Voicing the ‘Unheard’: Community Radio in Bundelkhand

Posted on May 28, 2012 in Society

By Ankit Dwivedi:

Most of the things are occasional and unpredictable Bundelkhand — rains, political visits, development initiatives and lots more. It’s a relief for the rural populace around Lalitpur that the voice of community radio is among the few exceptions that offer something good for the people all the time.

Set up in rural backdrop of Alapur, 17 kilometers from city of Lalitpur, community radio ‘Lalit Lokwani’ began regular broadcasting from September 3, 2010. Licensed by a local NGO and funded by UNESCO, the project grabbed attention from all over India and some foreign agencies, when it became the first community radio to start broadcasting in Uttar Pradesh.

It was a unique experience to see Uma, a married rural reporter, going to places with an audio recorder, interviewing people, talking to the masses, laughing with the elderly people and, to my amazement, operating and jockeying in a humorous local dialect. It is the best example of how technology can penetrate physical barriers and bring about change in people’s lives. Once an underage married girl, Uma faced oppositions from in-laws for working, but finally made it through, and today lives a life of dignity and self-reliance and wishes the same for all other women.

Lalit Lokwani owns a staff of 10 dedicated rural reporters, of which three are women, along with a local project manager and a student as assistant manager. Rural reporters have been given training of recording voices, editing audio files, managing data, anchoring and broadcasting. The set up consists of a low-power transmitter, a common room, a small studio and PCR (Project Control Room) with appropriate equipment. 5 computers facilitated with high speed Internet open the windows of community radio for the world and help them receive lot of assistance in programming and marketing.

Rural reporters are assigned projects in a scheduled manner and they are on their own to decide how the program will go. Right from planning and scripting programs to recording and relaying them, they are self-sustained.  They go around villages, collect data and record audio, and talk to people as per the need of their project.

At present, projects on employment, improving living standards, children, women’s empowerment and social equality are being broadcasted for 10 hours a day, including 5 hours of repetition. Radio management own an archive of about 2000 songs from 300 local folk artists, 150 dramas and a recorded database of the entire broadcasted program. Program formats include dramas, VOX pop, live anchoring/presentation, features, on-request shows and interviews. Folk songs are an integral part of most of the programmes and are relayed from the archive on selective basis. The team is keen on learning phone-in technique and going to launch some phone-in programmes very soon. A new innovative and much more interactive program ‘Gali Gali Sim Sim’ is under processing, which is an audio version of television program of the same name.

Narrow-casting is done regularly in villages with majority of underdeveloped population, by selecting communities, making them sit in groups and facilitating them with programs run on tape recorders. A direct approach is much more appealing as villagers concentrate on the program sitting together in presence of a volunteer.

So far the response is excellent and encouraging. People not only listen to the radio more often, but also love to hear natives of their villages and folk songs. Letters and oral responses are a regular feedback for the team. The availability of cheap radio and radio on mobile make it possible for villagers to listen to the radio easily while they are busy doing agricultural or household activities.

The need of the hour is to ensure its survival as UNESCO’s financial aid ends in another three months. Making community radio self-reliant would mean its commercialization that is not what a development initiative should end up doing.

The non-cooperation of government agencies is hard to imagine. The government, on the one hand, talks about empowering communities, and on the other hand bureaucracies do not even differentiate between a commercial and a community radio. A complex licensing process which takes years is not all; restricting transmission limits, programming content and advertising duration leaves community radio at the mercy of donating agencies. The problem doesn’t end here; the government further takes a high license/spectrum fee annually and the process of getting DAVP advertisements is complex enough to take further years.

Local advertisements could only serve as token money, and community radio shouldn’t rely on commercial groups for survival, for that would hamper its very essence. Community radio should stay focused on empowering communities leaving aside the worry of finance for the government and the civil society.