The liberalisation of the Indian media was a watershed moment. It brought in genuine participative democracy. The fourth estate has ushered in unprecedented social and political changes, including increasing demands for holding political institutions to account and transparency in the functioning of public authorities.
But perhaps the most significant impact has been the encouragement of free speech and expression, a constitutional guarantee and a foundational human right, for which the media is responsible. While today public media — most notably, television news — is dictated to by giant multinational corporations and their caprices, the roots of a free media and its emancipatory potential lie firmly in community led and community-controlled media initiatives.
The radio as a medium soon became a key site for assertions of free speech and expression. Large swathes of remote areas in India, away from metropolitan centres, witness widespread illiteracy and for communities such as these, the expansive reach of radio waves and their cost-efficiency makes radio a highly relevant, effective form of communication. The first policy on community radio was implemented in 2002, but the availability of radio was extended to only educational institutions. Educational institutions were often unable to bear the expense of broadcast and transmission, and these radios remained largely underutilised.
In the four years after 2002, till the adoption of the new Policy Guidelines for Setting up Community Radio Stations in India, 2006, civil society organisations (CSOs) launched widespread advocacy efforts and demands for genuine democratisation of the medium. Their advocacy proved successful. The 2006 Policy Guidelines reflect the outcome of these efforts.
In 2006, when Community Radio opened up, there were three key efforts in Kutch, in Karnataka, and then in Dang. These efforts focused on awareness building and information dissemination. These efforts took into account the limitations of radio as a unidirectional medium, and considered how the genuine exercise of the rights to free speech and expression must also entail the ability to act, especially act against injustice. So Community Radio was tied in with an effective follow-up mechanism that would address rights violations.
Interventions in Dang, Gujarat
In this environment, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) developed the ‘Raan Rede’ intervention. Raan Rede translates to “Radio of the Jungle”. It was an effort to build a symbiotic relationship between Community Radio and a robust socio-legal intervention. It began in the Dang district of Gujarat in 2006 and 2007 and then again in 2011.
This unique initiative was driven and backed by CSJs law centre in Ahwa, Dang, called the Kanooni Salah Kendra. The intervention encompassed the entire spectrum of action, from awareness generation to creating a follow up mechanism for issues raised in the community for redressal of rights violations.
Community Radio is a “third way” approach to radio broadcasting. It is distanced from private or commercial interests through communal ownership, and from public broadcasting through a highly specific focus on the local community and its interests. It amounts to a radio broadcast or transmission service whose content is localised, contextual, and relevant to local communities, and whose ownership, operation, and control are vested in such communities. It enables individuals and groups and communities to tell and share their own stories and collective experiences and contribute to an independent media.
Community Radio for us is a means to strengthen the existing legal programme using creative means of legal awareness building.
The social and geographical context for Dang
Dang (or “The Dangs” as it is known bureaucratically) is a tribal district in the state of Gujarat, in western India. Tribal communities make up a large proportion of the population. The Bhils, Kukna (Kunvi), Varli, and Gamit are the major tribal groups in the region.
The Bhils have been lived in Dang for centuries and other tribes came to Dang in search of a livelihood. The Kukna migrated to this area from the Konkan, a coastal region in Maharashtra.
Historically, Dang has been characterised by considerable social stratification, from as far back as the precolonial period. Before British rule, Bhil kings ruled Dang (four chiefs and ten naiks). In the first census of 1872, there were 7,426 Bhils, 6,517 Kuknas, 2,491 Varlis, and 302 Gamit.
In the post-independence period, the situation of the Kuknas improved, but the situation of the Bhils has grown worse. The Kuknas were in a better position to benefit from education and other welfare schemes; they dominated the forest labour cooperatives and also made use of political reservations. The division of power between Kuknas and Bhils shifted.
This power dynamic continues to remain relevant in all aspects of Dangi life. The livelihood of the people of Dang is heavily dependent on natural resources and forests, economic endowments, and institutional arrangements. Due to the hilly terrain, people have limited livelihood options. Agriculture is limited, industrial activity is non-existent, and human development is poor. The primary source of livelihood for the tribal population of Dang is forest-based activities and agriculture.
The communities inhabiting the Dang region live in a land that is rugged, with dense forests and an undulating topography. Infrastructure is limited. Modes of transportation are difficult, and roadways are limited. This lack of accessibility has a historical dimension. During the period of colonial rule, Dang’s rich forests were plundered for their lumber.
This history of natural resource exploitation meant that successive governments invested little in infrastructural development within Dang. Such neglect extended not only to roads and bridges, but also to other state services like schools, anganwadi centres, and health centres. When the Raan Rede intervention began, Dang had a literacy rate of only 38 per cent.
Given the unique geography, topography, and socio political demography of the region, radio proved to be the most effective mechanism for large-scale awareness building on Human Rights issues. It was accessible, cost-effective, and had a wide reach that allowed for a significantly greater impact than other forms of information dissemination such as campaigns and print media.
The average paralegal can reach at best two villages in a day, while with radio we could reach close to 400 villages at once. The cost-efficiency of radio was thus one of its strong points.
- Promote the right to communication, facilitate freedom of speech and expression, encourage creativity and diversity, and contribute to a democratic process within a pluralist society.
- Provide educational and production related possibilities. They encourage local creative talents, cultivate local traditions, and broadcast an entertaining, educational, and development-promoting programme for their listeners.
- Secure the ownership of the radio or radio programmes in a way that ensures that local representatives of a visible community, or an interest community, own it.
- Are editorially independent of governments, trade bodies, religious institutions, and political parties in the compilation of their radio programmes.
- Make sure that marginalised groups and minorities have access to the radio, and secure as well as promote cultural and linguistic diversity.
- Make sure that listeners receive information from multiple sources, hear multiple perspectives, and allow space for opposing points of view from each person or group.
- Are organisations that work on a nonprofit basis in order to maintain their independence and are financed by a multitude of donors.
- Recognise and respect voluntary work and acknowledge the right to paid work for organisational matters and for the elaboration of working structures that are beneficial for all the people involved.
- Provide and adopt elaborate management forms, programme structures, and working conditions, which rule out any discrimination and are accessible to all the people involved, employees and voluntary helpers alike.
- Communication with other community radios in order to promote and increase understanding on questions of peace, tolerance, democracy, and development.
The team at the Dang law centre, Kanooni Salah Kendra (KSK), was already well versed with the medium to increase legal awareness and achieve social change. They had previously developed audio cassettes like ‘Kayda na Dastur’ which had received a positive response from community members. At the same time, the team consisted entirely of local residents and members of the Adivasi community. They were best suited to tackling the complexities of Community Radio and its unique socio-cultural location.
Central to Raan Rede’s strategy was the ability of the KSK to provide a follow-up mechanism. Raan Rede was never conceptualised as a stand-alone awareness programme. The broadcast was followed by concrete action, and cases of rights violations that were identified through Raan Rede (or through its influence) were handled by lawyers and paralegals at the KSK in Ahwa, Dang. The KSK was not only instrumental in the development and operation of Raan Rede, but it also played a significant role in making Raan Rede unique by providing it the capacity to address illegalities.
The KSK – Dang’s experience of working in the region formed the bedrock of several key decisions made by Raan Rede. For example, the use of entertainment as a key part of the awareness- building programme.
The team was aware that tamasha, a traditional folk drama, was widely popular and hence would be a powerful medium for building legal awareness. But the cost and organisational difficulties meant that tamasha was an unfeasible medium of communication. But fun was as significant a part of the programme as was legal knowledge and information. Shows like
‘Tivrapada na Tamasha’, a fictitious tale about a fictitious village called Tivrapada, became extremely popular and were a huge part of what drew community members to Raan Rede.
Baseline surveys and programme design
To understand the needs of the community, there was a comprehensive baseline survey of 90 villages and 1,780 families in Dang and Vansda block of Navsari district. The aim of the survey was to identify folktales, folk music, stories, experiences, and ideas that could be developed into a radio programme. Through the survey, they learnt that it was key to address social practices like gambling, alcohol addiction, denial of women’s rights, and cheating in welfare entitlements through a
Organisational learning and the way forward
At the outset, Raan Rede set itself the difficult task of building legal awareness within a cultural rights framework to promote and rejuvenate a powerful Dangi identity while addressing legal wrongdoing. The method chosen was that of a robust legal and cultural awareness building followed by speedy and effective follow up through listener groups and the KSK – Ahwa.
In following this approach, Raan Rede faced several hurdles, most notably technical issues and capacity related problems. But the key organisational takeaway for all the members of the Raan Rede family was that through an effective mix of technology and strength-in-community, the ostensibly insurmountable hurdles of geography, human resources, capital, and other inputs could be bypassed almost completely. At the same time, the tremendous success of the symbiotic model of Raan Rede— linking legal awareness with cultural rejuvenation convinced the organisation and its members and stakeholders of the viability of such a strategy. It formed the basis for a subsequent longer-term engagement within the same framework.