Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Community radio in rural India

Community radio has been gaining notable traction in India's rural regions. One reason is that rural communities in India suffer from lower literacy rates compared to urban areas. In 2018 rural areas in India had a 73.5% literacy rate compared to 87.7% in urban areas, making radio an effective way to communicate with the populace. 

Community radio is partially used to "bridge the information gap between urban and rural audiences." During large-scale flooding in 2013, three radio stations set up communication lines to allow people to call for help and reach their loved ones. In 2019, Radio Surabhi was able to alert people that a cyclone had hit Odisha, and it shared information about available shelters. 

Community radio became even more important during the first COVID-19 lockdown when it broadcast educational programs and spread community health guidelines, vaccine information, and more. Multiple community radio stations have popped up around India since 2008, many of which are products of NGOs and community service initiatives.   

One community radio station in particular has received worldwide attention. Alfaz-e-Mewat, which is loosely translated to "voice of the Mewati people" or "rural voices of Mewat." Mewat is the cultural region that spans the state of Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Mewat district, a rural district in the foothills of the Aravali mountains, was renamed Nuh in 2016 and is one of the 22 districts in the northern Indian state of Haryana

Located roughly two hours south of Delhi, India, Nuh is "home to the country’s ethnic Meo Muslims and a minority Hindu population" and in recent years “has emerged as a hub of cyber crime and sextortion rackets.” 

Alfaz-e-Mewat broadcasts for 13 hours every day in Hindi, Urdu, and Mewati, reaching 225 villages. Millions of people listen in from all over Nuh as Alfaz-e-Mewat, through the Indian airwaves, provides various programs including group therapy, education, women's empowerment, and entertainment. 

This community station started raising awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic shortly before the first outbreak in India. Alfaz-e-Mewat's program "21 din 21 baatein," meaning "21 days 21 topics," hosted experts to speak on the importance of frequent handwashing, accessing healthcare, and social and physical distancing. They also encouraged spreading positivity and encouraged their listeners to try yoga

One Alfaz-e-Mewat reporter spoke about the importance of radio in disseminating this information saying, "In my village of 250 families, only one house has a television. So, you can understand how important our role is as reporters in this region."

This region of India has some of the lowest female literacy rates in the country. Only 1/3 of women in Nuh are literate and 90% of Nuh women have dropped out of school before the age of 10. The norm in Nuh is reportedly that of early marriages and violence against women. In this region, where women are considered beneath their male counterpartsAlfaz-e-Mewat is becoming the voice of change. 

Alfaz-e-Mewat was started in 2012 by the S.M. Sehgal Foundation, a nonprofit the government funded with $18,000. What started as a community radio station to promote water conservation and agrarian practices now helps women get connected to resources if they are experiencing domestic violence. It also helps stop the spread of disinformation and is transforming the lives of their female listeners. 

Alfaz-e-Mewat receives around 50 calls daily, many from women experiencing health-related problems. Dr. Yadav, who occasionally answers questions on the radio station, reported that women in this region are often neglected at home, leaving many of them with severe anemia. Anemia, which is a shortage of healthy red blood cells to carry the necessary oxygen to one's organs, can lead to weakness and dizziness. Increasing one's iron and protein intake is an antidote so Dr. Yadav instructed a listener on how to make protein-rich meals out of available ingredients like chickpeas.

Bhagwan Devi, a 51-year-old listener, was inspired by Alfaz-e-Mewat to start a campaign to build toilets inside houses in her village. Noor Mohmamd, a 65-year-old from Mubarakpur Rawalki village, says he's a fan of the radio station, which has led him to change his farming practices. Women across the district have been impassioned to get educated, get jobs, and gain protection from violence

Community radio gives women a platform not only as listeners to get information, but as active participants" -Anjali Makhija, chief executive of S.M. Sehgal Foundation.


Sophie R Radford said...

I really enjoyed reading this piece because community radio has a very special place in my heart. I spent a year broadcasting through a local station at home in Australia which really made me value the importance of radio and how it serves people. One of the things I liked most about your piece is learning about the incredible health support Dr Yadav can provide to women who wouldn’t be able to afford medical advice otherwise. My sheltered exposure to and understanding of radio is that it is a platform for entertainment and news. I usually always tune in to my local stations to listen to Australian musicians and get an overview of national and global news. I would never have thought it could serve a purpose such as providing women medical support.

Laretta Johnson said...

I also really enjoyed the hopefulness of this piece and the way you shed light on solution-oriented journalism as an avenue for social change and empowerment. I think the interactiveness of radio journalism, as well as it being oratory instead of written, makes it uniquely situated to empower its listeners. I think the medical advice aspect is interesting because while it is certainly better than nothing and a positive use of journalism, it also sheds light on medical needs in the region.

Isha Sharma said...

It’s great to read about communication networks in rural places in different countries, Caitlin! It’s interesting to see that radio is not only bridging rural and urban parts of India but that it is also benefiting the health of women through this stream of information. It goes to show that the sharing of knowledge and education can lead to empowerment and better outcomes for women. I hope that radio and the following empowerment can be spread further to other rural counties.