Sometimes an alfaz (Urdu for word) is what is needed to make a presence felt in this clamorous universe, where voices of the haves are constantly drowning out those of the have-nots. The deprived lot of Mewat, a district in Haryana, has found such a voice of representation in Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 (Rural Voices of Mewat). The farming communities often turn to this virtual platform to seek suggestions on their daily, mundane chores — that for them often turn into herculean tusks — and share their life stories.
Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 began its journey in 2012 with the help of S M Sehgal Foundation, an NGO based in Gurugram (Haryana) solely dedicated to rural development. The foundation’s community centre in Haryana’s Ghaghas village houses the radio station. In this isolated and lonesome area, the community radio provides “a window to the outside world” as well as a tool to engage with the disengaged. Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 broadcasts for 13 hours a day, seven days a week, to households in more than 225 villages.
The programmes are directed, scheduled and produced by a team of the community people trained in media communication by the foundation. The themes, and content of programmes are based on the needs identified in discussions with the local community. Most of the episodes involve active participation by local communities and focus on each segment.
Alfaz-e-Mewat allows villagers to learn about and discuss best practices in water management and conservation, health and sanitation, education, agriculture, environmental awareness, and rural governance. It runs awareness campaigns and hosts talk shows to discuss social issues that affect citizens. Oral folklore, poetry, music, and storytelling constitute the entertainment basket, showcasing the cultural heritage, history, and aboriginals of the land.
The community radio’s broadcasters invite women to talk about disturbing social issues. The various educational programmes lined up for children include Galli Galli Sim Sim (the Indian adaptation of Sesame Street). Then there is Radio School to provide children academic assistance and share general knowledge with them. “It is an excellent programme, especially for dropouts or those who have never been to school, or those who cannot afford private tuitions,” says Pooja O Murada, director, communications at SM Sehgal Foundation & Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8. She is also co-author of the book, Community Radio in India.
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Daily interviews are a special draw, which invite experts from various walks of life to share their experiences and achievements. Viewers’ suggestions and needs are taken into account and shared with state administrative officials. So, in a way, the locals are listeners and speakers as well. Programme coordinators also make the effort of holding live-chats with officials from the police department, judiciary, krishi vigyan kendras, health, education department and the likes.
“The source of entertainment in the area is limited, and there is good demand for programmes on folklore and folk music. Farmers often call up to share feedback on crop-related programmes. Sanitation and health programmes have a good number of listeners. People connect with the radio station during live shows or evening music shows to request for a local song of their choice,” says Murada.
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“Alfaz-e-Mewat has documented several stories of change, shared by listeners who either have benefited from a particular government scheme, details of which are shared during a show, or have felt a sense of empowerment to bring change in their lives and in their surroundings,” she adds.
Parent body SM Sehgal Foundation has been extending financial support to the radio.
Besides, Alfaz-e-Mewat has collaborations with DAVP, so it receives government ad campaigns. It can also apply for projects through government departments and ministries, like the 365-episode series called Sehat ka Paigam supported by the department of science and technology, under the latter’s project on women’s health and nutrition. The radio station also applies for projects through multilateral organisations like UNICEF, and through government’s CSR initiatives.
“Technology and affordable internet have no doubt connected people with the world, but for our broadcast area, these technical advancements are still not inclusive. Access to mobile phones is still limited for women. A large chunk of the population are not on smartphones and, above all, the information from the community radio is local, in the local dialect and about local people’s issues, something which cannot be fulfiled by the new media,” says Murada.
However, Alfaz-e-Mewat has learnt to utilise technology to its benefit. Audiences who are on WhatsApp are connected closely through radio updates and audiences share their feedback on live programmes. It has also designed audio capsules, spanning two-three minutes that can be easily shared with listeners using mobile phones.
Alfaz-e-Mewat collaborates with other community radios for areas with signal problems. It practises narrowcasting of programmes to collect feedback and facilitate community dialogue. People of Nuh, who speak Mewati language, can listen to the radio station from anywhere in the world through live streaming. The radio station also updates their programmes on podcasts.
Gurgaon Ki Awaaz
107.8 MHz, Gurgaon
It lends power to the feeble voices of marginalised groups. Gurgaon Ki Awaaz began its journey in 2009. The radio is an extension of the activities of The Restoring Force (TRF), an NGO that works on education and voluntary training. It’s objective is to represent the unrepresented in radio.
Be it the LGBTQ or the disabled community, Gurgaon ki Awaaz follows an inclusive approach. Some of the key programmes currently on air are Career Express (on livelihood), Chahat Chowk (on sexual and reproductive health), Family Time (on relationships), Udaan (psychological counselling) and Bavra Mausam (on adolescence). Another show Saara Aasmaan Hamara (on migration and culture) focuses on the financial constraints of insecure migrants.
Gurgaon ki Awaaz has specially designed programmes for its niche audiences across Gurgaon. There is a show specifically for drivers — Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, and also one exclusively on entrepreneurship — Apna Nazariya Apna Kaam.
The community radio gives special emphasis on under-represented communities like the LGBTQ and the disabled. It is always eager to reach out to them. The radio station started its internet broadcasting from 2011 and listeners can tune in from anywhere in the world. “Many of our listeners have smartphones. Now, thanks to flexible and cheap internet packs, they continue to listen,” mentions Aarti Jaiman, station director of Gurgaon Ki Awaaz.
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Interestingly, their migration programmes have become quite popular, and for the past two years, the radio has been using its popularity in this regard to promote songs on migration and migrant singers. The radio station is currently airing a programme called Sacred Secular that plays only sufi bhakti music in India. It’s an instant hit because the music comes straight from the archives and is not easily accessible to people otherwise.
Health and wellness programmes are equally popular because now the economically weaker sections of Gurgaon can reach out to a doctor at literally no cost. Of its 22 hours of daily schedule, the radio station runs 16 hours of folk music in languages as varied as Maithili, Garhwali and Bhojpuri.
The Gurgaon Ki Awaaz team found drafting playlists to run the shows uninterrupted quite challenging due to lack of availability of folk numbers in recorded format. But it didn’t give up, and reached out to bhajan mandalis, met individual singers, and even attended competitions to record songs.
The community radio conducts live talk shows in the morning, because they want their listeners to be proactive and participate. Interestingly, they get calls from migrants the most. “Out of 100 callers, 20 are Haryanvi, and the rest are emigrant workers,” discloses Jaiman.
When it comes to expanding and reaching out to a bigger audience base, Gurgaon ki Awaaz refuses to embrace change because community radio by definition is supposed to be hyperlocal (covering 1-15 km) “Our focus is deeper penetration instead of wider, so that new listeners don’t miss out on programmes, Hamara Samvidhan and Kanoon Ki Baat, which were produced two years ago, and are currently on repeat broadcast,” says Jaiman.
Hamara Samvidhan and Kanoon Ki Baat offer legal assistance, answer audiences’ legal queries, spread awareness on legal services available in the country. They throw light on the Indian Constitution and what it implies to the people. Kanoon Ki Baat is a 30-minute radio show.
The radio station cuts through gender and sexual identities. One such programme is Bawra Mausam, for which it has collaborated with CREA, a women’s rights organisation based in New Delhi. The programme initially focused on adolescence and the major changes it brings to the body. Later, it branched out to bring the transgender community of Gurgaon under its cover. It’s aim has been to make people empathise with the kinnars. Audience must understand that the kinnar community is just like any other with its challenges. In fact, it has to overcome additional blocks like stigma and isolation.
At the time of inception, Gurgaon Ki Awaaz was confused about the actual purpose of a community radio and what kind of a community radio it aspired to be. It doesn’t have sound engineers or professionals to handle the technological aspects. Every team member is from the community.
Gurgaon ki Awaaz gets donor funds for projects, their migration programmes are supported by UNESCO and livelihood programmes are funded by CSR initiatives. It often faces funds crunch, and resource generation becomes quite a task. “Payments have not always been on time, especially the government funding. We have not been able to make full use of private funding as well,” stresses Jaiman.
She also shares that at times it becomes quite difficult to convince people about the utility of such a radio station or its ability to bring a change. Incidentally, Gurgaon Ki Awaz has a team of predominantly female members. The experienced members train people as and when required as the training comes in handy and need arises quite frequently. “Someone gets married and her journey comes to an end in the radio station. Some move on to another city, or switch jobs. Also, technology becoming outdated is another issue. Since we are low on funds and do not have tech experts, we have trouble keeping up with the latest technology. We usually are on the lookout for something as easy as using a mobile phone,” says Jaiman.
A channel for the, of the, and by the visually impaired
“In India there are around 857 TV channels and 837 radio stations playing in different cities. But how many of them cover issues, events, achievements, tortures, schemes, facilities, laws, etc, pertaining to the disabled community? How many of them talk about the sexual abuse faced by visually impaired girls or women and the domestic violence they are subject to, or about non-availability of proper opportunities for the disabled?,” asks Danish Mahajan, general secretary of Radio Udaan, where all the radio jockeys work voluntarily and 90% of them are visually impaired.
Radio Udaan is an internet community radio station launched in 2014 by six founding members from all over the country under Udaan Empowerment Trust with the goal to bring persons with disabilities on one platform to highlight their opinions and talents. It has come to represent the lives of countless visually impaired Indians in its short stint of five years.
The internet community radio that covers more than 120 countries and caters to more than 30,000 listeners every month follows the motto of providing information wrapped in entertainment through programmes specially designed by jockeys.
“We talk about the policies related to the disabled and disability, which are applicable all over the world. Even though their focus is India-based, they also talk about the international policies to compare accessibility conditions, among other things, with that of abroad,” says Mahajan.
When Radio Udaan saw there is not much representation of the visually impaired in radio and, most importantly, most of them are unaware about the government schemes meant for them, programme planners decided to create experiences that engage, inform, educate and entertain such people in a dignified way.
Radio Udaan has audience in more than 120 countries and its monthly listener statistics shuttle between 20,000 and 30,000. Through this platform, the radio station is creating awareness among people about the policies of the government, their rights and latest schemes. Accessible India is one such programme that brings every such matter to the fore.
Udaan celebrates every occasion — Diwali, Eid, Rakshabandhan, Independence Day — by conducting live shows. It streams live matches, tournaments, events, seminars, talk shows on elections and much more.
The radio station invites government leaders, heads of associations and presidents of different organisations to discuss latest policies, development programmes and ideas with people at large. “We hold question and answer sessions that witness active participation from our listeners. Our audience benefits from these sessions with latest inputs from the people who matter,” says the general secretary.
Udaan also holds on-air training classes to provide learning opportunities to their listeners. “To date, more than 10,000 people have learnt basics of computer and software like skype and drop box with our assistance. Interesting educational shows on maths, English, and general knowledge also constitute enriching episodes of our on-air content,” he says.
The short-term training sessions of Radio Udaan were quite popular with the disabled. “Technology plays a vital role in the life of a disabled person. To enhance the technological skills of a disabled and make her aware about latest technologies available, Radio Udaan organised short-term training sessions in different parts of the country with the support of National Institute For Empowerment Of Visually Disabled (NIEPVD), Dehradun,” says Mahajan.
The radio station has organised three one-day talk sessions on POCSO Act and Right to Education in Delhi and Mumbai. Though romance and marriage are a little difficult for the visually impaired, Radio Udaan is trying its best to build matrimonial alliance and find proper matches for them through their shows. It even holds meets for the purpose in Delhi and Bengaluru. So far, many people have found their matches with its help and have successful marriages.
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“Udaan arranges assisted tourism for the visually challenged to different places of importance. We have conducted trips to Delhi Zoo and India Gate, Wagah Border and Golden Temple, Dhola-ri-Dhani, a miniature Rajasthani village in Hyderabad, and Mumbai,” adds Mahajan.
The community radio launched Udaan Idol (a musical talent show for adults) and Udaan Idol Little Champ (for children) in 2017-18 to promote and nurture their talents.
The radio station, reportedly, doesn’t get any funding from the government or the private sector and organisers are spending from their own pockets to run it.
“All the RJs are working for the community and they readily contribute for every project of ours. Our motivation is our aim to serve the visually impaired people and change their situation in our country,” says Mahajan.
However, Udaan Idol and Udaan Idol Little Champs get some sponsors. But, the radio station is not getting any assistance to meet the charges of web, studio hosting of shows and travelling expenses. “We are not getting any kind of financial help from anywhere,” Mahajan laments.
Radio Udaan is an internet-based radio station and everything happens online. “We use internet for each and everything. WhatsApp and YouTube are our best friends as they help us expand. Yes, sometimes due to bad internet connectivity we fail to air some shows, but as far as WhatsApp and YouTube are concerned, we use them to make each and everyone know about us and our shows,” says Mahajan.
Radio Udaan has lined up various new projects and despite the financial crunches, it is pursuing them. The organisers are planning to open a school for disabled kids and also want to have an offline studio.
“We are have many projects in mind. We want to hold more competitions like the Udaan Idol and matrimonial meets. There are several problems also and we are working on them,” says Mahajan.
Provide a platform to rural villagers to voice their concerns
90.4 FM, Guwahati
In 2010, then Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi launched the northeast’s first community radio service Jnan Taranga, under the guidance of Krishna Kanta Handique State Open University (KKHSOU) at North Eastern Development Finance Corporation (NEDFi) House in Guwahati. Despite the popularity of Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar and YouTube, the first radio community station has created quite a stir in the region.
“The KKHSOU aims to create a knowledge-base by bringing the deprived and marginalised to its fold. The community radio is meant to be another important mode of communication for people ignored by the mainstream media,” says Sangeeta Kakoty deputy director, multimedia, at KKHSOU in Guwahati.”In order to reach the unreached and provide a common platform to sidelined sections of society, the university took the initiative to launch the first community radio service of the region. This was a novel idea in the sense that the media somehow remains a one-way medium of communication,” adds Kakokty.
According to Kakoty, the multi-media division of the university voluntarily took the initiative to launch the community radio station. Members of the multimedia production unit are actively involved in running this station successfully from the time of its inception.Jnan Taranga, like Gurgaon ki Awaaz, encourages participation of its listeners. Audiences can make calls to give suggestions and feedback in Manar Khabor. Various social issues are discussed in the show for an hour. The radio station has something for people of all ages. For the youth, it hosts programmes like Yuva Taranga. For the senior citizens and children, there are programmes such as Hengul Baran and Sishu Tirtha,respectively.
The fringe people get an outlet to vent their views and thoughts in programmes like Topal Topal and Rengoni. Janajiwan is a programme for tribals and ethnic groups.
Live From Community is a programme through which radio reporters communicate with community people to talk about their struggles and experiences. Jnan Taranga also has something in store for environment enthusiasts, Amar Kobologia Ekashar, a live programme to spread love for and awareness about environment.
To revive the lost glory of Assam’s folk culture Jnan Taranga broadcasts programmes like Parampara and Krishtir Patharat. Voices of various tribal communities and ethnic groups of the state are heard in Janajiwan. “We have earlier featured street singers on our show Lecheri Butoli. Sakhi Sanjeevani is a programme exclusively on women’s health. Radio reporters interact with various community people and share their experiences and issues,” says Kakoty.
While Angana focuses on women-centric issues, Manor Khabor deals with the art of letter writing, which has become a thing of the past. Rohan is a documentary show and Sasthya Sorsa throws light on health issues.
To Jnan Taranga’s credit, UNICEF has been very supportive of it and has been collaborating with the community radio station for three years. The radio station has a good listener base.
“We completed one project on behalf of the Disaster Management Authority of Assam last year. This year they have nominated us to work with them,” says Kakoty. Recently the radio station was selected for doing a project on election awareness just before the Lok Sabha polls. Jnan Taranga, too, faces funding constraints. Since it functions under a university, it doesn’t always have the freedom to do the kind of work the organisers want.
90.4 FM, Koraput, Odisha
The community radio station at Chappar village in Odisha’s Koraput started with the sole purpose of protecting and reinvigorating local culture and traditional practices. It provides villagers a platform to showcase their talents and share their life stories. It also is playing its part of spreading awareness. The radio station tells audiences about their rights, disseminates accurate information about various government schemes and holds interaction with local authorities. It thus assists villagers in planning their lives in a better way.
Radio Dhimsa is working hard to expand its reach and grow in multiple dimensions. It currently covers 60 villages under Koraput Block’s six gram panchayats. At present, South Orissa Voluntary Action (SOVA), which had set up the radio station in 2008 with UNICEF’s support, is working in 16 blocks of Koraput and in Rayagada district as well. According to the radio station, Koraput’s population is around 1.3 million and more than 50% of them are from scheduled tribe communities. A strong feel of exclusion and isolation works in them as only 11% are literate. Radio Dhimsa’s target audience is these 2 lakh people in 60 rural villages and Koraput town.
From 2016, the channel started airing shows nine hours a day. Besides, its studio is used as a production house to develop jingles, make announcements and hold awareness programmes on the request of government departments concerned. At present, Radio Dhimsa Community Radio Station (RDCRS) has 10 reporters, of which four reporters and two supervisors look after production, recording, editing. Currently, all the staffers are enrolled as part-time community reporters, who are giving their leisure time to the station. Of the 20 volunteers, only four are paid.
Since its inception, Radio Dhimsa has engaged 60 village volunteers whom it has trained to use basic radio equipment with necessary technical guidance. From among these 60 people, some were recruited as radio reporters and the rest have been supporting these reporters from their respective villages.
“Radio Dhimsa is the only media that broadcasts its programme in tribal language, gives a platform to people to showcase their hidden talents and to be heard. The level of acceptance from the local community is quite high,” shares Sanjit Patnayak, secretary of SOVA.
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Koraput district has a dominant tribal presence, and the rate of school dropouts is very high after Standard V among girls. Usually, after completing Class V, girls have to travel more than 3km from their villages to attend school. In most cases, their parents are hesitant to send their wards to school, as they believe putting this extra effort will yield little results — a girl has to be married off. Radio Dhimsa took it upon itself to change this situation. It started to air programmes on promotion of education for the girl child to spread the message about the government’s Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyala (KGBV) scheme. It has received considerable success in its efforts. Tribal community parents have started to rectify their mistakes and 63 Class V dropout girls have resumed school.
At gram sabha and other public meetings, Radio Dhimsa is making it possible for the locals to raise their concerns on behalf of the community to resolve some key issues like road construction, health and hygiene and sanitation. In 2012 during a public meeting at Dumuriguda, villagers aired their demand for a road.
Radio Dhimsa played the role of a mediator to solve the issue and affected villagers received around `35 lakh from Notified Area Council (NAC) and panchayat for road construction.