EDITIONS
Change Agent

How Kerala's first community radio station is creating waves of change

Amoolya Rajappa
posted on 9th January 2018
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Broadcasting programmes in different tribal dialects, this radio channel is disseminating important information to the marginalised groups of Wayanad.

Nammada Mattoli (our Mattoli) is what listeners across Kerala fondly call this radio station. Operating from a shopping complex space in the quaint municipality of Mananthavady, Radio ‘Mattoli’ (meaning echo/reverberation in local dialects) broadcasts socially-relevant programmes that are cheered by a wide range of audiences across the Wayanad hills.

Home to many farmers and indigenous tribal groups, Wayanad is among the most sparsely populated, backward districts of Kerala (according to the 2011 Census). Though it scores well in sex ratio, Wayanad still has the lowest literacy rate in entire Kerala.

Promoted by Wayanad Social Service Society (WSSS), a non-governmental development organisation, ‘Radio Mattoli 90.4 FM’ started its operation in 2009 to bridge the information gap that existed between agriculture-dependent communities and government authorities. Tracing back its origin and purpose, Father Sebastian Puthen Varghese, the current Station Director says,

A lot of people in the tribal communities were not getting relevant governmental information in an easily accessible manner. Radio Mattoli began with an aim to reach out to such marginalised communities.

 Acquainting farmers

Brainchild of Bishop Mar Jose Porunnedom, Radio Mattoli today broadcasts 20 hours of various programmes and documentaries with its signals covering more than 85 percent of Wayanad district.

Wayanad's District Police Superintendent Arul RB Krishna speaking to the listeners of Radio Mattoli.

With farmers and agriculturalists occupying the majority of the population in Wayanad, many of Radio Mattoli’s programmes are geared towards addressing their needs and concerns.

For example, programmes such as Njattuvela, Vayalnadu and Kambolanilavaram spread pertinent agricultural knowledge on market value of products, weather updates, bio-farming techniques, etc. shares Fr. Sebastian.

The channel also gets on board relevant experts from government authorities who acquaint farmers in the Wayanad hills with the methods to preserve of water bodies, dairy farming, organic farming, and precision farming.

Quoting an anecdote from his previous work experience as documentation and communication officer at Radio Mattoli, Krishnakumar CK recalls an incident when “there was a high incidence of foot-and-mouth disease among the cattle in the Wayanad region in 2013.” Despite repeated requests, veterinary doctors from the government were hesitant to reach out and help farmers in remote areas who had lost their cattle.

To address this negligence on part of authorities, Radio Mattoli toured these places, recorded the woes of 10 dairy farmers and their families who had lost their cattle, and escalated the issue by broadcasting a timely, special programme. Such an effort immediately promoted government authorities, who swung to immediate action and sent out an ambulance for help.

Empowering tribal communities

Wayanad, a well-known bio-diversity hotspot, is also home to 13 of Kerala’s 36 tribal communities. As Krishnakumar explains,

The social isolation levels in many of these tribal communities is very high and they often hesitate to integrate with the people in the mainstream.

However, thanks to Radio Mattoli’s programmes such as Thudichetham which broadcast the complexities of the issues faced by tribals and suggest remedies in their own dialects and slang, the tribal communities of Wayanad now possess a very strong and personal sense of ownership with regard to the channel.

The tribal producers of Radio Mattoli

Fr. Sebastian is both proud and emotional when he recollects how Radio Mattoli and its community-driven content has impacted many people. “We have heard from Joseph, an illiterate who quit habitual smoking after listening to one of our programmes that spoke about the ill-effects of the same. Now, he frequently visits our station office with sweets and poems written by him”.

In one of our radio club meetups, Bhasakaran, who belongs to the backward classes, also shared how he carried his radio set with him even when he climbed trees to pluck peppercorns. That’s the kind of affection people have shown for Radio Mattoli, he adds.

Radio Mattoli is the only electronic media channel in the whole of Kerala to broadcast programmes in tribal languages. The station has a team of active volunteers from tribal communities who first train and then produce creative content (in the form of scripting shows, lending their voice for radio dramas, etc.) on their own.

Many tribal dialects in Kerala do not even have a script. In this context, the effort of these young volunteers striving to help their communities is extremely crucial, opines Krishnakumar.

Bringing the issues of marginalised communities to mainstream

Apart from farmers and tribal communities, Radio Mattoli also produces content for women, children and people from marginalised communities such as the elderly, orphans, etc. While programmes such as Vanitha Mattoli and Karuthal throw light on a wide range of women and children related issues, more targeted broadcasts are also designed to benefit groups as specific as the auto rickshaw drivers in the region.

Talking about programmes such as Ponpulari, which feature the entrepreneurial efforts of women in Wayanad region, Fr. Sebastian says,

Radio Mattoli has identified and interviewed several women who are running small businesses (such as that of pickle and Namkeen) of value added products.

Airwaves of change

Licensed by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Radio Mattoli is also the only community radio channel functioning out of the Wayanad region. In span of eight years, the channel has expanded from broadcasting just four hours initially to 20 hours (12 hours of fresh content and eight of previous broadcasts) today, from 5:30am to 1:30am.

Though revenue generation was an initial hurdle, Radio Mattoli now gets financial assistance from various government departments, organisations, and also benefits from regularised advertisements.

Radio Mattoli, through its 60 exclusive programmes, has been able to reach out to a varied group of listeners in Wayanad such as farmers, tribes, dalits, women, and children.

"Over the years, a team of dedicated volunteers from grassroots communities have helped Radio Mattoli gain the kind popularity that it has. We are proud of this active citizenry since it marks the triumph of any community radio station", says Fr. Sebastian.

When questioned about future plans for Radio Mattoli, he adds,

Our biggest dream in the coming years is to broadcast the voice of every citizen in Wayanad. And eventually, we want this radio station to be owned by people themselves.

“Radio Mattoli provides a lot of autonomy at work. Since, there’s no pressure to do news, we have the bandwidth to plan and proceed with our special programmes,” says 28-year-old Lithin   who works with the station.

India has about 179 community radio stations, a number that’s too small compared to the proposed 4,000 by Government of India in 2007. However, among the ones disseminating information in the remotest areas and empowering the masses, Radio Mattoli stands out as a shining example.

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