Community radio has villagers excited

ORVAKAL (Kurnool dt.) OCT. 5. Groups of men and women of this sunflower-draped village flash their newly acquired contraption — Murphy radios — and get engrossed in listening to the programmes. Quite anachronistic, one might think, in the age of TV soaps and channel surfing.

But the reasons are not hard to seek. Packed with village-centred news, views, plays and folk songs, all in their local idiom, the programmes broadcast on the aptly named "Mana Radio'' (Our Radio) after all touches their hearts, having been produced by themselves. Welcome to India's first Community Radio Station, set up by a Mandal Women's Samakhya, under `Velugu', the World Bank-aided rural poverty elimination project. When the first 45-minute programme was broadcast on Friday, after a field test on October 2, there was excitement all around the village.

As a familiar village girl's well-modulated voice crackled, curious groups of people surrounded the radios. "It is that of our own Laxmi Prasanna'', they chorused, instantly relating with the medium.

For some time there was a race to get better reception of the waves, by choosing a vantage point. Some took their radios to the Sri Chennakesava Swamy temple at an elevated spot, some to the rooftops while others stayed back at the village square.

"I can now communicate with the Samakya members directly and ask them to attend the meetings'', said Ratnamma, president of the Samakya.

Earlier, she had to send a person door-to-door to pass on the message. "I thought that in radio, the machine did all the work. Now I realise we are the machines that make the programmes'', said Zubeida Bi, president of the Mahila Bank, naively.

"The low cost community radio is aimed at providing a platform for those sections of the society which go unrepresented in the media and whose voices go unheard'', said Anshuman Rane, the broadcaster, who spent four weeks in the village, training men and women and setting up the station. From mere "consumers of content" dished out by the media, they will now become producers and partners, setting the development agenda for themselves. "To that extent they are empowered''. True to what he says, a group asked him if it can produce a programme on corrupt officials.

Mr. Rane said in numerous examples worldwide, the community radio helped in dramatic transformation of the marginalised. It inculcated a sense of pride besides boosting self-confidence. But in India, the concept has not taken off because of rigid Government rules.

The Orvakal experiment is the first of its kind in the country where programming and broadcasting is done by villagers for the entire village. The Bhuj and Ahmedabad experiments were different in that the programmes produced by the community were broadcast through a slot in AIR.

During a three-day workshop, the group of 15 men and women from the village were trained as radio reporters and programmers, exposing them to theatre techniques, confidence-building, issue identification, voice modulation and script writing.

At the end of the workshop they produced their first programme. It included songs, a documentary, stories, jokes and mimicry, a news bulletin, an interview with officials and a programme on agriculture and animal husbandry.

Being the first one, there were messages from the State Minister for Employment Generation and Velugu, B. Gopalakrishna Reddy, and the Chief Executive Officer of Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, K. Raju. Starting with a weekly broadcast on Mondays, the group members hope to scale up to thrice in a week and finally daily.

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