In era of stream­ing, how com­mu­nity ra­dio’s ap­peal has en­dured in In­dia’s most back­ward district

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES CITY - @times­group.com

Me­wat: It’s a hazy morn­ing in a Me­wat vil­lage and a bunch of young women sit­ting on a char­poy are glued to the ra­dio set, lis­ten­ing to the recipe of the day on “Hello Sa­heli”.

Farheen, a young RJ, nar­rates a “channa saag” recipe in her thick Me­wati ac­cent, tak­ing cues not from a chef but a lo­cal home­maker. In “Gyan ki Baat”, the next seg­ment, the RJ quizzes her lis­ten­ers about events from the In­de­pen­dence era.

For eight years, Ra­dio Me­wat has been talk­ing about gen­der vi­o­lence, con­duct­ing ra­dio ses­sions and bust­ing su­per­sta­tions in In­dia’s most back­ward district. Funded by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, it reaches 168 vil­lages and serves a pop­u­la­tion of about 5.5 lakh, says founder and film­maker Ar­chana Kapoor. All its em­ploy­ees are from Me­wat and nearby vil­lages. “Com­mu­nity ra­dio is a dy­namic thing, and through com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, we have de­vel­oped pro­grammes that cater to all lis­ten­ers,” Kapoor says.

Then, there’s Al­faz-e-Me­wat, founded in 2012, which now reaches 225 vil­lages across Haryana and runs for 13 hours a day. When Al­faz-eMe­wat be­gan, all the call­ers were men. Cut to 2018, and at least 20% of those call­ing are women. With lit­tle ac­cess to TV and none to com­put­ers, ra­dio is the only lo­cal plat­form that con­nects them, raises im­por­tant is­sues and makes voices heard across the com­mu­nity. left out — prob­a­bly why the vil­lage has ac­cepted the ra­dio as the most cred­i­ble source of in­for­ma­tion. “Vil­lagers know this is one place that lis­tens to them, cares for them,” ex­plains Kapoor. “So, whether it’s a case of rape, vi­o­lence, in­jus­tice, mar­i­tal dis­pute or a fam­ily dis­pute, they reach out to Ra­dio Me­wat be­cause it has ac­cess to the au­thor­i­ties.”

Many sto­ries of change have been au­thored through the ra­dio. “If po­lice are not reg­is­ter­ing a case, peo­ple come to Ra­dio Me­wat. If the ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cial is not lis­ten­ing to them, they will say, ‘Ra­dio Me­wat, aa jaye hu­mare saath,’” says Su­nita Mishra, a re­porter from Nuh who has been with the sta­tion since its in­cep­tion.

It has also helped em­pow- er the lo­cal youth, who have be­come its voice. Farheen, 20, over­came stiff op­po­si­tion from her mother to be­come a mini celebrity in her vil­lage Khedla. She now in­ter­views vil­lagers with the con­fi­dence of a sea­soned re­porter. Farheen hosts three shows — “Hinsa ko No”, “Hello Sa­heli” and “Gyan ki Baat” — for which she gets vil­lage women on board. “They were ini­tial- ly ap­pre­hen­sive, but now love to come on the ra­dio and get their voice heard,” she says. volve around is­sues like pu­berty, and the phys­i­cal and men­tal changes it brings in an ado­les­cent. “Teenagers feel awk­ward about ask­ing around. Ra­dio, be­ing a con­fi­den­tial por­tal, helps,” says Puja Mu­rada, founder rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Al­faz-e-Me­wat.

Also mak­ing a dif­fer­ence is Gur­gaon Ki Awaaz, whose pop­u­lar show, ‘Cha­hat Chowk’, ini­tially faced flak for its con­tent (sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health). Now, though, lis­ten­ers ap­pre­ci­ate it for its trans­for­ma­tive po­ten­tial. Most of the call­ers are mi­grant male work­ers un­aware of phys­i­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween gen­ders, some­thing that left founder Arti Jaiman con­founded. “It is wor­ri­some how skewed their un­der­stand­ing of women and their bod­ies is,” she says. Such has been the im­pact of “Cha­hat Chowk” that many men, on the ad­vice of doc­tors on the show, have ef­fec­tively un­der­gone “cou­ple coun­sel­ing”.

Pho­tos: In­dranil Das

It’s ‘Hello Sa­heli’ time — a pro­gramme that broad­casts recipes, beauty tips and other top­ics of gen­eral in­ter­est

(Left) RJs Farheen and Sonika record­ing Gyaan Ki Baat; a farmer be­ing in­ter­viewed for a pro­gramme on Al­faz-e-Me­wat

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