Bhopal journalist wins Digital Activism award

Shubhranshu Choudhary’s brainchild CGNet Swara beat Snowden, Free Weibo, TAILS

March 21, 2014 05:24 pm | Updated May 19, 2016 10:27 am IST - CHHINDWARA (Madhya Pradesh):

Shubhranshu Choudhary in his makeshift recording studio, lined with egg holders as soundproof, in Jatkhedi, Bhopal. Photo: Pheroze L. Vincent

Shubhranshu Choudhary in his makeshift recording studio, lined with egg holders as soundproof, in Jatkhedi, Bhopal. Photo: Pheroze L. Vincent

Shubhranshu Choudhary, independent journalist and author of the controversial Let’s call him Vasu, has won the 2014 Digital Activism Award from the U.K.-based charity organisation >Index on Censorship .

He defeated three other finalists, including former American Intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, Chinese social network Free Weibo and The Amnesic Incognito Live System (TAILS) which helps people encrypt their communication, in an online vote.

Mr. Choudhary won the award for his Central Gondwana Net Swara community radio, which he started in 2004 in Raipur. It now operates from HackerGram — a snake-infested former mushroom farm on the outskirts of Bhopal.

Citizen journalism

Anyone can call up the radio and listen to news or record a report in Hindi or Gondi (a south-central Dravidian language) — which is then available for all callers to listen to. Complaints on the radio are verified and augmented with the help of local activists trained by CGNet.

CGNet Swara has been gaining popularity in Madhya Pradesh with the involvement of women’s groups who paint the radio’s mobile numbers on mud huts and use music to promote the radio.

The station receives up to 170 calls a day with news of failing public infrastructure, in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections.

Originally a Chhattisgarh-based radio, it has now spread to Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha too. “We are training Bhili and Santhali speakers to use the radio and we've started, 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,” Mr. Choudhary told The Hindu.

Training offered

CGNet also has the distinction of training the first Adivasi journalist in Chhattisgarh, Lingaram Kodopi, who was released last month after spending two-and-a-half years in prison on suspicion of being a Maoist conduit.

When he got the news of his selection, Mr. Choudhary told this paper that it felt surreal to beat Snowden. He hoped his award would bring more attention to and participation in the radio station.

In 2013, when Mr. Choudhary was under fire both from the Maoists and the State, he told this paper in an interview: “Adivasis are now talking to Adivasis. Also, the Chief Secretary listens to it everyday, so do many Collectors. We have made enemies but problems are getting solved. There now exists a platform for dialogue.”

This award comes as a shot in the arm for the project which operates on a shoestring budget of international grants and volunteer support.

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