Tuning in to unheard voices

Tuning in to unheard voices

Over three hundred higher primary schools in Heggadadevanakote taluk of Mysuru district witnessed a unique classroom session for about a year from November 2014 to November 2015. Radio sets replaced Maths teachers from 12 noon to 12.30 pm for three days every week. “This 180-episode interactive series, known as ‘Lekkada Katte’, not only made Maths interesting for kids through its innovative approach to the subject, but also proved useful for schools that don’t have a trained Maths teacher,” says Juditha, a teacher at Bidarahalli Government Upgraded Higher Primary School.

This is one of the many popular programmes broadcast by Janadhwani, a community radio (CR) station based in Saragur in the taluk. The radio station was launched in 2012 with an objective to enable people through timely access to information and active participation in the development process.

The right wavelength
“Understanding our people and their information needs is key to running a CR successfully,” says Shivakumar, station manager of Janadhwani. An initiative of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) that has been working with tribal and rural communities on various issues like health, education and socio-economic empowerment, Janadhwani broadcasts programmes on a range of issues — from healthcare to agriculture and folklore — for 13 hours every day.

It was a revelation for Bogayya of Biramballi village, who has been lying paralysed for the last four years, when he learnt how the medium of radio can go beyond the realms of entertainment and awareness creation, and act proactively to ensure the wellbeing of its listeners. By interacting with officials through phone-in programmes, he has got both his personal work and village work done. Similarly, a series of awareness programmes on the adverse effects of child marriage and child labour has led many hadis (tribal hamlets) to take vow against the social evils and encourage children to continue education beyond primary school. Vasanthamma, a resident of B Matakere hadi, remembers singing and dancing with artiste B Jayashree, on the day of inauguration of the community radio. Local people here have got many such opportunities to meet and interact with celebrities, but what Vasanthamma remembers candidly is how the series on health gave a new lease of life to tribal women by removing their inhibitions about approaching health centres for treatment.

While community radios make people aware of their rights, share their grievances and help them avail schemes and facilities, they also open up windows of opportunities for local talents.

Be it Rakesh, a singer and mimicry artiste, or Mani, whose childhood dream was to be a radio presenter, or Kala, who has not let child marriage curb her dreams, rural talents in and around Anugondanahalli in Bengaluru Rural district have become star programmers of Sarathi Jhalak, a community radio station based in the village. “The radio has given me a platform to show and nurture my talent. When people appreciate my programmes, I get past the guilt of not doing well in studies,” says Rakesh. Kala’s curiosity about the working of a radio made her approach this easily accessible station. Kala now anchors a programme that covers a range of issues from health to agriculture and literature. “I have the confidence to interview experts from any field, and motivate the community through such interactions,” she says.

After the initial apprehensions about the initiative, Anugondanahalli villagers started liking the idea of a radio station that caters to them exclusively. The coverage of micro and macro issues, local culture, various government schemes and, above all, the participatory nature of the programmes made them connect well with the radio. “The public response is overwhelming and it keeps us going in spite of many hurdles,” says Shamantha D S, founder of Sarathi Trust that runs Sarathi Jhalak. Though people in this region have access to FM radio channels, Sarathi Jhalak has an awe-inspiring listenership of 80%. People tune in to it in public places, on their personal radio sets and even on cell phones.

Challenges & strategies
In Budikote village of Kolar district, Namma Dhwani, an initiative of the nonprofit MYRADA, has the distinction of being the first community radio station of the State. Started in 2008, it had its ups and downs, but is going stable with the organisation’s support. “Though it is a wonderful platform to reach out to the grassroots people and empower them, there are many obstacles to use it to the optimum level. It could be the procedural challenges in availing stipulated grants by the government, or not getting ads even for small slots that we are entitled to,” says Shivashankar, who is associated with Namma Dhwani.

“We were given an initial fund of Rs 10 lakh that we spent entirely on infrastructure development. While the mother organisation supports the initiative, I have also been diverting money from well-wishers and corporate social responsibility efforts. The programmers work on a voluntary basis,” says Shamantha. Some of the government departments have collaborated with these radio stations to reach out to people and create awareness about their schemes. “Unfortunately, many government departments have still not realised the potential of CRs,” says Shivashankar. Government officials acknowledge the effectiveness of phone-in programmes broadcast by CRs. “Such programmes allow us to strike a chord with people, get a deeper understanding of their problems and work more efficiently,” says Shivalinga Kondaguli, chief officer, Saragur town panchayat.

There are 16 community radios that are currently functional in the State. These radio stations are run by nonprofits, educational institutions and agricultural institutions. Unlike commercial or public broadcasting, community radios have a local flavour that appeals to the audience.

While CRs run by educational institutions give exposure to students and sensitise them on socio-cultural issues, the ones run by the nonprofits follow ‘by the people and for the people’ policy. “Proper understanding of the concept, its scope, and necessary training to produce effective programmes are the need of the hour to strengthen community radios across the State,” says C U Bellakki, a media expert.

“The nature of CRs is such that their performance can be assessed on one-to-one basis only. Still, I feel that only a few of them are fulfilling the objectives of the concept,” says R Narasimha Swamy, who is closely associated with the CR movement in the State. “It is necessary to have training for production and practices of CR as radio has its own advantages and limitations,” he adds.

The community radio stations may not reach far, but those that are true to their objectives do reach deep and facilitate social and cultural transformation.

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