Voice of the people

Print edition : January 18, 2008

Sangham FM is making waves in Andhra Pradesh by catering to the needs of people in their local dialect.

in Sangareddy

The two anchors of Sangham FM, General Narsamma (left) and Algole Narsamma, at work. The former in the recording room and the latter converting capsules from cassettes to a digital library. The Community Media Trust has collected enough material to see Sangham FM through 600 hours of broadcast.-PHOTOGRAPHS: MOHD. ARIF

MEDAK district, in the backward Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh, will soon have its own FM radio station that will be managed by Dalits, mostly women. The Community Media Trust of Pastapur will run the station from The Green School, or Pachasaale, of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) of which the trust is a part.

The DDS established the community radio station in 1998 but did not get the nod from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to go on air. It crossed the hurdle recently with the Ministry issuing the letter of intent for the station. The delay was mainly on account of the lack of a policy on the issue of licences for running FM stations. The Government of India initially approved the grant of licences to educational institutions and subsequently extended the policy to NGOs.

Until the approval came, Sangham Radio, the name of the Medak station, played recorded news capsules on a tape-recorder in the nearby villages on specific days. This narrowcasting had its effect on the local people, who soon became eager consumers of information on issues such as biodiversity and seed sovereignty.

The station is managed by Algole Narsamma and General Narsamma, Dalit women who are alumni of The Green School.

With the training they received as student reporters, they record programmes on topics relating to womens empowerment, local problems relating to health and indigenous knowledge and traditions. Each programme is produced in a one-and-a-half-hour magazine format by mixing interviews and discussions with folk songs and drama. They ensure that each capsule has a fair dose of storytelling to keep the listener interested until the end of the programme.

Down the years, the team has gathered enough material that could see it through 600 hours of broadcasting. The narrowcast was limited to one and a half hours. The terms of the licence also allow them to broadcast for the same length of time.

General Narsamma, who is excited about the possibility of a broadcast, said the local people initially called the radio Bichapolla Radio (Radio of Beggars). She added that the region was sparsely covered by All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan.

P.V. Sateesh, Director, DDS, said the idea of a community radio struck him in 1995 when he was working on a project, Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. UNESCOs concept of LWF was that people who had not learnt in their early years should not see it as a barrier to learning. They could start at any point of time and become literate.

Taking a slightly different point of view, the DDS, a two-decade-old organisation that has been working with womens sanghams (voluntary village-level associations), concluded that non-literates had much to offer to the outside world and that it was time to recognise them as teachers and not as learners.

It is in pursuit of this concept that we decided along with the community of sanghams that we should explore the possibility of equipping the non-literate women with the skills of video and radio, Sateesh said.

In 2001, the DDS set up the Community Media Trust, and soon illiterate women started handling cameras and microphones and collecting information just as any radio or video journalist would. Now, the station is abuzz with a flurry of activity as Sangham FM plans to start broadcasting its programmes within a few months. Algole Narsamma and General Narsamma are working on digitising the programmes that they have already produced. Akka Chellelara Koodi Podame, Mana Sangham lo Matalada (Sisters let us come together and talk at our Sangham) will be the signature song of the station, Algole Narsamma said.

The DDS has 5,000 women members, mostly Dalits, who represent the poorest of the poor in their village communities. The anchors have selected 10 girls from The Green School to gather information from member-villages in neighbouring mandals such as Zaheerabad, Jherasangham, Kohir, Nyalkal, Munipalli and Raikode. Sangham FMs 100 watt Effective Radiated Power (ERP) transmitter can cover a radius of around 10 kilometres. The government can permit the use of even 250 watt ERP transmitters in special cases.

In the event of the Sangham FM getting the more powerful transmitter, the regions flat terrain will allow many more villages to receive its broadcast.

During the formulation of the policy guidelines, fear was expressed about the possibility of community radios falling into the hands of extremist elements, particularly the Maoists, in regions such as Telangana. Vinod Pavarala, Professor and Dean, Sarojini Naidu School of Communication, University of Hyderabad, said sufficient checks and balances had been built into the policy guidelines to avoid such problems. Community radios have to retain recordings of their programmes for a period of six months in order to enable the authorities to verify violations, if there are any.

The content regulation and monitoring section of the guidelines cautions the permission holder not to offend other communities, castes or religions. The permission holder is told not to criticise friendly countries and not to broadcast news. Pavarala hopes that the condition that the licence should be renewed every five years would act as a deterrent to such activity if any.

Experts point out that the available spectrum can accommodate 100 to 200 community FM stations in the next five to six years.

Community radios are eligible to seek funding from multilateral aid agencies, but applicants seeking foreign funds will have to obtain clearance under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 1976.

Sangham FM is not the only community radio in the country that has been striving to cater to the needs of the unreached millions in their local dialect. Ujjas Radio, established by the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghatan (KMVS), has been active in the Kutch region of Gujarat since 1989. The KMVS has 10,000 active members.

The need for a community radio was felt as the AIR station at Bhuj transmits programmes only in Gujarati and not in the local Kutchi dialect. The KMVS has been broadcasting programmes since December 1999 by purchasing commercial slots on Radio Bhuj. The Chala Ho Gaon Mein (Come, lets go to the village) community radio of rural Palamau in Jharkhand is also broadcasting through the AIR-FM station at Daltangunj. The programme was initiated by Alternative for India Development (AID), an NGO, which provides it financial and technical support.

A recording session on at the community radio station. The station is managed by women who handle cameras and microphones and collect information on topics related to womens empowerment, and so on.-

The 30-minute capsule of Chala Ho Gaon Mein is the only radio programme linked with gender equality and justice available in the local dialect. Today, it broadcasts twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, from 7.15 p.m. to 7.45 p.m.

Voices, a Bangalore-based media NGO, and the Mysore Resettlement and Development agency (MYRADA) launched Namma Dhwani, a community radio, in 2001 at Budhikote village in the Kolar region of Karnataka. Namma Dhwani produces programmes in a dialect that is a mix of Telugu and Kannada. The NGO has been cablecasting programmes on television since 2003.