Community Radio for Empowering Rural Women in Gujarat

Dr. Arpita Sharma*

The term community radio has somewhat different meanings in different countries. In the United Kingdom, community radio is built around concepts of access and participation. In Latin American countries, community radio, otherwise known as peoples’ radio, became the voice of the poor and the voiceless, the landless peasants, the urban shack dwellers, the impoverished indigenous nations, and the trade unions. It is referred to as community or participatory broadcasting initiated and controlled by members of a community of interest, or geographical community, to express their concerns, needs, and aspirations without outside interference, subject to the regulation of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Two philosophically distinct approaches to community radio can be discerned, though the models are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One stresses service or community mindedness and focuses on what the station can do for the community. The other stresses involvement and participation by the listener. According to Sharma (2012), community radio is essentially a non-profit enterprise, which is owned by the community and whose ethos remains independence and responsibility to serve the community and not the advertiser, even in the days of highly commercialized broadcasting. She observes that the community actively takes part in community radio by creating the news, information, entertainment, and culturally-relevant material with an emphasis on local issues and concerns. Her definition of community radio seems valid when one considers the characteristics that differentiate community radio from other radio services, such as public radio, which is driven by the interests of the government that owns and operates it, and understandably serves the public according to what the government thinks is best for the community, and private radio, which is owned and operated by individuals or a company, and whose purpose is to make money. According to a report by the National Endowment Democracy, community radio is about the horizontal exchange of information – participatory interaction between the community and the radio station rather than vertical, one-way communication, delivering information from a medium to the public. The popularity of these radios is attributed to the fact that they can be listened to anywhere and anytime, for example at home, in offices, in private and public places, where people are gathered for sport, ceremonies, and various other community entertainment. Thus community radio becomes an integral part of these communities.

Challenges in disseminating information to women

Both types of community radio stations did not appear to encounter specific challenges in broadcasting women-related issues, except for the general challenge of limited resources available in terms of finances, fewer employees, limited skills and knowledge, limited time to collect information for programmes, and limited and out-dated equipment for day-to-day broadcasting activities. As a result of lack of financial resources, producing programmes and conducting proper research remains a challenge. Nonetheless, the lack of financial resources continues to remains one of the major challenges for most community radios and this is likely to be so because by regulation these radios are supposed to be non-profit making organisations.  Advertising remains the main source of income generation.

Community radio and women empowerment

Sharma (2012) identified two philosophically distinct approaches to community radios. One focusing on what the station can do for the community and the other stressing the involvement and participation by the listener. Although community radios in Gujarat are referred to as participatory broadcasting, thus leaning towards the philosophy of the involvement and participation by the listener, in reality, listeners appear to be passive in the process and are more on the receiving end of looking at what can the radio do for them.  By the Gujarat definition of community radios, these radios should be viewed as participatory broadcasting initiated and controlled by members of a community of interest to express their concerns, needs, and aspirations without outside interference, subject to the regulation of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Community radios mustn’t be only perceived as an entity that exists to provide information and services to the rural women community but also as an entity which women use for communication and enhancing their development. It is only when women in the rural community are aware of the fact that community radios exist for them that they will recognize and appreciate the participative role in this process. One way that community radios may serve as a participatory mechanism is through listener’s clubs. Listener clubs focus on the use of community radio as a participatory media for information and communication that focuses on action.

Successful case studies from Gujarat

A community radio in Dang district and another in Ahmedabad district is bringing about a silent revolution in the region. In 1998, Drishti in partnership with Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (K.M.V.S.), a women’s organisation based in Bhuj, initiated one of the first community radio programmes in India. The radio station is bringing about a silent revolution in the district. Mehul Makwana, programme director of the initiative says, “Some 1500 people were surveyed in order to ascertain the problems faced by them and the kind of programme that would interest them. Based on the same we trained local people so that in future they can run the station independently.” Today things are different. The reporters not only report but they are also working as programme producers and radio artistes. The coordinator says, “Our aim to start this venture was to bring about awareness among the tribal populace pertaining to tribal laws. Each programme that goes on air talks about specific problems and ways in which it can be dealt with. We try to educate them about various laws and rights. A local reporter says, “I underwent training on para-legal laws, reporting skills and radio programming. I know the problems very well and my task is more of gathering information, enlisting support from villagers and unearthing crime and illegal practice.” A lady reporter who has worked as a teacher earlier feels happy that women are getting a chance to work and display their talent. She adds, “Being a woman reporter was a tough task initially but now things are better, not just for me but for other women as well. With greater awareness women go and fight it out with officials. Now a lot of girls attend school and few of them also work outside homes. A villager testifying the change avers, “I really like the programmes for they are in Dangi dialect and we can connect. Most importantly today there is a greater awareness among us regarding our rights as citizens.” A radio station, set up by a group of women in Manipur village of Ahmedabad district to cater to the needs of the rural women, has gained huge popularity. Aided by SEWA, a self-help group, the Rudi-No-Radio is managed and run exclusively by women. Established five year ago, it now boasts of mass-based listeners as evident from the thousands of listeners’ mail. “We launched it five years ago and we got an overwhelming response. We have received 3000 letters in the last four to five years. We also receive phone calls. Our target audience is rural women and their farming community members,” said Balu Makwana, manager of Rudi-No-Radio station, Manipur village. The radio station has been airing programmes on various topics and entertainment, beamed to nearly 20 villages. Folk songs, programmes on agriculture, pre- and post-natal care, child-rearing, animal rearing, cooking, hygiene and other women-oriented topics are aired on this unique community radio. “Rural women here could not contribute their mite to our self-help group named SEWA. So they said something should be done where they could be facilitated. Keeping all these things in mind, we started this community radio (Rudi-No-Radio means Rudi’s Radio), which is cheap and mobile,” Makwana said. Members of the radio station visit various villages and interact with the local women to enquire about their problems and also invite them to the studio. “We visit women and ask them regarding their problems and issues. We urge them to openly share their issues so that they can be addressed. We also invite them to the studio,” noted Pushpa Chauhan, a programmer associated with the Rudi-No-Radio.

Rudi No Radio

The radio station, managed by Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), focuses on developmental issues like agriculture, health, and water conservation. This is the 49th CRS in the country and is named after SEWA’s first member Rudi who worked to spread the association’s wings to rural areas, a SEWA member said. “The radio station is managed entirely by rural women who have had no formal training in mass media. They produce all the programs in the local folk style,” SEWA Academy managing director Namrata Bali said. “We have observed that many women listen to the radio while they are working, be it Bidi rolling, incense stick making, stitching, or weaving. The combination of low cost and wide reach makes radio an ideal medium of communication in developing countries,” she said. Since radio production is simpler and less expensive as compared to video production, sustainability would not be a problem, Bali added. Ahmedabad will soon have a youth-led community radio station. Named ‘Radio Nazariya’, it is an initiative of the media, arts, and human rights organization, Drishti, and is already producing programs and taking them to target communities. It is already ‘narrowcasting’ programs, (i.e., producing programs and then taking them to target communities which hear them on loudspeakers.) It currently operates out of an office in Khanpur. DNA spoke to the people behind this initiative and they explained the larger aims of the initiative and their future plans. Munira F., the program coordinator, said it’s Ahmedabad’s first youth-led community radio station. “Radio Nazariya will provide a platform for the city’s youth, irrespective of gender, caste, class or religion, to freely and fearlessly discuss issues affecting the community,” Munira said. “We have developed a training program that will enable youth to use community radio technology.”Gaurang Raval, an active worker for Nazariya, said the radio station doesn’t have a license yet to broadcast its programs. “The legal paperwork will take some time but we have started narrowcasting using loudspeakers and involving youth from all over the city,” he said. “But after we get the license, our transmission will reach out to audiences within a radius of 10 km in the city.” Raval further said that radio stations currently accessible in the city tend to ignore problems affecting the old city. “Their focus is on youth, particularly in the western part of the city,” he said. “During our research, we discovered issues that had not been touched upon. For instance, a woman didn’t know that there was a women’s police station. Out of ignorance, she was putting up with domestic violence for a long. When we found her while working for the radio station, we rescued her.” Manoj, a radio trainer, said that as he knew the local dialect, he was able to use the radio programs to train people in areas that are usually ignored or neglected. “We identify interested people and train them in producing programs,” he said. “Once their training is complete, the community reporters research, record, edit and infuse elements like music and humor in the programs to make it their own production.” Manoj added that all their programs were currently ‘narrowcast’. Another community producer, Chirag, recalled an interesting story about how they came to make a radio program. “Many people know that Sultan Ahmed Shah founded Ahmedabad,” he said, “but no one ever talks about his wife Teja. We also focus on history in our radio programs and try to make it as interesting as it can be.” The Central government’s new community radio policy announced in 2006 permitted non-profit organizations and NGOs to have their own radio stations. Strict guidelines regulate their functioning. Yet many radio stations have sprung up across the country since then and they are flourishing. Drishti itself has set up two community radio units, one each in Kutch and the Dangs districts, in collaboration with the Centre for Social Justice.

Junagadh Janvani

The Junagadh Agriculture University (JAU) is launching a community radio service dedicated to farmers. The radio station has been named as Junagadh Janvani. It is available on 91.2 FM frequency. The radio broadcast is available within a radius of 15 km from the JAU. Programs on agriculture, agriscience, folk music, Bhajans, etc are to be relayed by the extension education department of JAU. The radio station is likely to air program for an hour every morning. JAU is the first agri-university in Gujarat to have its own community radio station. Farmers of Junagadh, Rajkot, Amreli, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Surendranagar, Porbandar, Dwarka, Morbi, Botad, and Gir Somnath districts will benefit from Krishi Mahotsav, Agriculture Exhibition and Cattle Health Fair at Sihor which has been jointly organized by the Junagadh Agriculture University and Bhavnagar District Administration. Speaking on the occasion, the Chief Minister of Gujarat Ms. Anandiben Patel said the government has planned taluka level mapping to have an atlas for comprehensive planning of agriculture development in Gujarat. She welcomed the pledge taken by the sarpanches in Bhavnagar district to achieve the target of 100% toilet facility.


* Asst. Prof., Dept. of Agricultural Communication, College of Agriculture, G. B. Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar (Uttarakhand).

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