The community radio, which is still in its infancy in India, has turned out to be a boon for rural folk in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh especially dalit women who operate and manage the medium.
Established in 2008 as one of the first community radios in the country and managed by a team of Dalit women, ’Sangham Radio’ has carved a place in the lives of nearly 10,000 listeners spread over 100 villages in the region.
“This is a radio owned, managed and operated by women from the margins of the society who have been excluded and rendered voiceless in any public forum,” says P.V. Satheesh, Director, Deccan Development Society who runs the radio.
“Media has always treated the rural people in general and women from marginalised sections in particular as consumers of the media and never as its producers,” he says explaining the reason for setting up the venture.
Various sanghams or village level associations of the low income Dalit women in the region felt that a radio of their own would provide more effectively a medium for articulating locally relevant issues, in their own language, and in their own time.
Most, says Satheesh, felt that mainstream media was not giving importance to information specific to certain crops such as millets and other minor grains which are central to food security and dietary requirements of the region’s people.
“The rich cultural traditions of Telangana could be better sustained through a radio station that caters specially to the needs of the region,” says Satheesh.
A few years ago two young women, General Narsamma and Algole Narsamma, completed their Class X Board exams and along with a team of 15 other women set up a community radio and began broadcasting news and reports relevant to their community. The team has been managing the radio ever since.
The radio’s team of reporters collect stories related to agriculture, education, health issues, women’s empowerment and local culture from neighbouring mandals such as Kohir, Nyalkal and Raikode.
General and Algole edit the stories and mix interviews and discussions with folk songs and drama to keep the listeners hooked on throughout the two hour broadcast daily from 7 p.m..
“People started realising that many solutions are available locally for their problems. Many understand the importance of organic agriculture, more over they feel they are not excluded in the media more over they develop a feeling of ownership of this Sagham radio,” says General Narsamma.
The radio programmes are presented in a style influenced by oral traditions of the regions’ mendicant bards.
“A typical programme combines music, stories and news rendered in the narrative style of mendicants who beg for food from people in front of their houses. In a sense this shows the closeness of Sangham Radio to the cultural connotations of the local communities,” says Algole Narsamma.
Listeners who are mostly illiterate local rural people mostly communicate with the radio jockeys on telephone. They listen to announcements of agricultural seasons, incidences of cattle diseases, interviews with traditional animal healers as well as simply exchanging their knowledge of herbs and plant medicines.
“We learnt a lot of things through our interviews and discussions. We respect knowledge of the people. Here in our villages there is lot of knowledge hidden in the minds of people and they are happy sharing it,” says General Narsamma
The radio has instilled confidence and pride in the local people.
“People have a sense of pride that their own issues have gained the importance they deserved. Their community and culture is now the subject of an entire radio broadcast and local solutions are available to their problems,” says Satheesh.
Advertisements are an option but so far, it has been avoided. “As this community radio station has its ideology and concerns about people’s knowledge, environment and culture, we cannot accept advertisements from MNCs,” he says.
The community radio offers its services for free for several announcements like reporting missing livestock etc.
For the women team manning the radio station have now become local heroes and are handling their newfound local popularity with responsibility.
Now people recognise us. The compliments keep coming and some times it creates extra responsibility in our mind to keep this faith for ever,” says Algole Narsamma.