India — During a recent technical survey of community radio
in India conducted by my organization, International Media Action, I was invited to visit Sangham
Radio, This station in Zaheerbad, owned by the Deccan Development Society,
was the first community radio station to go on the air in India, in October of
Pete Tridish works with the Sangham
Radio staff in Telangana.
by Kanchan K. Malik
society has some 6,000 members, who earn their living as laborers and farmers.
All pay 50 rupees per year (about US$ 1) to support the radio station. All are
part owners of the station. The 6,000 members of the society are Dalits, the
lowest caste, which was once called “untouchable.” While discrimination based
on caste is now illegal, it is still pervasive in Indian society. Since most
land and wealth in India was acquired under conditions of legal discrimination,
most Dalits today continue to do the worst jobs, and most live in poverty.
The women from
the sanghams (women’s collectives) make lots of videos about issues of importance
to them. Even though many are illiterate, a number of the women have become
quite accomplished with audio and video recording and production. The women
show a great deal of concern about how they are represented in media. They
described the perceived difference between when they make videos or audio
reports versus the ones made by outsiders. Outsiders come with all the shots
planned out and a few words they want the women to say, all decided before the
filmmaker even arrives. Then when the video is finished, it seems like the
women had made the filmmakers point.
the women started, they were intimidated by all of the equipment. But, as they
learned to use it, they felt that they made much better videos and audio
reports themselves than the ones made by outsiders. (Reflecting on this, please
understand that I am paraphrasing the translations of what the women said to me
while I was there, rather than trying to recreate their exact words.)
about all programming is prerecorded, and then edited before going on air. The
station records two hours of programming per day. They do no live shows, and they
take no syndicated content.
this sort of visit, since radio engineers do not often visit stations like
this, I typically do as much troubleshooting as I can. We looked at issues with
their transmitter power output, their transmission lines, and lightning
protection, all of which the group was anxious to improve. I also remarked in
passing that with the existing equipment, it would be quite easy to repeat
shows later in the day, or replay certain “evergreen” programs or music. I
mentioned that most groups where I come from play their stations 24 hours a
day, with little more effort and great convenience for listeners who are
sometimes busy when a favorite program is on the air.
asked the women about this, and their disinterest in the idea was immediate. “We
all work all day in the fields; we don’t listen to radio there. We need to
talk, plan, make decisions, and sing together in the fields,” they said. “We
would not want to displace all those community hours together being entertained
by a radio, like passive consumers. We listen to radio in a focused time in the
evenings when we need to learn important new things, and we give it our attention
Pete Tridish is pictured with
P.V. Satheesh, director of the Deccan Development Society in Telangana. Photo courtesy DDS
This answer gave
a unique window upon their views on technology, and even more than that it gave
me a mirror to look at my own cultural attitudes and assumptions. It was
striking that they took the radio so seriously and paid full attention to it.
my world, radio is what you listen to when you are doing something else boring,
like driving, cooking, cleaning, working. And even more striking: for people in
wealthy countries, so much of our relationship to technology is that it is an
inexorable force that we must keep up with, whether it does us any good or not.
The concern for displacing our social relations with passive entertainment is
so far past for us, it is almost invisible. The Dalit women’s experience with agribusiness,
the Bhopal gas disaster, and “development” schemes has made them more
circumspect in adopting technologies which experts push. Their critical
analysis has a level of scrutiny beyond what most Westerners today are capable
of, and their resolve to make technology work for the outcomes they choose is
certainly could imagine reasonable arguments for other approaches to repeats of
their broadcast, but next time some hyped up new technology comes along that I
have to adopt, I will think of these women and how they feel that the choice is
truly their own to make.
more about the Deccan Development Society radio station from their website. It
includes a number of very thought-provoking quotes from these women, fewer than
10 percent of whom are literate. To read an outline of a typical radio program
broadcast on the station, visit http://ddsindia.com/www/undp.htm.
information on the work of the UNESCO Chair for Community Media, which arranged
my visit, including their Continuous Improvement Toolkit for Community Radio,
Pete Tridish, based in Philadelphia
in the United States, is the chief engineer at International Media Action, a nonprofit
community radio engineering crew.