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People find a voice through UNICEF’s Community Radio in Jharkhand

© UNICEF/India/Srivastava-Kaushik/2005
Recording, by the light of a lantern, in progress in Ghatshila village for Unicef's Community Radio programme in Jharkhand State, India.

By Anupam Srivastava with Vinay Kaushik

GHATSHILA (Jharkhand), October 2005 - Potters, masons, and shepherds are turning into thinkers, actors, scriptwriters by night in the village of Ghatshila in East Singhbhum district (Jharkhand) - one of UNICEF’s 16 “Village Planning” districts in India where UNICEF’s Community Radio initiative is changing the lives of the people by enabling them to reflect, discuss, write and produce their own radio programmes on issues close to their heart. The village reporters, drawn from the community, facilitate the process. The initiative has been welcomed by all, and especially those who did not initially believe they would listen to their own voices on the radio.
"Community radio gives people a sense of ownership as the programmes are created out of the interaction they have with each other. It empowers them, makes them think together."

As the people of Baligooma village return home after a day of hard work, there is a spring in their steps.  After a quick wash, they assemble in the village common area. As the sun sets and darkness envelops their unelectrified village, conversation breaks out on their day-to-day issues – senior citizens not getting their pension, children suffering from repeated diarrhoea, lack of adequate health services in close proximity to their villages, superstitions and their belief in evil spirits that are held responsible for every illness, every misfortune.

“There is no school in the village, we have to walk two miles to go to a primary school,” says Sanatan, a village resident. “The most educated person in the village has cleared Grade VIII and only three people have attained that distinction,” he says.
Someone interjects, “Forget the school. We need jobs and a good road connecting the village to other areas.”
A woman’s voice rises above the argument. “They blow up all the money on liquor.” Another voice picks up a previous thread. “What will you do with the road? We need medicines and doctors. Malaria is a big problem. If there are sick and dying people, what is the use of schools and roads?”
“What about our old age pension?” says an old man who can barely manage to move around even with the aid of a cane. “My son is 48 years old and they say I am 45! Someone put this down as my age in the voters’ identity card so now I don’t get my pension! Do I look 45?” There were many more like him. More people join in, and birth registration turns into the day’s topic of discussion for the radio.

© UNICEF/India/Srivastava-Kaushik/2005
Ranjeet Bhagat, a potter by trade, is an accomplished actor who participates in UNICEF's COmmunity Radio initiative in East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand state, India. His transistor radio is embellished with pictures of Indian film stars.

As clarity dawns, darkness becomes irrelevant and village life converges around the lantern. A script is written, actors are chosen, lines are rehearsed and musicians fill the night air with their music. The radio programme is recorded late into the night. People go back happy and convinced that they must get their birth certificates so that their rights are not jeopardised.  UNICEF State Representative Bijaya Rajbhandari feels that the power of radio as a medium is maximised through community radio. “Radio is already an established medium. However, in community radio people feel a sense of ownership as the programmes are created out of the interaction they have with each other. It empowers them, makes them think together. It is fascinating,” he says.
“There is perfect compatibility between the two (Village Planning & Community Radio). Both are intensive in nature, both strive to empower people through knowledge.”

As UNICEF looked for ways of reaching out to people with communication messages, radio turned out to be the obvious choice, being a powerful and an effective medium. Potters, shepherds, labourers, all had radio sets next to them – as if the rhythm of life was inextricably linked to the melody arising out of the radio set. It was their connection with the world of virtual reality. People in this village often decorate their radios with photographs of film stars, put their radio sets in “safe” locations and some even performed a religious ceremony before inducting a new radio set in their regular family life.

People took the lead throughout the preparation stage for the Community Radio. “Don’t air the programme before 6 p.m. as people are still at work and not after 8 p.m. as they go to bed by this time,” Sandeep, a village youth said as he took on the job of an unpaid consultant. “Sunday is the best day,” he said. It was the community that decided to name the programme “Amaader Awaaz” – Our Voice. The title was decided after a survey of five panchayats constituting more than 50 villages.

The Community Radio initiative is being launched in a number of other Village Planning districts, and as Corinne Woods, Section Chief, Advocacy and Planning, UNICEF India, explains, “There is perfect compatibility between the two. Both are intensive in nature, both strive to empower people through knowledge.”



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