share their ordeal. Over the years, shows have focused on women’s health, education and agriculture, and have given listeners a chance to speak to officials such as police personnel and lawyers. “I remember they once ran a programme where they acquainted listeners with the English language. I would always listen to that,” said Shehnaz Bano, who is in her 20s.
When Fakat Hussain, who used to work on his family’s farm, heard the station was recruiting locals, he jumped at the opportunity. After being trained for six months, he is now an RJ and hosts a programme called Tere Mere Mann Ki Baat. “Listeners can call in and ask questions on any topic. We get calls on cultivation or harvesting of a particular crop, or to enquire about what sasuraal is called in English,” Hussain said.