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Can community radio counter the influence of Maoist rebels in India?

community radio newsThe Hindu newspaper wants to know why community radio isn’t being more widely deployed in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

“. . . the state continues to overlook and under-utilise the radio in countering Maoist influence,” an opinion piece notes. “Oddly enough, this so in a region populated by numerous tribal languages that possess rich oral traditions.” The All India Radio (AIR) service in Chhattisgarh continues to broadcast Hindi-language programming, but “not one community FM station, either in Hindi or any indigenous language, is operational in Maoist-affected areas of the state.”

The essay presumably refers to the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency, which despite its relatively small number of combatants (no more than 10,000) has spread across at least nine Indian states, including Chhattisgarh. These radicals tap into seething resentment over corruption and the lack of good services in much of rural India. Like other critics, author Debarshi Dasgupta complains that the country isn’t licensing community radio quickly enough. It takes forever to get a permit. Most stations are run by NGOs or educational institutions in big urban areas.

“The community FM model of democratising our airwaves, though well-meaning, is not democratic enough,” Dasgupta says. “Based in cities and towns, community FM stations are limited in their reach (usually around a radius of less than 15 kilometres). In undulating terrain, it is even less. This keeps the backwoods the way they are — in a dark zone.”

The lack of community radio development stands in stark contrast to CGNet Swara, the commentary adds, a mobile phone platform that allows Chhattisgarh locals to record observations and statements about their situations in their regional languages and post them to all of India via CGNet’s web platform:

“All this without a charge for them or the mediation of traditional journalists who have ignored them for so long. Its impact has been dramatic and far reaching. Roads have been built, missing teachers have shown up at local schools, unpaid salaries have been credited and closeted rations have at long last found their way to villagers.”

Apparently CGNet is applying for an AM radio license. Here’s a sample CGNet message, titled “Our school roof leaking, we can’t study in rains these days, please help us… ” Translation:

“Brijesh Kumar is visiting Kolmojra Ahirantola village under Konikala panchayat of Rewa district in Madhya Pradesh and talking to children who tell him that the school building is in dilapidated condition. Water leaks from ceiling in rainy days. Education is suffering. This was complained to collector but no action has been taken till date. You are requested to call Collector@9425903973 and BRC@9752688001, CAC@9229028790 to help suffering children.Brijesh Kumar@8821806041.”

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