|AN ENTITLEMENT REFUSED|
|The story of DDS Radio
P V Satheesh, Director, Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN ON THE INVITATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME AS A PART OF THEIR MANUAL ON COMMUNITY RADIO.
THE MANUAL HAS PUBLISHED A VERY TRUNCATED VERSION OF THE ARTICLE.
PROBABLY THE ARTICLE WAS NOT POLITE ENOUGH FOR THE TASTE OF AN U N ORGANISATION.
What does it mean for low income, marginalised dalit women in one of the most backward semi arid areas of the country where female literacy rate has not crossed 10%, to own a radio facility of their own?
And what does it mean to the same women when their radio set up with so much of love and vibrant anticipation does not get a nod from the government even after eight years?
Between this sense of exhilaration and despondency swings the Community FM Radio set up by the Deccan Development Society in Machnoor Village in the Medak District of Andhra Pradesh. The Society has been working with over 5000 dalit women in Medak District since last two decades. The work has gradually focused upon a string of sovereignty: food sovereignty, seed sovereignty, autonomy over natural resources, market sovereignty --- all of them pointing towards an autonomous media owned and controlled by women from the marginalised sections of the community.
Such autonomy became crucial in view of the fact that the Society was working with women a majority of who were non literate. The non literacy did not affect their capacity to work with their environments in a sagacious manner. As farmers they had established complex ecological systems. As healers they had a fascinating repertoire of knowledge of herbs and plant medicines. Their knowledge of trees and plants was next to none. They raised a range of livestock with a full understanding of animal care systems. They were barefoot foresters, bankers, primary governers of their communities. Their range of skills was deep and wide. In spite of all this, just because they did not have a single skill called literacy, they had been looked down upon as if they were second class citizens. People with a fraction of their skills and understanding of their environment, lorded over them simply because they had the so called formal education and urban sophistication.
The second need arose because the participatory methodologies marketed so eagerly to involve rural people in their development processes had been hijacked by urban professionals. Participation had been even stolen by governments and international financial agencies and had been added as another column to be filled in a never ending series of columns in development projects. Poor and women and been cheated out of the possibility of participating in decision making.
Media was the third front which had made this issue urgent. With more
and more private channels coming in, spaces for rural people, poor and
women had been completely taken over by corporate and urban interests.
Programmes were filled in spaces between advertisements. Consumerism
had run riot. In order to save its own skin even the public media had
abandoned its public good niche and had followed the prescription of
private channels, the film songs and dances routine, imitation of Page
3 content, trivialising issues that had deep meaning for ordinary people.
Media had not only been working for the elite but it had been an active partner
in creating elites.
The Deccan Development Society sensed this acute need for an autonomous media completely owned and controlled by the marginalised rural women to amplify their issues and concerns. The DDS radio attempt, thus, would be based on this ideology.
When it all began, there was very high anticipation by the women of DDS. A feeling of ecstasy that they were on the threshold of history. This was amply reflected in the arguments that they made in front of Mr James Bentley, Regional Communication Adviser to UNESCO on October 2, 1996. Extracts from this consultation reveal a deep sense of marginalisation by the women and the feeling that the so called mainstream has no room for issues concerning them. [Meena Menon in Business Line, September 03, 2001]
[SEE BOX: WOMEN AND THEIR RADIO; REASONS ARE PLENTY, SOUND AND STRONG]
This articulation by the non literate, dalit women of DDS was amazingly in sync with the statement issued in Toronto Platform for Action resulting from WOMEN AND THE MEDIA : ACCESS TO EXPRESSION AND DECISION-MAKING, an International Symposium of UNESCO held in Toronto, Canada in February-March, 1995. [Toronto Platform for Action, UNESCO, 1995] Of the several actions suggested by the Platform I quote two and compare them with what the women said in Pastapur:
This mandate by the women spurred the Deccan Development Society to start an FM Radio Station in 1998. This was a ready-to-air broadcast facility equipped with its own studio, edit suite, control room, tower and a transmitter. Three young dalit women took over the task of managing and running this station. After receiving some rudimentary training from a couple of radio professionals, the women started recording their own programmes.
Narsamma's fingers expertly move the knob on a mixer to regulate the
sound of folk
Arya Dora's song -- a rare form of folk music -- covers an entire
60-minute audio cassette. There are many dying traditional folk songs
sung by women, some relate to their crops, others to the mind-boggling
cropping diversity in the region, and these have been faithfully recorded
by Narsamma, nicknamed `General' for some reason, and her two colleagues,
all rural women.
Their heart was filled with the hope that their radio will get a license from the government. The United Front government which was in power then had finalized a Broadcasting Bill which had reserved a space for the Community Radio. This had further kindled the hope. But in the winter session of Parliament during which the bill was due to be entered the Government collapsed. With this crashed the hopes of the people also.
In August 2000, the Society made an application to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India requesting a licence for the FM Radio. The application was carefully drafted by a team of people that included myself, Prof B P Sanjay [currently Director, Indian Institute of MaSS Communication]and Dr Vinod Pavarala, a renowned expert on community radio and Associate Professor in Communication, University of Hyderabad. Much of the application quoted the criterion for community radio established worldwide and the Bangalore Declaration on Community Radio as well as the Pastapur Declaration on Community Radio.
After sixteen months, in January 2002, came a bland six line reply from the Government of India which said starkly At present the Govt. does not have a policy of granting licenses to NGOs or charitable institutions for setting up and operating Radio Stations. Licenses have been issued only to Indian registered Pvt. Companies for operating FM channels for entertainment, Music & Information.
It was quite surprising that the government did not even pause to think
that somewhere this reply could be in direct conflict with the ethos
of Indian democracy; that the government can give licenses to companies
for operating FM channels for entertainment, music and information[sic]
but had NO POLICY to grant licenses to NGOS AND CHARITABLE INSTITUTIONS
to set up and operate radio stations. As Prof Vinod Pavarala aptly put
it in a subsequent article for the Economic & Political Weekly,
The question we should ask is: why does OUR government find Rupert Murdoch
trustworthier than a poor, unlettered, Dalit woman who wants to use
a media channel to communicate?
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. [P V Satheesh in A RADIO OF THEIR OWN, DDS website <www.ddsindia.com>]
Her trust in the government is touching.
It is not just the protagonists of the Community Radio hold this view but also the highest legal institution of the country, the Supreme Court of India. In a landmark judgement, the Court said:
. in a democratic polity, neither any private individual,
institution or organisation nor any Government ... can claim exclusive
right over it. Our Constitution also forbids monopoly either in the
print, or electronic media...." -
This being the case, there is no obvious reason for the government to deny license to its own communities when it goes round offering licenses to all conceivable business houses and international media empires the right to run FM stations in this country. It almost appears as if democracy is being sold to the highest bidder.
In spite of this rejection, the women of the DDS Community Radio continue to produce their own programmes with grit and determination. The radio facility works for eight hours a day. Three women, General Narsamma, Algole Narsamma and Sukkamma manage the station on a daily basis. Over the last six years they have canned over 500 hours of programmes. The programmes incorporate almost every format in radio barring news.
For two years now, a neatly designed radio station, complete with a
studio, part of a unique `Green' school campus in Machnoor village in
Zaheerabad Mandal of Medak district in Andhra Pradesh, is all set to
make broadcasts. ``We can broadcast two hours of programmes daily,''
Narsamma says. ``We have programmes on agriculture, gender, children
not attending school, bonded labour, health, tips in cropping, weeding,
organic manure and other subjects. We interview people with traditional
knowledge and skills, record discussions on current issues and have
over 300 hours of recordings,'' she says,not without some pride.
The women of DDS Radio want to call their radio Bichapolla Radio. Bichapollu are the mendicant bards of the Zaheerabad region. Their folk narratives include singing, telling a story and bring in contemporary messages. They travel from house to house in the villages and sing their absorbing narratives. Every day the studio is busy for a couple of hours recording programmes by the local people, mainly women, on issues of agriculture, gender, biodiversity, education, folk music etc. At the end of the week the three programmers get together and make an audio magazine by putting together various programmes that respond to the theme of the week.
Each magazine has a timely focus. If it is the ploughing season there would be a likely discussion between experiences farmers on the merits and demerits of let us say, deep ploughing. With the onset of sowing season, there could be another discussion on the exact karti [the rain bearing star] in which to sow a particular crop. Each of these timely discussions, talks, interviews will be interspersed with folk and/or traditional songs that are related to the particular farming activity, some other issues related to social issues like gender, education, childcare etc. [See box: Anatomy of a typical magazine]
These audio tapes are sent to each of the 75 villages where the DDS
works. In each of these villages, the members of the DDS Sanghams [the
village association of women] sit and listen to the programmes. The
feedback from the villages reaches the programmers so that they can
build in necessary corrections in their future productions.
This process of narrowcasting continues. Over the past six years, the women have been relentless. They are not defeated by the refusal of a license. But how long can they continue with their infrastructure and enthusiasm? [see box: an enviable infrastructure] Especially in the face of an extraordinary discrimination against rural communities by a government which proclaims at every available opportunity that it is committed to its farmers, women and the marginalized people? It almost appears that the governments are happy to keep their communities just at the level of receivers of communication rather than making them producers of communication. Are they probably scared that once people become real producers of communication, their control over the minds of the masses will be lost for ever?
In a short film called A Radio of Their Own produced by the Community Media Trust of the Deccan Development Society, General Narsamma, one of the three women who manage the DDS FM Radio asks eloquently:
For over six years we are ready for transmission. We hear that people in Delhi or foreigners get permission to start their radio. Does that mean that small villages like Pastapur have no right to have their own radio? For small people like us will that opportunity be denied for ever?
A poignant question. As people committed to the principles of democracy,
decentralization and equity in media do we have an honest answer to