With radio station licenses few and far between for regular people, many in India are turning to Narrow Casting, a means of talking to their community, reaching thousands through local ‘radio’ stations. Recently, a link from IndianExpress.com was sent to me as a story idea.
Underground community radio is being exercised in various regions of India, and it’s important to recognize the significance of narrowcasts and the people they serve.
Living in the so-called suicide belt, the hosts of popular radio magazine (narrowcast) declare that they have never once seen a farmer kill himself in their community.
The community of which I write has developed their own self-sufficient means of farming over the past 20 years and radio hosts (narrow casters Algole Narsamma and fellow sister Narsamma) believe that their programming has contributed to the well-being and morale of her fellow neighbors.
The two Dalit women research, script, produce and anchor a weekly radio magazine that reaches about 5,000 fellow Maadiga (Dalit) village women each week. The Indian Express reports that with the help of UNESCO, an NGO called Deccan Development Society has given the Narsammas a school education and helped them narrow castâ€ (or talk) to their fellow sisters about local problems, health issues, social problems, and most importantly, tips on agriculture. The Narsammas believe that their local â€˜radio’ station may have helped add to levels of awareness in this dark corner.
We communicate in Telengana Telugu. The radio stations in AP all speak stiff Telugu which is not similar to our dialect. Also, they don’t understand our local problems or concerns either. We try and tackle local problems and we also have songs, by the way. We are heard through radio recorders over a public address system in large groups, you see permission ledu (there is no permission).â€
However, the two Narsammas have not yet been given permission to broadcast their magazine, so in efforts to spread their message, they record their content on tape.
And it’s not just the Narsammas in Andhra Pradesh, Indian Express acknowledges.
There’s Namma Dhwani in Kannada since 2000, reaching out to three villages in the state through loudspeaker narrowcasts, Charkhaâ€”a development communications NGO in the North-East and Jharkhand since 1994, who continue undaunted despite not getting their own licence.
About 70 such organisations from all over India – aspirants to genuine community radio broadcasting – will come together at a conference to urge the governement to ease the process of applying for a broadcast licence. The Union Cabinet had cleared the proposal for community radio stations in November 2006, but small groups complain that there is still no clarity about how to do things. The conference has been organised by the Community Radio Forum-an initiative of Drishti-an Ahmedabad-based media and arts NGO.
Despite the landmark Supreme Court judgment in 1995 in the context of cricket telecast rights, saying airwaves are not the government’s monopoly and belong to the people, all governments have since chosen to hold radio networks close to their chests. And this, despite the cable revolution opening up radio. Grudgingly, licenses have been given to about 23 private entities on FM. News by private players is still a government monopoly, restricting private players to entertainment. This, despite the fact that these local community narrow castersâ€ can really make a difference in natural calamities, as was demonstrated during the Bhuj earthquake by a radio station run by women from Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan.
Electrician Rajinder Negi from Tehri in Uttarakhand, who devotes two days a week to voluntary services for the radio magazine Samudaayak Radio Henval Vani, says: I courier my work to Noida to be relayed on Worldspace, but I cannot air it here, because of our radio policy! I tape and distribute people’s voices and problems with some solutions in our local language for my village and surroundings. At least, 500 people hear and benefit from it.â€
Look at issues on TV, is there any programme which can claim to be listening to people in the interiors? Only little radio operations can do that,â€ he adds.
At the conference this February, there will be several innovative cheap broadcast equipment packages on display-for instance the Radio-in-a-box, an entire radio station in a box, which costs half as much of a radio studio. But more than that, the organisers hope to win support for little people like themselves, who they say, add up to most of India.