Community radio in Karnataka villages is giving rural communities a voice

18th Jan 2019
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Run primarily by women, and started with a seed capital of Rs 5 lakh, community radio Sarathi Jhalak has brought administrators, experts, and villagers on the same platform.

Before the advent of television, radio was our greatest companion, helping us know about the world, and keeping us engaged and entertained.

In today’s world of 24/7 television channels, Sarathi Jhalak, a small community radio station in the Hoskote taluk of Bengaluru Rural District is still creating waves. The programmes have a wide audience in Malur taluk of Kolar district, and in the eastern periphery of Bengaluru city like Varthur, Marathahalli and Mahadevapura that border Hoskote taluk and Hosur in Tamil Nadu.

Jhalak, meaning glimpse, offers rural listeners a glimpse into aspects such as health, agriculture, literature and legal awareness, among others. The community radio benefits residents of nearly 250 villages around Anugondanahalli, where the station is located at a distance of 30 km from Bengaluru.

Team at community radio Sarathi Jhalak
The team at Sarathi Jhalak community radio station |Photo: Sudha Narasimhachar

Rural radio jockeys

Shamanthaka Mani, an experienced journalist, envisioned that radio was the best medium to penetrate the rural parts of Karnataka and reach the grassroots. She launched community radio Sarathi Jhalak FM 90.4 in August 2012 through Sarathi Trust, supported by the government of Karnataka, with a seed capital of Rs 5 lakh. Sarathi Jhalak is run primarily by women.

Sunil, a graduate, who runs the station along with Nagamani, is a Dalit and a first-generation literate in his family. Nagamani is a small farmer who grows vegetables, lentils, plantains and other fruits in her one acre of land, and comes to the radio station thrice a week. Sunil and Nagamani, as well as the other young radio jockeys, are from the neighbouring villages.

Supreetha, a college student from Devanahalli in Bengaluru Rural District, travels 60 km one way once a week to reach the radio station at Anugondanahalli by changing buses five times, since the two places are not directly connected by public transport. However, she does not mind the tiresome journey. “I enjoy making the programmes and participating in the programmes of Sarathi Jhalak,” she said.

Rural-centric programmes

The Sarathi Jhalak team has designed programmes in various fields including in agriculture, health, hygiene, education, art, culture, food, local civic issues like water, power, roads, current affairs, and general knowledge.

Starting at 7 am and closing at 9.30 pm, the station broadcasts programmes on all weekdays, in two-hour and three-hour schedules, with breaks in between. Aimed at the rural population, most of the programmes are interactive, and the radio receives good response over phone and text messages on mobile phones.

Programmes on agriculture enable farmers to know more about government subsidies, produce prices, besides getting them expert advice on farm-related issues. Legal programmes help villagers learn about inheritance laws, child protection laws, mediatory bodies that facilitate out-of-court settlements, land acquisition by government bodies, and the like.

Breaking stereotypes, Sarathi Jhalak produces literary programmes, besides inviting eminent persons from various fields as guest speakers. The speakers motivate the village youth. The team also airs programmes such as Kathaleyinda Belakinattha (meaning 'from darkness to light') to help job seekers. The programme serves as a bridge between employers and prospective candidates.

All the programmes are interspersed with public interest advertisements on traffic rules, health, hygiene, and so on. The team also goes to the field and conducts vox pop programmes on locale-specific problems. Connecting the listeners beyond the air, the station conducts debates, quiz, painting competitions, and sports meets for the children of neighbouring villages.

Social impact

“The recent survey by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India declared that our station has 75 percent listenership,” Sunil said.

The team cites many incidents where their programmes have played a pivotal role in bringing about change in the society. “Quite a few women have thanked us for their spouses quitting drinking or smoking after listening to our awareness programmes,” Sunil added proudly.

Phakeeresh said he quit smoking after listening to an awareness programme. “My family life was a mess because of my drinking habit. Free of my habit, now I am a happy and healthy man,” ” Durgappa, another listener, said.

Arogya Khanaja, meaning health bank, focuses on health and hygiene. So far, more than 15 specialist doctors have participated in this phone-in programme, and many listeners have received free treatment for their ailment from the same doctors.

After the station aired about needy patients with serious illnesses, and about the educational needs of merit students, listeners offered financial assistance. Guru undergoing free eye surgery, little Divya getting free speech therapy, and reunion of Narayana with his family after he went missing are a few of the positive impacts of the station’s programmes.

During Diwali, the team invited local panchayat officials and requested them to take quick action, as the festival resulted in a lot of garbage. A local hospital started functioning properly after a radio programme revealed the misuse of services, diversion of medicine and the like.

The talks by officials from the agriculture department have helped many farmers to avail various schemes, which they were not aware of. Villagers unaware of a central government housing subsidy for nearly 2,000 houses availed of the same.

Presenters’ development

The programmes have not only benefitted rural listeners but the producers as well. The present team is the third since inception. Sarathi Jhalak has groomed them all into creative producers, team leaders, socially active persons and responsible citizens.

Sunil and Nagamani, who were reticent villagers, speak confidently today, even in public forums. Sunil addressed a gathering at the All Karnataka Radio Meet in Puttur and won accolades. Nagamani, who attended the Network of Women in Media, India at Chennai, is proud of having been covered by national media there.

Sarathi Jhalak also serves as a training ground for urban students interested in community radio. Ramsha travels from Medimallasandra village once a week since her experience at Sarathi Jhalak helps her in her journalism course. “I owe a lot to the station as I got financial assistance for my college fees because of them,” Ramsha says.

Way forward

The radio station is totally dependent on donations and hence funding is a challenge. Shamanthaka plans to take the community radio online, for which she needs to invest in another system. “I plan to publish select programmes in print at regular intervals so that it serves as a documentation of the works that Sarathi Jhalak is doing,” she says.

The documentation would also serve as a ready reckoner for anyone looking for reference on community radios at a later stage.

Sudha Narasimhachar is a journalist based in Bengaluru. Views are personal and do not reflect that of YourStory.

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