A community radio program produced, created, edited and hosted by women in rural Andhra Pradesh is making ‘big news’.
It is dusk. Men and women in the village are returning home from work. In a small village named Manchoor located ten kilometres away from Zaheerabad, ‘General’ Narsamma and Algole Narsamma however are just starting to air their 2 hour Community Radio show, at 7pm in the evening. A first of its kind in India, Sangham Radio is an initiative of Deccan Development Society and has been airing shows since October 15th 2008. Deccan Development Society (DDS) is a grassroots organisation which has been working for over 25 years in 75 villages with women’s sanghams (voluntary village level associations of the poor) catering to around 30,000 women in Medak District of Andhra Pradesh. It focuses on providing assistance on agriculture, health, livelihoods, education to women of all levels of hierarchy, with special focus given to Dalit women.
DDS started its radio efforts in 1998, when the typical Indian system of monopoly reigned over air space as well. The idea of local people autonomously airing shows relevant to their ethnicity, traditions and culture did not go down well with the Government. The proposal by DDS for a community radio program had to undergo initial set of hiccups as it was rejected by the government on the basis of unavailability of bandwidth and also the absence of a formal policy for the same. It was around that time that UNESCO, which had documented several issues on communication for women, was impressed by the idea and offered assistance to set up an informal mode for the radio.
Mr. Patil of All India Radio and PV Satheesh, Director of DDS played a fundamental role in training around 16 women of the Sangham on basics of audio recording. The women were not disheartened by the delay in procuring the license but found a novel way of playing pre-recorded shows during the sangham meetings for nearly ten years through audio cassette recorders.
By 2008, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had cleared applications from many NGOs and DDS was the first to set up a licensed radio station in October 2008. The battle had only just begun. Women who had barely passed 10th class had to don the role of station managers who would script, report, produce, record, edit and play host in their show. Every war requires a strong General and this role is essayed by ‘General’ Narsamma (known for her leadership skills) and Algole Narsamma who are the only salaried employees. There are 16 village-level trained supervisors who cover around four villages on an average. They act as community radio reporters and program managers of their respective villages. People actively participate in a host of programs such as interviews, discussions, local folk songs and tales, cookery recipes, plays and announcements when their livestock or children go missing.
The show that was initially 90 minutes, due to public demand is now a two hour program. It begins with a radio jingle “akka chellelu koodi podame” (come sisters; let us go to the sangham radio). Features include “mana oori pantalu” (crops of our village), “mana bhasha” (our language), “chavidi katta” (a village chaupal), “yarandla muchatlu” (village/ladies gossip), “mee lettarlu”(reading out letters and requests sent in), “darwazala dawakhana”(medicine at your doorstep), “Sanghalu”(development work undertaken in the localities), “bichapolla kathalu”(storytelling and singing) and a bi-weekly children’s feature called “Balanandam”. All the shows reflect the local social, political and cultural milieu of the region and reach out to listeners in villages about 30-40 km away from the station.
According to Algole Narsamma who conducts the show, “The people of the villages have benefitted from the agricultural tips shared on seasonal crops. The ‘Health at your doorstep’ show is a hit amongst the listeners as this helps people utilise herbs and natural medicines available in the vicinity of their locality.”
Breaks due to annoying ad jingles is missing with Sangham Radio as they believe that they must cater to the local needs of the people and not the market. Announcements of initiatives by DDS are however made through a paid contract. For example, ‘Shelter’ offers help to single women and women facing domestic violence and this is announced during the show. Sangham Radio also announces initiatives like L.V. Prasad Institute’s free services for the poor.
People of the villages have a strong feeling of ownership and are proud of the fact that they have a radio devoted to them that addresses their issues of concern as well as provides a daily dose of entertainment. The station encourages participation from all listeners. Elderly people, sometimes with frail health conditions, also come to the station to share their experiences on air or sing songs that people have almost forgotten. Around 5,000 members of Sangham Radio in the 75 villages around contribute about Rs.50 per year towards the maintenance making it a community shareholder model.
Algole Narsamma lives in Agole with her husband and two children and she is a happy lady today. She beams with joy and states proudly, “My life has changed a lot thanks to the radio. My friends who worked with me earlier as daily wage labourers are still the same but I have completed my education and I am financially independent today. This radio means a lot to me and I can never think of leaving it”. She wishes to make a change in the lives of many more women and use her services to do so.
It is nine in the night and General Narsamma is wrapping up her show. Yet another day, yet another triumph for women fighting against a system designed to discriminate…tune into 90.4 FM same time tomorrow to find out more!