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Airwaves Are Nothing But Public Property: How Community Radio Is For The Development Of All

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By Tadrash Shah:

Hearing the term radio, which today is too generic in the interest of scientific and technological advancements, points to the window of a wide electromagnetic spectrum to engineers and physicists and may point towards the X-Ray and Doppler studies for medical enthusiasts. But in this case, we must capture the informal meaning that seeks to serve all. Nobody can claim either the ignorance of or access to the radio tuner and in case you find someone who does, you better enquire about his planet of origin.

We have all been accessing the radio for decades now, be it in form of a simple tuner to the most sophisticated ones installed in our houses and offices. I don’t think the world would have seen so much evolution in any medium of communication saving the computer. Only a few decades ago, people had valve radios in their homes which they used to switch on at least half an hour before the program of their interest was about to go on air and now we see cars zooming to the rhythm of the radio. Radio has its own charm and more so because it adds this dynamism to life. It takes to the unanticipated territories of music with each new song played unlike our MP3 and YouTube playlists which play music as per our orders.

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We have been seeing a wide variety of radio channels. Commercial ones are the most popular in the urban setup but we must not disremember or disregard the influence that community radio has. Community radio, across the globe, has stood as testimony to service, community-mindedness, access and participation of the listener. They have been most effective when it comes to engaging the listener. What else can be more engaging than a closed geographical region where people themselves generate more than fifty percent of the programmes locally to be called a community radio? Commercial radio cannot possibly serve the local interest of any region, despite its several efforts.

Community radios came into formal existence in February 1995 when the Supreme Court of India granted permission to such start-ups with the wonderful words — ‘Airwaves are public property’. Since then, these have been the first elements for information evolution though they have contributed and backed much more agendas than just information dissemination. Having established that, allow me look into various aspects of the same:

Community radio keeps the community, be it the student community in campus based community radios or a rural community in a region based community radio, tightly woven together. It is because there are just a handful of stakeholders; they can use these radios in celebrating success and participating in the pains of one and all. Somebody’s obituary can reach the community at once and everyone can send in their condolences and then, the extraordinary success of a member of a community gets recognized among peers. The latter mention is deliberate because peer recognition is more important than national or international ones. We always want to do what the neighbours did, and at times wish to do it better. In that sense, community radio can ignite healthy competitiveness too. One, who is recognized on such a platform, has his feeling of belongingness in the community nourished. Moreover, any local talent can be featured on these platforms too thus giving him the first sense of some accomplishment. Such an activity can only help his talent grow and embark heights. Local interests and hobbies can also be nurtured on the radio; for example people in Saurashtra in Gujarat listen to Daayro with a lot of interest while it is not as prevalent in other parts of Gujarat. This is a good example of a community radio program. In all these ways, community radio can serve the principles of individual and collective development, uplifting talent, catering community interests, preserving latent art forms of communities and most importantly all of this happens usually without material benefits.

As already noted, the cultural heritage of a community can be always preserved, similarly, the traditional wisdom and time-honoured countenances can also be preserved. But yes, it is equally important for the caretakers of such radio platforms to make sure that the community listeners are not confounded in old-fashioned ways of living only, the radio must also serve as gateway to link them to the latest happenings and access to newer and better practices. The balance must be struck else the listeners may remain in third-world generations. The culture must be preserved with letting in the new and improved. Maintaining this balance has been difficult, not to mention the nitty-gritties of it, and we have seen that polarization on either sides kills the innate instincts. Local radio is the best way to advertise the local cottage industries and handicrafts, thereby preserving them in their congenial environment.

I have seen the dimensions of community radio, but I would not end at that. There are some suggestions I would like to make. These radios are potent enough to serve the widest spectra of communities like colleges, villages, religious communities, etc with the first two being the most important. Though these channels may seem less glamorous when compared to their commercial counterparts, it must be understood that peer recognition drives the amateur talent to excellence. I stand by the recommendation that was made by the UNESCO Chair on Community media that these radios must be set up in more numbers for the deprived areas. Having explored the benefits on these, I would say that this step is imperative for a community upheaval. Lastly, with the ubiquity of the use of cell phones, if these radio channels can be coupled with mobile telephony, the best results of community development could be reached. Amen!

Here’s some information on all the community radio stations in India:

Photo Credit: PatCastaldo via Compfight cc

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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