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This Community Radio In Mewat Since 2018 Has Helped Many Through Mental Hardships

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“Who on Earth will marry you and how are we going to arrange for a groom for you? This is what I hear all the time from my parents and relatives,” said Madhu*. Madhu is from a village in the backward Mewat region of Haryana and is constantly taunted, harassed and discriminated against for her dark complexion, even by her own family. Baring her heart out over a phone call to a live programme called ‘Uljhan’, broadcasted on the community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat, she wanted to know how to cope with the situation she faces.

Madhu is one amongst hundreds of youngsters suffering from anxiety that is taking a toll on their mental stability or causing depression and despondency. To meet the needs of such callers, the Alfaz-e Mewat community was established nearly a decade ago by SM Sehgal Foundation and launched the Uljhan programme in 2018 in collaboration with Rajbala Foundation.

woman cooking lunch box
“Who on Earth will marry you and how are we going to arrange for a groom for you? This is what I hear all the time from my parents and relatives,” said Madhu*. | Image: Screen-grab from the movie Lunchbox. 

Satish Kaushik, psychologist, who started Rajbala Foundation, an NGO that works in the areas of healthcare and education and is on the panel of the programme, said,

“We often get calls from boys suffering from mental trepidation if they are laughed at by girls for one or the other reason.”

Stress before and during exams and the anxiety over the results is one of the major problems that affects students and the number of calls to the radio increase during these times. “The experts invited to the Uljhan programme suggest a number of ways that can reduce their stress and give tips to young girls and boys on how to manage their time for revision and study without stress,” added Kaushik.

It is not only the youth who seek counselling for the mental disquiet caused by confusion and other problems. One of the frequent callers to the programme is 67-year-old Aslop from Sakras village in the Mewat district of Haryana.

“I suffer from acute anxiety fearing that my daughter might become a victim of eve-teasing while she returns from her school,” expressed Aslop. His daughter, who studies in Class 12, has to walk back from her school, which is one-and-a-half kilometres away from his village. Aslop informed that for every problem, he dials the number to talk to the counsellors who provide some solution.

“Aslop likes the programme so much that he persuaded 50 other villagers to buy radios or transistors to listen to the programme,” said Shakir Hussain, the RJ and station in charge who conducts this programme for the Alfaz-e- Mewat community radio.

Even during the lockdowns imposed due to Covid-19, Uljhan played an important role for the villagers in tackling their anxieties. Job losses due to Covid-19 and the migrants’ return to their villages with no work resulted in several problems leading to anxiety, fear and pessimism. Kaushik said:

“‘I am out of work, how will I manage without money!’ — this is a common refrain from callers who suffered from anxiety and depression, especially among migrant workers during the lockdown.”

A glimpse of the Uljhan programme from the studio. | Image has been provided by the author.

According to Aarti Manchanda Grover, the senior programme lead with SM Sehgal Foundation, the community radio launched several programmes during the lockdown to educate people not only about Covid-appropriate behaviour but also on how to cope with stress, anxiety and fears caused by the pandemic.

Initially, a programme called ‘21 din 21 batein’ aired to focus on the dos and don’ts, and how to cope with the situation. Then there was a programme ‘19 din aur sambhalene ke’ that talked about ensuring one’s physical and mental well-being, and creating a congenial atmosphere at home. These programmes during the lockdown were quite helpful for people in the villages.

Kaushik emphasised that sometimes, simply sharing the cause of anxiety and concern with someone works wonders to relax one’s mind. With some counselling by experts, the confusion, dilemmas and anxiety can be tackled to an extent. It is through the Uljhan programme that they came to know that villagers also suffer from bouts of anxiety and depression, a malaise thought to be affecting people in big cities.

Mental health issues are not given too much thought and recognition, even though they are needed, and Uljhan is one such attempt to address this important issue.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the person. 

About the author: Sarita Brara is an independent development journalist who has previously worked as an editor and an All India Radio correspondent.

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