Community radio gets scant support from the Indian government. Photo: Pixabay
Community radio is an important service in rural India. Photo: Pixabay

People in rural areas of India continue to live with limited access to basic amenities such as water, sanitation, health-care facilities, and the benefits of various social-security programs. Community radio has emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic as one of strongest media for reaching communities.

Kasam, a resident of Gohana village in Mewat district, an area that was for a time part of the listed Covid-19 hotspots in the Indian state of Haryana, tunes in to community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 and shares feedback on one of the daily live shows on the virus outbreak.

Lockdown, though necessary to contain the outbreak, has hit daily wagers, migrant workers, and even beggars very hard. The plight of truck drivers also bothers Kasam as the state borders are sealed and many have not been able to reach home. He inquires about the provisions made by government for relief of those who live hand-to-mouth and are without savings. 

The radio station, established by a rural-development non-governmental organization, the S M Sehgal Foundation, in 2012, broadcasts 13 hours a day, sharing useful and relevant information about the pandemic to communities across the state.

Jan Mohammad, of Ted village in Nuh district, thanks the community radio station for the range of programs offered during these challenging times. He shares how his family is following all the hygienic practices to stay safe, maintaining social distancing, and covering the face and mouth when coughing or sneezing. He offers a list of things for farmers to do while in their fields. 

Station director Pooja O Murada says the station’s first broadcast on Covid-19 aired on February 6, and the station team has continued to come up with more programs to serve as information lifelines in rural areas.

One critical subject covered is to ensure that the measures being taken by the government for remitting funds into the Jan Dhan accounts of people to provide free rations actually reach those who are entitled.

Each day someone at the station broadcasts the information shared by the relevant departments over WhatsApp and e-mails and interviews officials by phone to make announcements to make sure any gaps in awareness are tackled from the bottom up. Radio messages from the district collector, chief medical officer, and other government authorities help keep the community informed.

Combating anxiety

When the first phase of India’s nationwide lockdown was announced, there was a lot of confusion and anxiety about staying indoors and knowing what to do and how. Besides telling listeners about the guidelines, the radio team joined forces with the Rajbala Foundation, a national NGO working in the areas of health care and education.

Psychologists with the Rajbala Foundation have augmented the program 21 Din 21 Baatein from a mental-health perspective.

Psychologist Satish Kaushik said: “The program talks about being hopeful and finding joy in staying together and having time to oneself to pursue a hobby such as reading, playing cards, etc. Our endeavor turned out to be successful, as people shared how they are spending time playing their childhood games with children.”

When the second phase of the lockdown was announced on April 14, the radio program was renamed and extended. It stresses being more careful and acknowledging anxiety, stress, and other worries of listeners and the population at large.

Tips to identify fake news

A program aired twice in a week, Savdhaan, helps address the issue of fake news and false rumors floating on social media. Characteristics are described that help listeners to identify fake news from facts.

Anuradha Duvey, a reporter at Alfaz-e-Mewat who conducts the show, said: “While doing the show, I have learned so much about fake news. I now make it a point to verify the facts before forwarding any messages over social media. Engaging with volunteer social media activists and experts has enhanced my knowledge further.”

Short audio capsules describe what is known about Covid-19, how to protect oneself, and the process to get checked.

The fight will continue

Under the lockdown, all sectors including farming are greatly affected, and it will take a lot of effort to help these areas swing back to some form of normalcy.

Community radio continues to play a vital role in sharing information about the implementation of government programs, such as the supply of rations under the Targeted Public Distribution System, coverage of testing and treatment for Covid-19 under Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, direct cash transfers to female account holders of Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana, and advisories for farmers who have just harvested the wheat crop, ready to be sold in the market.

Community radio may not enjoy high patronage in terms of paid advertisements, but community broadcasters of more than 289 stations all across India are carrying out an essential role on the ground and/or remotely, bringing important information to people through innovative formats, awareness songs, storytelling, drama, and expert interviews with an unparalleled zeal that says, Together We Can!

Arti Manchanda Grover is program leader, communications, at the Sehgal Foundation. She holds a master’s degree in mass communication from Guru Jambheshwar University in Hisar, Haryana, and a journalism degree and business journalism and communication diploma from Delhi University.