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