While politicians are focusing on social media such as Facebook to campaign, rural masses — especially women — are voicing their demands through CGNet.
Kirti Dubey from Jabalpur watches the news on television and reads Hindi papers. But she doesn't get any news about jobs for people with little or no education in her district. The health coverage in the mainstream media also does not cut ice with her, as it either suggests expensive remedies or treatment that is not available in her neighbourhood.
“Schools, primary health, migration, alcoholism and news for women and children are not there on TV or newspapers. Five years ago, I heard about CG Net radio in Chhattisgarh. Anyone could pick up a phone and report their problems and officials were trying to solve these problems. Do you know that in Kawardha the collector suspended corrupt officers who demanded bribe for issuing pattas under the Forest Rights Act? Collector sahib heard about it on CG Net," she told The Hindu.
Ms. Dubey is among several who now listen to and report for the Central Gondwana Net Swara in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. CGNet, started by journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary in 2004 in Raipur, now operates from HackerGram — a snake-infested former mushroom farm on the outskirts of Bhopal.
Anyone can call up the radio and listen to news or record a report in Hindi or Gondi — which is then available for all callers to listen to.
Complaints on the radio are verified with the help of local activists trained by CGNet and are broadcast with the numbers of local officials for listeners to follow up with.
Mr. Choudhary is one of the finalists of this year's Digital Activism award from Index on Censorship, UK.
Another prominent finalist is NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“We are training Bhili and Santhali speakers to use the radio and we've started AdivasiSwara.org — which is the only website in Gondi script. Last November, we started SwasthyaSwara to discuss traditional health knowledge. We're also trying to broadcast on the international Citizen Band 26.9 MHz to 27.2 MHz. Currently receivers don't read this frequency so we're developing a way to tweak radios to receive the band," he told The Hindu.
Mamta Sahu from Jabalpur's Kundam block claims that the papers in her area don't report about adivasis. A fifth of Madhya Pradesh’s population is tribal, the highest in the country.
“We kept complaining about vaccination programmes that never came to our villages and MNREGA wages that haven't been paid for months. No one listened. Once we reported it on CGNet, the health department appointed many women activists as ASHA workers (Accredited Social Health Activist). The medical officer now pleads us to tell him if there's a problem and not report it on CGNet," she said.
Over the last month, CGNet has seen a spurt of reports on unfulfilled promises made by political parties during the previous Lok Sabha and assembly polls. While politicians are focussing on WhatsApp and Facebook to campaign, rural masses — especially women — are voicing their demands through CGNet. Fifty to 170 calls come everyday and 450 listeners call in.
“Getting a ration card is the toughest thing in India," said Janmavati who edits a handwritten newspaper Bahini Darbar in Dabhaura, Rewa. "We have to beg politicians and sarpanches to get a card. In a village in Jaba tehsil, no one got a ration card for 15 years. We finally reported it on CGNet. Still nothing happened. We ran the report again with an interview. Last year the patwari came on his own and made the cards. A senior officer heard the report, she said.
After a recent report of dirty water being supplied to a Kol Adivasi hamlet in Jaba, a proper water connection was given.
“Kunwar sahib's (BJP MLA Divyaraj Singh) people came and asked us what other problems we have. With the radio, we won't have to go to politicians. They will slowly come to us.”