Village women turn broadcasters for Mana Radio

BY Rane| IN Community Media | 18/11/2002

      

Village women turn broadcasters for Mana Radio   

 
 

Community radio takes root in Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh as women’s self help groups use the medium for local development.

 

Anshuman Rane

 

 AAAAIIIIIIIIII! A scream rents the air! One more bride burnt to death. Another dowry death  in another village. The listeners shake their heads in resignation. The situation is all too familiar. But it has never been discussed openly before, much less broadcast in the village.

 

The radio play they’re listening to, part of Mana Radio’s first broadcast, provokes a debate among the villagers. They discuss their personal experiences with dowry deaths and clearly relate to the characters and the elegy. It is obvious that the broadcast will not stop these killings overnight, but at least it has brought the issue into the open for a public debate.

 

Mana Radio is a community radio station run by members of the women’s Self Help Groups (SHG) in Orvakal village, Kurnool district, Andhra Pradesh. The SHG members actively involved in running the station are all from rural poor families, mostly Dalits and minorities. Many of these women are minimally educated and have had no media production exposure whatsoever. They, however, are now capable of producing varied radio content. The women hope that the radio will help them better deal with the issues facing them and in spreading awareness.

 

Realizing the role that Community Media can play in development, empowerment and the right to information,  the SERP (Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty) decided to set up community broadcast centres under the World Bank funded  Velugu program. (www.velugu.org)  Community radio is an important tool for those who are traditionally un-represented by mainstream media, providing them access to the means of communication.   It is a tool that can be used to strengthen cultural rights, especially the rights of marginalized communities.

 

The women that make up the membership of Orvakal’s Mandal Samakhya (MS) are very dynamic. Many of them have courageously battled their poverty situation to rise to a level of self-sustenance. They had all taken control of their lives in a less than conducive environment. Many had set the agenda for development by taking strong stands against the issues that were holding them back--gender and caste discrimination, alcoholism, illiteracy, child-labor and debilitating poverty. It was only natural for them to move one step further and produce their own media rather than blindly consume everything that was pushed onto them.

 

When the women of the Orvakal MS found out they would be getting their own radio station they were very excited. They still talk about how they gathered to discuss what the station would broadcast, what people would expect and how they would make it work. They had a lot of questions. "Can we listen to it on any radio? Will we be able to hear it throughout the village? How can we make programs about the groups and conduct trainings using the radio? Is it possible to use it to tell (SHG) members about (SHG) meetings?" They seem to have affirmatively answered their own queries quite effectively.

 

Trying to grasp the basics of radio programming was a daunting task for the SHG members. It is difficult enough for an educated, urban dweller. The women took on the challenge anyway. With the help of CALA (Cultural Action for Literacy and Awareness) an NGO, SERP organized a three-day workshop on issue identification, confidence building, voice modulation, and scripting for radio. At the end of the workshop the women wrote and recorded their first programme.

 

The first program had a message by the Velugu minister and the SERP CEO and was followed by the various sections-- News, Play, Interviews, Songs and a Documentary. The program even had a song from a group of Meghalayans, who were in Orvakal learning to form and sustain self help groups and village organisations.  

 

Another highlight of the program was an interview with the students from the Bhavita School--the child-labour bridge school. The interviewer dwelt on their experiences as labourers, their transition to student life and their plans for the future. After the interview the girls sang a motivational song that they had learnt from a group from Nellore. Proving that songs educate and inspire collective action, many of the listeners started singing along with their radios the moment they heard the first few bars.

 

The topics the women plan to cover are DIVerse--education, gender and caste sensitization, agriculture, health, history and culture. And they plan to use various methods to convey their messages--documentaries, plays, songs, jokes, humour and interviews.

 

Community Media services help increase awareness about all local issues, exponentially.

Again as Tajunisa said, radio will give the groups a greater reach. Instead of walking from door to door, they can reach their audience through a single broadcast. A lot of people who heard the first show discussed the child labor situation. A few even considered sending their children to the bridge school when they heard about the facilities and activities the girls talked about in their interview--boarding, three meals a day, teachers, karate, sport. Information about the bridge school had obviously not spread throughout the community uniformly.

 

They promote a feeling of pride within a community, which is important for the community’s development.  For one the people feel `represented`. Hearing their name mentioned on the program makes them feel proud, they feel that what they did was useful and newsworthy, they feel that they might have actually helped, made some change. Even the landlord who rented is the room for the station was very pleased with the attention the station was getting, and through it his house, him and his family. After being told that the city is the only place where all the action is they feel like there`s `life` in the village too. Lakshmi Prasanna was congratulated by all who heard her read the news and was visibly moved. Her next recording was a lot better, her confidence much improved. The women who were interviewed in a bank while opening an account came up and vowed to save regularly (they just said it---whether they will or not I don`t know ).

One can see a lot of change in the reporters too. They rush about their work, are unafraid to talk to anyone official, elected representative when they have a microphone  in their hands. They are setting up interviews with officers and are planning to contact the collector and the police superintendent. They`ve already managed to get local mandal officials. ( A mandal is an administrative unit covering several village panchayats.)  They have not developed self-important attitudes yet, I don`t know if they will.

Community Media also provides a platform for local artists, activists and talent, those whose voices would otherwise never be heard.  Narashimlu is a case in point. He has a wonderful voice, untrained, and based in Uyalawada village. I don`t think All India Radio would have let him into the studio, unless he knew someone there, or was an established professional. He sang the elegy at the end of the radio play in the first programme. The song moved some of the audience to tears. Also the village troupe/band that plays at weddings and festivals. They`re all very talented, but a producer from AIR wouldn`t come up to them and ask them to record music for a show. The reporters are thinking of featuring them in a future program.

Local happenings and news; localized news on health; local agricultural news and weather updates; local commodity prices; folk songs, myths, stories---this content would never be aired by commercial media broadcasters.  They have their larger audiences to think about, and the range (geog/social) of their broadcasts make this undoable--they have to cater to the largest common denominator and make money. I don`t think Red FM would want to schedule a program on starvation due to drought followed by the price of sunflowers in the closest town in place of the Indi-pop charts.

But all these topics would find a place on Mana Radio. The information, being region specific, would therefore be more reliable and accurate. Mana Radio caters only to the village and is based in the village. The information has to travel probably 500 metres to the station to be broadcast, not 250 km to
Hyderabad or 2000 km to Delhi before it is picked up, researched(?), verified (ha) and broadcast.

The women have reported on a bus being burnt on the Kurnool road (suspected to have been bombed),  and a foundation set up to honour Maloom Bi, their first president and a very dynamic leader who expired in a tragic accident recently. Also on visitors from Nepal`s planning commission who had visited the village on an exposure visit,  and on a group from Meghalaya who were there to undergo training.
 
--The Agriculture Officer was interviewed in the first show. He talked about the subsidized sunflower seed scheme that the govt. had just started. He also talked about using pesticides and handling the drought. The Animal Husbandry Officer was interviewed for the second program. He talked about animal health and disease prevention. Future plans are to interview the Health Officer. They want to do weather updates;  and carry local commodity prices. How they will go about this they have still to work out. But it will definitely be possible once the frequency of broadcasts increase.

The women of Orvakal seem to have taken to radio like ducks to water and are churning out ideas, program formats and schedules. In subsequent workshops, organized by SERP, the women learnt to use the recorders, microphones, set audio levels, edit and put together radio shows. Zubeida Bi, ex-President, Mahila Bank, used to think that machines did all the work required to produce radio programs. "But after the trainings I realize that we are the machines that are actually making the programs," says an enlightened Zubeida.

 

Mana Radio has already received many messages of support and encouragement. Letters came from around the state and emails from Bangalore, Bombay, the USA and Canada, hailing the effort as a step ahead for development, women’s empowerment and the community radio movement. Lakshmi Prasanna, the youngest budding broadcaster, feels very gratified with all the good wishes and encouragement. "When we started I was not very confident," she admits, "but hearing that so many people believe in us and receiving all these messages has made me feel more confident."

 

As a tool the women immediately recognized the uses they can put the radio station to. They sit excitedly discussing all the programs that they will make and the impact that these will have on the village. Zubeida Bi wants to interview various Government officials. "I want to ask them about their pro-poor initiatives and the successes of these programs, if any". Tajunisa wants to make her next program on watersheds and Lakshmi Prasanna is preparing to document folk songs and stories from the mandal.

 

 

Initially, the women found the technical aspects most difficult to grasp. Also the whys of certain functions that needed to be performed--setting audio levels before a recording or setting the record mode to mono because they were using a mono mic not a stereo mic--these aspects took sometime for them to understand. This part of the training took the longest time, and needed quite a lot of practical examples. I set the levels very high, recorded, then played it back to them. When they heard the speaker crackling they realized why they needed to set levels. I recorded them blowing into the mic and talking into it holding it wrong, then recorded them holding it the correct way. They immediately grasped the reasons when they heard and compared the results.

Editing the shows was, by far, the most difficult bit of the difficult bit. There is no Telugu word for edit. But once they heard their uncut programs, then heard the cut versions, while seeing how the process worked and trying it out themselves, they understood the process.

Also getting them to `perform` took some doing. They just thought they had to talk into the mic and the expression would take care of itself. I actually read a whole monologue grinning into he mic and the same one deadpan and made them try it. When they heard the before and after recording they got the idea. It took a little while to shed inhibitions, but they were cast off eventually. Like everywhere else you have natural performers and the shy ones.

Some transmission frustrations have also been encountered.  The station being so low power it only covers the village. They want it to cover a larger area so that more people can hear the programs. This is the biggest frustration. Also the signals don`t penetrate walls and get disrupted in the rains. Apart from this there are no real difficulties. The local technician is more than capable of repairing the transmitter if anything should happen to it. He had actually built him self a small AM transmitter quite a while back. Electricity is another problem--they can only practice their technical skills when they have power, trainings on equipment can only be done when there is power. For broadcast however they always keep a set of charged AA batteries for the MD players and there is a 12V battery for the transmitter.

The women’s skills are slowly developing as they record and edit more programs. This is making them start considering producing more complex shows…gradually adding special effects and voiceovers to programs that were basic record/edits earlier. "We have to make our programs sound better. After all we have to compete with cable TV and AIR (All India Radio). If we aren’t as good as them the people might stop listening to our programs and turn on their TVs," says Sabera Bi, member, Orvakal mandal samakhya.  And none of them want that to happen.

 

This community broadcast centre gives the villagers the means to control the information that they receive, a tool that has traditionally been in the hands of the rich. Using the radio the women hope to be able to spread information about the issues faced by the rural poor in programs made by those who know the problems best…the rural poor.

 

Mana Radio broadcasts every Monday evening for an hour, from 6-7 p.m. at 94 MHz FM. The station plans to scale up its broadcasts as soon as it has built up a larger bank of programming, hoping to eventually start daily broadcasts. Tune in when you’re in the neighbourhood.



 

Anshuman Rane is a consultant to  the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), the implementing agency for Velugu (http://www.velugu.org). He was involved in the training and setting up of the Mana Radio project. Contact: uruloki@vsnl.net 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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