The villagers of the Angada Block in Jharkhand's Ranchi district had for long been asking for the basic facility of a school - an appeal that had been expressed, until now, through letters and invitations to the local administration and the government. What finally drew the attention of Savra Lakra, the MLA of the Khijli Vidhan Sabha, was a play performed by the villagers on the dire need for schools in the village. This programme was aired on FM Ranchi, as part of a community radio initiative in Angada Block, on the day of its inauguration on 31st October 2004. It forced the legislator to come all the way and promise the villagers that they will soon have schools in their village.

As Etwa Bedia, the field coordinator of the Community Radio initiative, enthuses, "The villagers have been given a new life with this initiative. The Community Radio has become a tool through which the villagers can now have their voices heard by the policy makers." "Radio is a medium that is cheap and has an excellent reach. Most villagers already have or have now bought a radio set. It is our forum where we can reflect on our every need and problem," says Malya Bedia, a resident of one of the villages.

Initiated by Charkha Development Communication Network, this Delhi-based NGO aims to empower the rural poor and the disadvantaged communities and to articulate voices that highlight the local issues to the opinion leaders and policy makers. Initially as part of a Pilot Project Community Radio initiative in Jharkhand, in association with the regional partner, Manthan Yuva Sansthan, a need-based study was conducted of selected community people, who were then trained to develop and design a half hourly radio programme in a magazine format. As Mohammad Shakeel, the Associate Coordinator of Manthan, explains, "It is the villagers themselves who choose the issues to be aired in a programme". The residents of these 17 villages are not only the listeners, but also the directors of and performers in this half-hour programme.

It is the villagers themselves who choose the issues to be aired in a programme. The residents of these 17 villages are not only the listeners, but also the directors of and performers
 •  Chalo ho gaon mein

The popularity of the show is evident by the fact that every Sunday at 6:30 pm the villagers are glued to their respective radio sets and small transistors. Expressed through issue-based plays, folk songs, development news and discussions, the initiative has made the residents not only socially aware but has also made them confident enough to take their local issues and challenges to the concerned officials. The final script is anchored by the two sutradhars -Etwari Behan (in the voice of Rita) and Somra Bhai (narrated by Ramdhan Bedia).

Now it is through radio that news on various government schemes, Panchayati Raj and news on rural development, is being aired in the local dialect of Panch parganiya. The villagers now know the number of houses being made under the Indira Awas Yogana and the quantity of food grain being distributed among shopkeepers under the public distribution system.

Rita, one of the narrators, begins her day by practicing her script, for which she has to walks down a whole 3 kms, to the Mungadih village. "Since the day community radio has entered the village, the inequality between the men and women of this village has lessened. When Manthan approached me with the suggestion to present the programme, my husband and mother-in-law were totally against it. But I had made my decision and quietly came for the recording of the programme. Now my husband is very proud of me," grins Rita.

As Rita explains, earlier the women of the village were hesitant to discuss their personal problems and local issues. But the community radio has given them a platform to share their views confidentially and seek guidance on the same.

Picture: Rita (extreme right) with the team of rural reporters.

But why Angada block? Sudhir Pal, the local coordinator of the community radio initiative, explains, "Despite the formation of the new state, none of the villages have witnessed much positive change. But Angada is such a block, where none of the development work has yet reached. Here people do not have even the basic facilities of roads, electricity, education and basic health care. The community radio initiative is a platform for these voices of the marginalised, which will help the community to fulfill their needs and aspirations." Moreover, the block is placed strategically, for the nearest town to the region is the capital city of Ranchi, which is also the political seat of the state.

Statistics show that this block is one of the poorest and the most backward regions of Jharkhand. Here, of a total population of 1 lakh people, 45% are scheduled castes, and 15% are scheduled tribes. Sustaining themselves on forest and farming, the residents, with difficulty, grow crops of wheat and Marua, for there is just one source of irrigation, which is the hand pump. Although many hand pumps have been built in the region, only one or two actually have a water connection. Under such circumstances, rainwater becomes the more viable option for the farmers. There is one PDS shop that opens rarely and that too only for few hours. For the past 20 years, one can see electricity poles, but till today the villagers are yet to witness the electricity connection.

In such a situation, the community radio - a social, cultural and political tool - has become an important instrument for the development of the marginalised communities. "The impact of the community radio shall be greater when the government gives organisations and communities the access and the freedom to own radio stations. One cannot hope for much social change until community radio enjoys the same freedom as does the television, newspapers and other magazines," comments Charkha Chairperson, Shankar Ghose.

There are many obstacles to the growth of the radio, he explains. In 1995, P.B. Savant, the noted Supreme Court Judge had claimed that the public had full right over the airwaves. Despite this, Prasar Bharti still has control over the free airwaves. In the process, one needs to have a license for the community radio and the process to acquire it is so complex that one needs to gain permission from at least four Ministries (Home, Defence, Human Resource and Foreign). The Broadcasting Review Bill, which has not been cleared for the past four years, can bring new hope to more initiatives such as these, in every district of every state. Meanwhile, one may only hope that the sounds of silence in the Angada Block, Ranchi are broken for good by the voices from the marginalised. (Charkha Features)