Flying with the Crane.
It was within this broad philosophical framework that the radio programme Kunjal Paanje Kutchji (Sarus Crane of our Kutch) was conceived. This program started its broadcast from All India Radio, Bhuj Station on December 16, 1999, in the sponsored program category as a 30-min weekly serial every Thursday at 8.00 pm. We plan to continue broadcast for one year, that is 53 episodes. The format consists of a narration by a program anchor, a serialized drama, songs and an interview module called “Kutch Kochhanto” (or “Kutch Speaks”). Apart from the fact that we wanted the program to help generate a debate in Kutchi society on gender and swaraj, we were also clear that the program should strongly reflect local culture, and to the maximum extent possible be produced with the participation of local communities.
This programme is the result of a partnership between several groups and individuals. It is produced by Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS), an NGO working with rural women in 150 villages of Kutch district, directed by Drishti Media Collective, a media NGO based in Ahmedabad and written by Paresh Naik, an Ahmedabad-based writer and filmmaker. The Centre for Alternatives in Education, which is a part of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, is involved in designing impact assessment surveys.
UNDERSCORING KUTCHHIYAT: LANGUAGE & CULTURE
Kutchi on the Airwaves
The regional identity of Kutch within Gujarat is distinct and well defined, and is an emotional identification point for most Kutchis. Hence, this program was consciously planned as a vehicle for the public articulation and expression of Kutchi identity. The Kutchi dialect has no written form. Gujarati language has acquired hegemony over all public discourse -- education, government procedures, public systems and the vernacular press. The spaces for cultural expression in Kutchi language are few and shrinking further. A preliminary village-based survey conducted by KMVS to assess the media habits of rural Kutchis revealed that there was a great need amongst audiences for listening to Kutchi programs. Hence our choice of language was Kutchi, despite the logistical problems of working with a language that has no script. This choice has been amply vindicated by the 1100-odd postcards that have come in from the listeners, many emotionally congratulating us on the use of Kutchi. One postcard said that listening to their own language on radio “brought tears of joy to their eyes”.
Our program anchor or sutradhar is the character of a Sarus Crane - called Kunjal in the local language - who has flown into Kutch from lands faraway claiming it as her maiter or parental home - specifically to a mythical village called Ujaas (which means “light”) in Kutch. The selection of Kunjal as a narrator for this serial was prompted by her position as a much-loved and revered bird in Kutch folklore. The Kunjal is also essentially a feminine image. As a character she gains easy entry into the world of our women characters, as a friend, confidante and counsel. She is a metaphor, which easily incorporates women’s identity and aspirations. We are getting indications of the swift acceptance and popularity of the Kunjal as a character from the postcards.
Platform for Local Expression and Participation
The program is consciously trying to be a vehicle for local expression of Kutchi culture, by giving space for featuring the talent of Kutchi writers, poets, musicians, singers and actors. Similarly, we are locating, recording and broadcasting the rich and varied musical forms of Kutch, some very marginalized and dying forms such as Vai singing. Apart from working with the famous talents of Kutch, we are consciously trying to feature musicians and singers who are small-time, village-based and who may not have received such exposure earlier. We are also dipping into the rich wealth of history, stories and folklore of Kutch, which lie in the public domain, and trying to weave it into the issues being raised in the serial. All in all, there is an effort to reflect a pan-Kutch identity in the radio program, by representing the music and stories of a wide cross-section of the many ethnic communities which are found in Kutch.Kutch Kochhanto
Kutch Kochhanto is a 5-6 minute documentary module which features interviews, thereby ensuring a committed space to the voices of people from Kutch. This section also helps in disseminating critical information. Interviews, whether in the field or in the studio, are being recorded by a team of 9 reporters (3 women and 6 men), who are village-based men and women, educated on an average up to 7th standard. KMVS has organized a series of trainings for this team to prepare them for the task of being reporters for a radio program, including orientation to development, social justice and gender issues, journalism, technical radio production, interviewing methods, etc.
The scripts for the drama section are written by our scriptwriter in consultation with an editorial committee consisting of members of KMVS and Drishti. During these meetings, the broad brief, content and story direction are planned through discussion. The scripts for the episodes are being written in Gujarati, which are subsequently being translated into Kutchi by writers in Bhuj.
Involvement of Rural Actors
We have tried to involve non-professional men and women from villages and small towns in the acting of the serial. Apart from fostering a local sense of participation and ownership for the program, this also ensures that the diction and pronunciation of Kutchi is as authentically rural in flavour as possible. Artistes are also encouraged to change the language of the script to make it as colloquial and rustic as possible. So the script undergoes many changes during the rehearsals and studio recordings between the first translated draft and the final recorded word.
GENERATING DEBATE ON GENDER & SWARAJ
The central focus of the serial is the participation of women in political processes, specifically panchayats at the village level, which is explored through the character of Rani, the women sarpanch of Ujaas village. By exploring the entry of women from the private to the public domain, we are able to simultaneously generate a debate on gender issues on the one hand, and Swaraj or democratic self-governance on the other.
Some of the more specific gender-related issues that have been raised in the serial so far are women’s leadership and governance, girl’s right to education, female foeticide, harassment of brides for dowry, unnatural deaths and suicides of women in their in-laws, pressure on women to produce boys, maternal mortality and disregard of mother’s health. These issues are located in the context of a degraded natural environment, cyclical drought and lack of water resources.
PUBLICITY EFFORTS AND OTHER SPIN-OFFS
A special publicity campaign for the program before it started telecast consisted of posters, radio spots, newspaper announcements and word of mouth publicity by 90 grassroots workers of KMVS and Sahjeevan for a month before the first telecast.
An interesting off-shoot of the radio serial has been the interest it has managed to generate in the mainstream press. KMVS has secured a regular weekly column (given the same name as the radio serial) in the most popular newspaper of Kutch - Kutch Mitra - which is written by a member of the KMVS radio team. Interestingly, the radio serial has helped generate a lot of interest and readership for the monthly Ujjas newsletter which is written and printed by the rural women members of the Mundra Sangathan of KMVS. This newsletter was started in 1994 and has a circulation of 2,500.
Presently Kunjal Panje Kutch Ji is being produced and multi-copied in the form of audio cassettes -- 500 copies of each cassette containing 2 episodes each. KMVS plans to send these cassettes to the villages in their work area through their field staff and reporters. The ownership of 2-in-one (radio-cum-tape players) is quite high amongst rural people, so the technical wherewithal for listening would be no problem.
Based on the demand and marketing potential, KMVS would soon begin sale of Kunjal Panje Kutch Ji cassettes at a nominal price of Rs.20 in the villages..
A systematic survey in the villages to assess the impact of the program is presently underway. In response to the radio serial, listeners have written us a total of 1100 postcards so far. Meanwhile, a quick surface analysis of the postcards reveals that we have received postcards from 36% of the total villages of Bhuj taluka, 40% of the total villages of Mundra taluka, 21% of the total villages of Mandvi taluka, 18% of the total villages of Nakhatrana taluka. At the overall district level, we’ve received postcards from 20.1% of the total of 950 villages of Kutch so far.
Drishti is a group of media professionals working on issues of gender justice, human rights and development. Drishti was founded as a trust in 1993.