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Crowdfunding plea to save Dalit women’s radio

Ears to the ground:The content for Sangham Radio is generated entirely by around 5,000 women.MOHD ARIF  

India’s first community radio station, Sangham Radio, owned and run by 5,000 poor, mostly Dalit women in one of India’s most underdeveloped areas, is on the verge of closing down , unless its crowdfunding campaign raises enough funds.

The radio station, an initiative of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a local grassroots organisation, was started in 1998 in Machanoor village in Telangana’s Sangareddy district. It caters to the Sanghams (self-help groups) of underprivileged, rural women. It got its licence to broadcast in 2008, and has been in operation for ten years. The programming content is generated entirely by the 5,000-odd women, most of them semi-literate or illiterate agricultural workers.

“When it was born 20 years ago and was ‘licensed to broadcast’ by the Government of India ten years ago, Sangham Radio heralded a new media space for the underprivileged, rural peasant women of India,” notes the appeal on the crowdfunding webpage,

The radio station is currently facing both a financial crisis and technical problems.

“The government has not paid for the advertisements aired and its dues to Sangham Radio over the last three years has totalled to Rs. 3.25 lakhs,” stated the appeal.

The technical problem pertains to its transmitter, which is supposed to reach an area of 30km but now barely covers a 3 km radius. “Very soon even this may fail and Sangham Radio may be silenced for ever,” said the statement, which hopes to raise a corpus of Rs. 10 lakh, the minimum needed for continued survival.

“We could not collect donations from outside India as we have to run the community radio on our own,” said M. Narsamma, one of the two women who run the radio station. “Some of our listeners have been asking us why they are cannot hear our broadcasts. We have told them that we need new transmitters and each one costs about Rs. 3 lakh. This is the reason we are trying to raise money.”

“As the first authentic community radio in India, Sangham Radio has put the small and marginalised woman at the frontier of communication... any extinction of this radio station would be a travesty,” said P.V. Satheesh, Director, DDS.