Perched atop the picturesque Jami Hills adjoining Mizoram, a 27 year old UPSC aspirant from Tripura’s Behliangchhip village set up the state’s first community radio station outside Agartala to spread awareness about the coronavirus pandemic and give a musical respite to people during the lockdown.
With the world battling misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus, Saidingliana Sailo of Behliangchhip village in Jampui Hills started Behliangchhip Radio, the only operational community radio station in Tripura outside its capital city, after a villager tested positive for the virus.
“I had no equipments or any license to start a FM radio station. So, I opted for YouTube Live streaming, invited my friends over zamzo.org and started a series of events for 2 hours every evening in the local Mizo dialect. With support and participation of my friends and villagers, have got over 1,000 listeners in a matter of four days and counting”, Sailo said.
It all started after Issac, a middle-aged man from his village tested positive of Covid-19 on July 2..
“When the news of him testing positive arrived, everyone in our village was suddenly alarmed anxious. The SDM reached our village, issued a set of restrictions and said we now came under red zone. Local task forces were formed and severe restrictions were imposed on public movement. We were all worried about community transmission. So, I thought something had to be done to help people fight this total lockdown and handle the situation. The idea of FM radio broadcasing in local language flashed in the mind”, Saidingliana told indianexpress.com.
The 27-year-old holds three post-graduate degrees in English, Sociology and Political Science from Tripura University and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), has cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) thrice, once in each subject. However, Sailo wants to go for civil service and is preparing himself for Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations.
His programming include ‘Hla Thlan’, where audiences can request songs and dedicate it to someone, ‘Biahthu’, which is a compilation of voice records of the village at different places and how people are spending time during lockdown, ‘Speech’ – an awareness programme on mental and physical health during COVID-19 pandemic, ‘Discussion’ which involves interaction on selected topics through conference calls and ‘Special talk’, were special invitees join to deliver their messages on important social issues.
So far, the feedback is quite positive, beyond his expectation, as Saidingliana describes.
“We are running our shows for two hours from 8:30 PM till 10:30 PM every evening. Many have texted me to extend the time. Last night, someone even said he would be happy to pay subscription fees to support the service. I am very excited”, he said.
Ramfanmawii, a villager from Behliangchhip who now lives at Agartala, said he listens to Sailo’s radio every evening. Ramfanmawii went back to his village shortly after the virus outbreak. To him, and many more including those from adjoining Mizoram, like Lalramtiami of Lawngtlai district, Lalthavunga of Aizawl etc, Behliangchhip radio holds high potential.
In its four days of operation, Behliangchhip Radio has received tremendous acclaim from the industry as well. People associated with a private FM radio station at Agartala and the AIR said the initiative could have been thought by leading radio broadcasters in the past. They also said the Government of India has been appealing people to tart community radio channels to spread awareness on social issues since long and hoped Sailo’s bandwidth would soon become a big hit.
While few community radio initiatives were started at Agartala in the eighties, most initiatives eventually died down with the government moving to social broadcasting. Aralia in Agartala remained an exception. The All India Radio (AIR) has undertaken a series of steps to popularize broadcasting through mixed programming, local news content etc but radio has largely remained dear to rural population over the decades.
Shankar Prasad Mandal, a retired Indian Information Service (IIS) official, who served with All India Radio (AIR) from 1993 till 2014 at Agartala and Dibrugarh stations, said Sailo’s channel holds immense potential for local community development and awareness building.
“I am confident it will be effective in Jampui Hills like anything. I am confident that they will gain more listeners. But a local popularity campaign has to be done to popularize such initiatives, proper journalistic ethics like sourcing, radio ethics, balance, upholding community sensitivity have to be ensured”, Mandal said.
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