Local farmers in Medak, part of Telangana, call them Satyam pantalu- the crops of truth ...
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Is it possible for community video and radio to play this role?
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DDS and Community Radio
A short introduction by P V Satheesh, Director, Deccan Development Society
 

Many global examples demonstrate the potential and viability of community radio. Apart from India’s own experiences in rural broadcasting, many of these could also serve as models for similar initiatives in India outside the state framework. The Supreme Court’s reaffirmation in 1995 that the airwaves are public property has re-energized the movement towards a media based on community participation in a non-profit mode.

The Bangalore Declaration on Radio of September, 1996 has stressed how community radio would: “besides educating and entertaining people, connect people with people through participatory or circular communication, connect with organizations and communities, and finally, connect people with government and public service agencies”.



Radio Station
Deccan Development Society
The recent decision of the Government of India to auction FM radio frequencies in different parts of the country to the private sector has while opening up the available media space, does not address the issue of offering licenses to non-governmental, non-corporate community radio stations. It is in anticipation of the expansion of this policy to include community organizations, the Deccan Development Society (DDS) in Zaheerabad (Medak dist), Andhra Pradesh proposes the setting up of a community radio station. The UNESCO has recognized the long services rendered by the DDS in the region with regard to empowerment and education of the poorest of the poor women and facilitated funding for establishing a radio station in Machnoor village.

The DDS project to establish a community radio is perfectly in accordance with the global recognition of the need to democratise the media of communication. The Milan Declaration on Communication and Human Rights passed at the 7 th World Congress of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters held in Milan, Italy in 1998 called for

International recognition of the community broadcasting sector as an essential form
of public service broadcasting and a vital contributor to media pluralism and freedom
of expression and information.

The Declaration emphasised that:

Community media can play an important role in strengthening cultural rights, and in
particular, the rights of linguistic and cultural minorities, indigenous peoples…by
providing access to the means of communication;

Access to the means of communication must be supported by education and training
to assist a critical understanding of the media and to enable people to develop their
media and communication skills;

The market economy is not the only model for the shaping the communications
infrastructure. People must be seen as producers and contributors of information and
not be defined solely as consumers;

The democratic participation of women in communications media should be
guaranteed at all levels.

The media-related activities undertaken by the DDS in the Zaheerabad area, near
Hyderabad, clearly echo many of these principles.

The Geographical Setting

The Zaheerabad area in Medak District of Andhra Pradesh where the DDS works falls in one of the least developed regions of the country, Telengana, and is contiguous with the least developed districts of North Karnataka. It is a semi-arid tract where the land is extremely degraded and offers limited livelihood opportunities in agriculture to people. Since most of the agriculture is rain-fed, very little institutional finance is available for investment in agriculture. There is hardly any industrialisation. Other capital inflows into this region are very slim. Therefore, there is a lot of seasonal out-migration to look for wage labour outside. Development schemes don’t reach the targeted populations because of power relationships : between different castes within the villages, between the poorest social groups and the more affluent sections.

It is in this geo-political and developmental context that the Deccan Development Society’s efforts are centred. The Society works with about 100 Dalit women’s groups (sangams) consisting of nearly 4000 members in 75 villages. These women form the poorest sections of the rural community with an average family income (mostly from farm labour work) ranging from Rs.600 to Rs.1200 per month. Wage levels in some places are still as low as Rs.10-Rs.15 for a 6 to 8 hours working day.

Deccan Development Society (DDS): Participatory Development and Empowerment of Women

DDS started in this environment as the commitment of a group of professionals to the people in the Zaheerabad region to continue a rural development project abandoned by an industrial house due to its own compulsions. The earliest objectives of DDS was to combine ecological and employment parameters to regenerate the livelihoods of the people in the area through a string of activities:

  • Ensure 100 days of employment per year per person.
  • Use these employment days to work on their lands to enhance the productivity of
    their soils through bunding, trenching, topsoil addition etc.
  • Galvanise communities of women to lease in lands from large farmers and work on it
    collectively.
  • Green the area through planting in the village commons.

An associated objective was to transfer people-oriented technology. This included housing technologies, use of solar energy, permaculture way of organic farming etc. Gradually all these efforts have moved in a reverse direction. Today DDS recognises that people have more knowledge than we have credited them with, and more appropriate technologies than we can think of. Therefore the DDS programmes have evolved into three principles:

  • gender justice
  • environmental-soundness and
  • people's knowledge.

Deccan Development Society (DDS) is a grassroots organization working with Sangams (village level groups) of poor women, most of who are Dalits. The Society has a vision of consolidating these village groups into vibrant organs of primary local governance and federate them into a strong pressure lobby for women, poor and Dalits. The Society facilitates a host of continuing dialogues and debates with the public, educational and training programmes to try to translate this vision into reality.

The Society is trying to reverse the historical process of degradation of the environment and people’s livelihood system set in this area, through a variety of land-related activities like:

  • perma-culture, a system of ecological agriculture
  • community grain fund
  • community green fund
  • community gene fund
  • collective cultivation through land lease etc.

 



"General" interviewing a traditional farmer
These activities, alongside ensuring earth-care, are also resulting in human care by giving the women a new found dignity and profile in their village communities. Regeneration of land and rebuilding people’s confidence is a slow process requiring continuous dialogue. Helping people acquire lands and working out strategies to regenerate them requires mobilisation, problem identification, leadership building, funding, training and many other components.

Education at all levels was a very strong component in this string of efforts. Education, for DDS, encompasses a range of activities starting with balwadies to provide a creative learning environment for young children to Pachasaale, a unique school for working children which takes formal learning and life skills under one umbrella and redefines education into an area of relevance for rural children. Within this range are fitted intensive workshops for adult women, village night schools for out of school children etc.

Central to these attempts is the relocation of people's knowledge in the areas of health (through revitalising the traditional healthcare systems), agriculture (understanding, documenting and promoting people's knowledge of farming systems and practices) etc.

New forms of expression

The DDS has successfully adopted a participatory communication approach to strengthen its initiatives in the region. Over the last 15 years, the organization has used a wide range of horizontal communication techniques. These include:

  • Sangam meetings
  • Jathras
  • Social audits
  • Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRAs)
  • Interface sessions with government agencies and other NGOs

These strategies have been essentially interpersonal in nature with all its inherent strengths and limitations. However, in the new environment of decentralisation and optimal use of new information and communication technologies, DDS is exploring ways and means by which its communication potential can be enhanced.

When the commitment of an organisation is to value people’s knowledge and build its work on the confidence of the people, there is a need to explore various tools of expression with which people can communicate among themselves as well as with the outside world. In this effort, literacy was clearly considered inadequate. For DDS, the possibility of providing video and audio technologies as a means of expression and an alternative to literacy for the disadvantaged rural women was an exciting idea. To crystallise this idea, DDS contemplates a Community Radio station.

Women Speak to Women: DDS Community FM Radio



At the control room
The poor dalit women who are members of the DDS sangams have their own expectations from a radio of their own. Their arguments are extraordinarily original and are unmatched for their logic. They have suggested that a radio of their own would provide more effectively a medium for articulating locally relevant issues, in their own language, and in their own time. For instance, many have felt that mainstream media have marginalized information specific to certain crops such as millets and other minor grain that are central to their food security and dietary requirements. For the women who are equipped with extraordinary oral narrative skills, radio is a natural medium. The rich cultural traditions of Telengana could be better sustained through a radio station that caters specially to the needs of the region.

Based on these felt needs and UNESCO’s interest in women’s development and democratisation of communication media, DDS was identified as a suitable partner for UNESCO’s “Women Speak to Women” project. As part of this, DDS has initiated necessary steps for establishing a radio station.

It is proposed to operationalise a low-cost radio station, subject to issuance of a license by the Government of India. The FM station is designed to work on the audio cassette technology. It has a 100 watts transmitter, which can reach a radius of 30 kms, which is roughly, the coverage area of DDS.

Once the station is in operation dalit women from 75 villages will own and operate it. They will bring their form and content into it and make it a tool for their horizontal communication with their communities as well as to reach out to the outside world. They have already recorded over 150 hours of programmes and are also editing them into one hour broadcast modules.

Programming content of the station seeks to serve the information, education, and cultural needs of the region. Programmes would promote the following:

  • Information specific to agricultural needs of semi-arid regions
  • Education and literacy – both formal and non-formal
  • Public health and hygiene
  • Environmental and ecological issues
  • Biodiversity and food security
  • Gender justice
  • Local/indigenous knowledge systems
  • Local cultures, with emphasis on the narrative traditions of song and drama

The DDS is currently being assisted by development and communication experts from universities in the region, such as the Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, the University of Hyderabad, Osmania University, the National Institute of Rural Development, and the B.R. Ambedkar Open University. Discussions are in progress about the possibility of linking with the Open University for broadcasting their educational material over the community radio station.

As the women get equipped with the capacities to express their thoughts, their knowledge and their vision for the future, a major breakthrough would have been made in providing a low cost communication technology for the education of deprived rural communities.

 
A RADIO OF THEIR OWN
Dalit women of Medak have reasons to want their own radio

On October 2, 1996, Mr James Bentley, Regional Communication Adviser (Asia), UNESCO had a consultation with about 35 women from the sanghams of the Deccan Development Society. Most of these women were dalit agricultural labourers. The following are some extracts from the Consultation:

Sammamma from Bidakanne village (a 35 year old non literate dalit organic farmer) .. explaining why we must have our own radio



Sammamma
from Bidakanne village
We are working on so many alternative issues. The dissemination of this message is now the burden of a few women leaders who travel around, work till after midnight in sangham meetings, talk to their fellow women to try and convince them about the things we are talking.

If we have our own radio, the issues we are talking about will have a much wider dissemination even outside the sangham circles and will reach a larger community of women. This radio will also enhance the credibility of our messages by lending them the "weight" of the medium.

The mainstream radio disseminates some dominant values. We must fight these dominant values which are anti-poor and are against village people. Therefore we must have the control of the media.

Sidddamma from Matoor (a 45-year old non literate woman) .. discussing what can be the content of our radio



Sidddamma from Matoor

If we are talking on our radio about our DWCRA group's experiences. We will tell about where we bought the goats. How did we take care of them. What were our problems. How did we solve them. And how did we make profit out of it.

Their (the mainstream) radio has no time for these (micro) details. They only talk broadly. For the poor this broadness has no meaning. They need (micro) experiences. Our radio can do this effectively. As we share these experiences we also get other women's (women outside the sangham) support in the work that we are doing.

Pushpalata from Pastapur (a 40 year old single woman who has studied upto class V) .. reacting to a suggestion, (if it is very important for us to disseminate our messages through radio) why can't we invite mainstream radio to come and do programmes with us.



Pushpalata from Pastapur

Our language and their language are very different. We can't understand their language at all. They will never use our language. For eg. I want to tell my fellow women not to stop eating green leafy vegetables during the rainy season. Only if I use our language and our imagery do people understand what I am talking about. But in the mainstream radio they won't use this language.

.. the essential difference between the issues that our radio and the mainstream work on...

We are talking about Saama and Sajja (some minor millets). We are always talking about marginalised grains, marginalised people marginalised language and marginalised issues. This does not interest the mainstream radio. This is the reason we should have our own radio to allow us to discuss our issues.

Metlakunta Susilamma (a 28 year old rural dalit woman who has not passed class V) .. reacting to a suggestion why can't we persuade the government to open a radio station here and preserve our langauge, culture and our issues.



Metlakunta Susilamma

We can't accept government radio. It becomes their propaganda tool. They will go to a village and say we have given so many buffaloes in this village; we have given so much land in this village.... that radio will not allow poor women to dialogue on their own problems and issues. Our radio helps us in our own analysis of our experiences and our problems.

Chilukapalli Anasuyamma from Pastapur (a 30 year old non literate dalit single woman) .. when asked to suggest what can we do with our own radio.



Chilukapalli Anasuyamma from Pastapur

In our sanghams (village associations of dalit women) we are carrying on a number of tasks which used to be done by men. So also our men. They are doing a number of tasks which were only being preserved for women. This way we have been able to erase the boundaries between man's work and woman's work.

The mainstream radio is still steeped in the traditional gender roles. If we depend on it, we have to go back in time. All that we have done in our sanghams will come to a nought. If we have our own radio it can help us continue this progress we have made on gender issues.

Nagamma from Ranjole village ( a 45 year old non literate dalit woman) .. expressing her concern about people having to depend upon the mainstream radio for their information and knowledge



Nagamma

from Ranjole village

Let us take farming. What will the mainstream radio tell us? They (the government) are the producers and sellers of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. They tell us to use it. Once in a while some of them (probably she means some research station or university or a stray talk) saying don't use chemicals. What do we understand by this?

In our radio we can speak with a unity of voice. We uphold certain values of organic agriculture. We can speak about it without confusing people.

Ratnamma from Algole village (a 45 year old non literate rural dalit woman leader) .. reacting to a statement that it might be very difficult to get a license to run the radio from the government.



Ratnamma from Algole village

Why won't the government issue us a license? They invite us so many times to their meetings and listen to our views. When they do that, why not a radio license? They can hear us regularly and better.