Illiterate Dalit women who started a community radio which survived against all odds in the small village of Machnoor in Sangareddy district of Telangana will be celebrating their 10th anniversary on October 15. This celebration of Sangham Radio, India’s first all-woman community radio and the first Dalit managed radio, will be attended by UNESCO officials and communication experts from across the country.
“No one expected it to last long. Sangham radio has completed a distinguished life of 10 years and intends to go stronger and stronger,” said P V Satheesh, head of Deccan Development Society, an NGO, which helped the women start the radio.
The small community radio was started by Dalit women of Zahirabad mandal with the aim of broadcasting programmes in a 30-km radius of Machnoor village. The main issues covered in the form of discussions and information dissemination is marital harmony and domestic violence, crop failures, livestock diseases, and frequent water scarcity. At least 50 villages in a 30 sq km radius tune into the radio every day for its programmes.
“The radio has up to 50,000 listeners. Every day there is a two-hour programme from 7 to 9 pm where they discuss wide-ranging topics and in spite of cable TV, people tune into this radio programmes in the villages. The radio jockeyes talk in their own dialect which is spoken in the surrounding villages. Every day they discuss a new word from their dialect as they feel that the language is dying. They also play cultural songs. They have a call in the facility now also and sometimes people even call to report a lost sheep or cow,” a DDS official said.
When the radio was started in October 2008, the region was faced with issues like debts, failure of crops typical to the region, livestock-rearing, lack of healthcare and educational guidance. Faced with these issues, women of Machnoor village suggested the idea of having a radio to Deccan Development Society (DDS), an NGO which works in the region. Instead of starting and running the radio station on their own, the NGO decided to train two women in operating the systems after providing the necessary infrastructure, and asked them to become radio jockeys on their own, choose the form and content and the kind of programmes they wanted for their community.
Algole Narsamma and G Narsamma become the first rural woman radio anchors and jockeys. While they continue to remain the main radio jockeys, they have trained several other women to become anchors and radio jockeys. Sangham Radio works very differently from regular radio stations. They only use chaste local dialect, slang and pronunciation, which is a mix of Telangana Telugu, Marathi, Kannada and Urdu. The women also go out to the villages to conduct interviews and take opinions from people. They seek tips from farmers who had a good crop or cultivated a new crop like soya which is new here and share the information on radio.
“The 10th anniversary of Sangham radio has a unique importance of whole of South Asia and community radio activists and scholars from all over the world. The event will be presided over by Al-Amin Yusuph, Information and Communication Advisor for South Asia, UNESCO and will be attended by communication scholars from across the country,” Satheesh said.