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Community Radio In India: From Free Waves To Sustainability

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German playwright and author Bertolt Brecht wrote:

“The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication. Radio is one sided when it should be two. It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. So, here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him. On this principle the radio should step out of the supply business and organise its listeners as suppliers.”

This is where the concept of community radio finds its roots: a participatory radio for the people, of the people and by the people. Today, with nearly 200 community radio stations across India, broadcasting in languages like Bundelkhandi, Garhwali, Awadhi and Santhali, we should be proud of the fact that broadcast radio today reaches a large number of the Indian population. Rural India relies on it overwhelmingly for information. It also remains the most inexpensive and portable medium.

The legalities of setting up a community radio station came after a long and voiced revolution from various grass-roots organizations, individuals and communities. Community radio is not just something which is feeding the people’s mind with few people’s choices, interests and beliefs, its inception goes back to the logic of providing voice to the voiceless, being a tool of development communication, acceptance of multiple voices and of course giving space to multiple voices – in order to remove the homogeneity of views, ideas and beliefs. Secondly, its focus on covering micro level issues, which are directly linked with people’s lives increases its importance. The participatory approach makes it different from the mainstream media, as it involves people to talk their concerns and listen to their voices on radio.

Some practitioners and scholars argue that function of community radio is:

  • To reflect and promote local identity, character and culture by focusing principally on local content.
  • To create a diversity of voices and opinions on the air through its openness to participation from all sectors
  • To encourage open dialogue and democratic process by providing an independent platform for interactive discussion about matters and decisions of importance to the community.
  • To promote social change and development.
  • To promote good governance and civil society by playing a community watchdog role that makes local authorities and politicians more conscious of their public responsibilities

Many studies have also tried to find a linkage between the functions and aims of community radio with what Amartya Sen wrote as “Capability Approach”- the key idea of the capability approach is that social arrangements should aim to expand people’s capabilities – their freedom to promote or achieve what they value doing and being– makes more sense. Here it is noted that the community radio is helping to expand people’s capabilities by disseminating information, which ordinary people can use to overcome problems such as hunger and malnutrition. This can help people to achieve a life they value.

Farmers are more likely to adopt and implement agricultural messages that help them to meet basic needs such as food and escape a life of poverty.  In adopting modern methods of farming, ordinary people are moved by the incentive of increased yield that is associated with those techniques. Increased yield leads to freedom as a result of food sufficiency. Food sufficiency leads to the attainment of yet other freedoms such as social and economic freedom which ensue when farmers sell the surplus food to earn money.

A UNDP (1994) report documented that “The purpose of development is to create an environment in which all people can expand their capabilities, and opportunities can be enlarged for both present and future generations.” This is one way through which community radio as part of communication for development can be used to address the challenges that people in rural communities face. The hallmark of development communication is the explicit and implicit desire to change the way people behave. Here we note that community radio is playing that role – changing the way ordinary people used to practice farming thereby enlarging their opportunities for the improved agency. Similar can be argued for health literacy, carrier counseling among other basic issues that a community needs advice with.

During situations like the 2004 tsunami, and the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, radio played a stellar role in conveying information on relief work, aid and recovery efforts when other mediums became inaccessible, and hence proved to be the last man standing in times of calamity and disaster. Audio programmes easily take-over barriers linked to literacy allowing everyone to comprehend the information they need. The incurring cost is lower than other mediums such as TV and newspapers.

It is important to see the issues related to funding of community radio stations as well, right from the fixed cost of establishing a community radio station to its day-to-day functioning. The Telecom Regularity Authority of India website mentions: “As long as the Community radio stations are limited to Educational Institutions, funding is not really a problem even without any advertisements or sponsored programmes. However, expanding the scope of Community Radio stations beyond educational institutions requires a serious look at the possible fund raising and income generating mechanisms for Community Radio.”

Funding sources vary from national to international agencies, friends of community radio stations to earning money from advertisement. Given the government rules and guidelines there is only certain type of advertisement permitted for Community Radio broadcasters, making the task of fund-raising even more difficult. Theoretically, being an NGO based activity in India fund-raising through donations is the first approach we look into. However, it is important to challenge it and try to see the market orientation as well. A good connection with local market can most likely provide some or major parts of funding to support the recurring cost (day-to-day expenses)

Should we be overly worried about this fact? Not really, we have come a long way from the Pastapur initiative with all these challenges. Given the important role community radio stations can play, we need to a bit more creative (or so to say innovative) with content and fund-raising techniques; continue the broadcast and community engagement- and sooner or later self-sustainability both in terms of content and funding can be achieved. Hope, although begets hope, has never been limited as just a word.

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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.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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.

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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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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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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