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When 'Chanderi Ki Awaaz' took flight

23 December 2009

OneWorld South Asia

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Last week a small weaver community in central India celebrated the first test transmission of Chanderi Ki Awaaz, a community radio station initiated by the Bunkar Vikas Sanstha and supported by UNESCO, BASIX and OneWorld South Asia. The station is slated to be launched on February 14, 2010.

Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh: Exuberance, excitement and a few quiet tears of joy – this was how volunteers greeted the first test transmission of Chanderi ki Awaaz – the Voice of Chanderi – on December 19.

Chanderi test transmission/ Photo credit: Chanderi ki Awaaz

Known as a place of historic monuments and culture and famous for its delicately woven silk sarees, Chanderi will now also be celebrated as an early entrant into the community radio arena.

Chanderi ki Awaaz, slated to be launched on February 14 next year, would truly reflect the spirit of community media as it has been initiated by none other than a small weavers’ cooperative, Bunkar Vikas Sanstha (BVS).

It is the realised vision of young dynamic community-based volunteers who wish to enliven and energise their sleepy little town with a new sound – the voices of their own people on air – blending into the daily hum.

The community

BVS is a small weavers’ cooperative that was set up with initial support from UNIDO to improve livelihoods of traditional weavers by obviating the need for middlemen through product diversification, training, tools and expanded market opportunities.

chanderi inauguration.jpg
(From left to right) Dr R.Sreedher, Director-CEMCA; S.C. Tiwari, SDM; Abilaksh Liki, Director-BD, MIB; K.K. Taneja, MIB; and Abdul Mateen Ansari, BVS/ Photo credit: Chanderi ki Awaaz

Later a micro-credit organisation called Apna Kosh (Our Bank) was also set up to improve access to finances. Now secure with regular work, better incomes and most of all, much cherished independence, BVS turned its attention to the next generation that was seeking newer pastures and better opportunities.

The desire to use media tools for expanded livelihood opportunities was fulfilled in 2006 in a partnership with UNESCO, BASIX and OneWorld South Asia.

Youth were trained in the use of computer and Internet; in the production of newsletters and digital stories to document and disseminate the stories they knew. They were also trained in radio production. It was a while before the community understood the potential of this medium and opted to pursue it further.

Nearly 150 programmes on different locally relevant issues have been produced in Hindi and Bundeli. These programmes will cater to a remarkably well integrated society of Hindus, Muslims and Jains – predominantly weavers, farmers or beedi workers. Opportunities for vocational education and employment are high on the priority of these communities.

Lessons from the ground

The test transmission was a part of the Fourth State Consultation on Community Radio organised by the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting (MoIB) and CEMCA (Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia) to demystify and popularise community radio in India.
About 80 organisations from different parts of Madhya Pradesh participated in the consultation.

Existing and upcoming radio stations including Radio Bundelkhand, RKDF Radio, Lalit Lokvani and Chanderi Ki Awaaz shared their experiences.

The transmission, as well as the locally constructed low-cost community radio studio, was an eye-opener for several visiting representatives from educational institutions and community-based organisations from various parts of Madhya Pradesh.

chander community.jpg
Chanderi community/ Photo credit: Chanderi Ki Awaaz
Chanderi Ki Awaaz demonstrated the real possibility that poor communities can be supported to set up a low-cost radio studio, produce and transmit locally relevant radio programmes and discover their own potential in this process.

A key aspect of the Chanderi experience, according to Abhilaksh Likhi, IAS, Director Broadcasting from the MoIB, was the grounding and preparation of the community prior to obtaining the license. “Even as a CR application is submitted to the Ministry’s CR Cell, communities need to be oriented in the use of radio as a strategic communication tool for development; along with technical and management aspects of deployment,” he said.

Meeting challenges

The consultation ended on a high note of appreciation for the tenacious team that had worked consistently for two years despite several constraints, with only a chimera before them.
According to the volunteers, the main problem was the irregular power supply:

“When we did get together, we played hide and seek with the power supply, which is absent for as long as four hours every working day,” adds Arshad, a young school going volunteer. During summer, when the mercury was high, it was impossible to work in the closed studio without an air conditioner.

Finding time from regular work routines to meet and work to production schedules was a challenge that was met only with a lot of determination, planning and mutual adjustment.
“We had to juggle responsibilities at school, home and office,” said Seema Sheikh, a homemaker and volunteer.

Moving ahead

The governing body members of Bunkar Vikas Sanstha and members of the programme management committee of Chanderi Ki Awaaz are now convinced that the effort of generating over Rs 2 lakh for the broadcasting equipment, is worth its while.

Over an hour, weavers, volunteers and well wishers had mobilised a lakh of rupees to be paid as advance for the transmitter purchased from WEBEL.

The next two months will be focused on generation of funds for equipment and station administration, promotion, preparation of a business plan for the station, advance organisation of programme content for broadcast, and preparations for launch of the station on February 14, 2010.

As Naimur Rahman, Director of OneWorld, puts it: “The only meaningful benchmark for success in an ICT project is the extent to which it has served to increase livelihood opportunities and lift people out of the poverty cycle. So as I see it, there is still a long way to go in Chanderi.”

Geetha Bhardwaj, manager of the project, points out: “OneWorld has supported the radio project at Chanderi long beyond the project period – from guiding the application process and communicating with the MoIB at Delhi, to providing direction, capacity building, mentoring and advisory services on a consistent basis.”

CEMCA, UNESCO, BASIX, UNIDO and other radio champions and development communications professionals provided encouragement and advice along the way. The Radio Mitr, or radio friends, as the volunteers call themselves, also played a significant role in the process, she informed.

Chanderi is a story of a community that is well on the road to widening the frontiers of development. It is also a story of partnership among several organisations that have supported in different ways at different times.

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