In the corrupt, Naxalite and drought prone areas of Palamau, Jharkhand, AID is setting up Vikalp Community Radio station, the first one to go on air in the state. Vikalp, which means alternative, truly looks at providing people with alternatives.
Notorious for drought, dacoity, and an almost complete power breakdown, Meral block in Garhwa perhaps is a great place for a community radio station to exist.
One community radio reporter quipped, "Jab power hi nahi hai, to power cut kahan se aayega?" (when there is no power, where will the power cut come from?)
AID, a NGO rising from Jayprakash Narayan’s people’s movement, has been working in this area for more than 7 years now, and has huge familiarity in the local community. With the highly popular Chala Ho Gaon Mein (going to the village) series broadcast twice a week on All India Radio, from 2001, Vikalp Community radio is going to reach a community which has reasonably high expectations from it.
The area faces severe corruption at all levels of governance, and people are well aware of the underhand deals which go on, from implementation of NREGA to road building. To make matters worse, people are feeling tricked by the monsoon this year. A premature brief spell of rains gave hope, and the fields are all green now. However, the rains have stopped as suddenly as they came. So the land is getting parched, and the crops look like they will dry up. In the next one or two weeks, if the rains don’t come down, then its drought time again. Its no surprise that migration to places like Vizag, Bangalore, Delhi, Haryana, Mumbai etc is rampant.
On the other hand, the region has a rich culture of songs and dance, in a language, a sweet mixture of Nagpuri, Bhojpuri, and a little bit of Bengali thrown in. There are lot of local orchestra groups, who are singing out of sheer passion. Says Surendranath, a local singer and drummer, "When our lives are like this, struggling for food, for money, for good health, we have no other options but to revert to songs."
It is in this context that Vikalp Community Radio is going to intervene. With an initial four hour broadcast schedule, the radio station looks at engaging local community members to talk about the hard issues which concern them. The major topics being agriculture and governance, a local community reporter says, "We don’t want to be a jholachaap (preachy) radio station, but balance it with entertainment and fun. Otherwise, no young people will tune in."
It looks like a lot of innovative shorter formats like fictional story telling, poetry, songs, vox-pops and so on will feature prominently in the radio station. Apart from these, it is significant that the radio station is set in the JP Community Technical College, from which the nearest village is at least three kilometers away.
Therefore physical participation with community members coming to the studio on a regular basis will be tough to achieve. Its only logical that phone in formats will be a major part of the programming, wherein community members can participate through phone calls. Vikalp Radio also plans to have a whole team of community based reporters, who will spend time on the field, recording programs from community members, and then coming back, editing and broadcast it.
Vikalp has a innovative idea on distribution and outreach as well as increasing participation. With a network of over 300 functional Common Service Centres (CSC) manned by Village Level Entrepreneurs, Vikalp plans to train most of them on quick editing of audio, and training on shorter radio formats. Thus people who visit the CSC can contribute smaller radio programs, and the VLE can edit and send the programs to the main studio via email. The company TULIPS plans to connect all CSC’s through a broadband internet connection. If this is successful, then we can expect to see a unique marriage of ICTs and conventional technology like FM radio, addressing participative communication.
On the whole, it looks like one of the most promising community radio stations in India, that we know of. With the emphasis being on exactly the issues which concern the community, and having a fantastic community base, it is going to be an exciting time, a time to prove to the government and all the other doubting Thomases that community radio can indeed be a legitimate tool to involve communities to address their own problems and speak about their own lives.
Watch this space for more developments on Vikalp Community Radio.