Community radio revolution in Uttaranachal

IN Community Media | 26/09/2005
Using amplifiers and stereo equipment, the groups narrowcast their programmes in their village communities in an attempt to build ølistening clubsø

 Women`s Feature Service

 Ruchika Negi in Dehradun

It has the beginnings of a revolution. Five community groups in the villages of Garhwal and Kumaon, in the state of Uttaranchal, are helping people to access government schemes, fight corruption and discuss their everyday problems via the community radio. These five groups are working to create knowledge network societies in remote villages, where both newspapers and television have no reach.

The Community Radio Uttaranchal initiative was started in 2001 with the help of Dehradun-based NGO, Himalaya Trust. Over 20 volunteers, representing five different areas of Garhwal and Kumaon, were given basic training in setting up a community radio network by the NGO. The project is supported by the international media agency, Panos.

"I think radio is a very important medium of information for people in the hills, where villages are located at a great distance from each other," says Rajendra Negi, a volunteer and co-founder of Hevalvani community radio (CR) project. "Half the villages are situated on heights where nothing reaches on time. The only thing people want to listen to is the radio. They are keen to listen to their own programmes, their own issues, their voices articulated in their language. Community radio is a medium that is our own."

Hevalvani CR is located in Heval valley of Tehri Garhwal, at a distance of about 40 kilometers from the nearest city centre, Rishikesh. The CR core group comprises of six young and active members from in and around the neighbourhood of Khadi, who work closely with the women`s self-help groups to disseminate information on issues related to health, self employment and education. 

"Recently, in a neighbouring village, an old woman who tried to raise her voice against rampant corruption in the village was beaten up by the revenue officer on the behest of the village head. This has been a recurring phenomenon in the village, so we decided to do something about it," says Dharmiyan Rana of Hevalvani project. "We interviewed the woman, the people from the neighbouring villages and made a radio programme which we even submitted to the district magistrate, along with a written appeal for further investigation into the case. Now people will think twice before committing such wrongs." 

Raibar CR, situated in Balganga valley, operates from two distinct areas, the town centre of Chamyala and Bangaon - a far off village located on a mountain ridge - which is about an hour`s climb through the forest. The peculiar location of the radio group makes it possible for the members to collect relevant, topical information from the well connected, burgeoning township of Chamyala and disseminate it, with the help of their radio. 

Mandakini ki Awaz (voice of Mandakini) CR is located in Mandakini valley, Pauri Garhwal. The members work from a small village, Bhanaj, about a five-hour drive from the nearest town centre of Rudraprayag. This group aims at creating an open and transparent administrative and governance information system and is thus collaborating with the panchayats (village councils) of the neighbouring three villages as well. The radio group mediates between the people and the governing bodies in these villages, in order to make policies, schemes and financial budgets, open for public discussion and scrutiny. 

"Initially, when I heard about Mandakini ki Awaz, I was very sceptical about the initiative. What do we need another radio network for?" says Lakhpat Pundeer, a resident of Bhanaj, who recently joined the radio group. "But then I attended one session, organised by the radio volunteers with the panchayats, I understood its benefits. Here the villagers discussed the financial budget of the village: how much has been allocated for which project, who are the beneficiaries etc. Never before had these details been divulged to people directly. CR has been able to bring some level of accountability in the administration."

 The CR groups strive to work not just towards community issues and concerns but also collect and document the oral history and traditions of the valley. This information is then strung into programmes which are aired. 

"Although there is an influx of different kinds of information mediums, such as newspapers, television etc that apprise us about the world, there is no way that I can find out more about things that are closer to my reality. I am not interested in what is brewing in America! I may want to know more about employment opportunities, farming techniques, where to seek medical aid et al. Where can I get this information from? Community radio is my way of talking about the day to day needs, the issues and concerns of my people," says Archana Raturi, a young member of Hevalvani CR. 

Using amplifiers and stereo equipment, the groups narrowcast their programmes in their village communities in an attempt to build `listening clubs` where people can congregate to hear community radio programmes, debate and discuss issues. Gatherings like these facilitate a dialogue and initiate a process of questioning and unveiling. "Once we made a programme on panchayati elections. While narrowcasting, people suggested that rather than just focus on big issues why do we not also include simple, basic facts about voting, like how to cast one`s vote, what is the colour of the ballot, what are the procedures that one has to follow?" recalls Vipin Joshi from Pradeep CR. 

"The women, in particular, were keen to know all this because they are not very politically active. So, we remade our programme and that year the turnout of women voters was astounding. People bought our tapes even after elections were over and continue to play them in the villages," says Joshi.  

Shristhi CR has its roots in Uttarkashi. Comparatively a younger group as opposed to the others, it is struggling to expand its voluntary support base and the members are trying to build support networks with the university students and other youth groups in the area. "We are trying to focus on issues of self employment, particularly among the youth. There are people from amidst us, who have chosen not to migrate to the cities and work on new, innovative enterprises here like sericulture, mushroom and vegetable cultivation etc. We make learning radio modules with their help, which we then play back at university, schools and in youth gatherings and clubs," says Sumitra of Shristhi CR. 

For the volunteers, doing radio, thus, is not just restricted to serving the informational needs of their community. "Community Radio, in its true sense, can never flourish and grow in isolation. It is a people`s movement and thus my role is not just restricted to providing information. It is a participatory process where users of knowledge networks must also actively contribute to that flow," says Negi.

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