Every morning at 7 am about 40,000-60,000 people in and around the village of Tilonia in Ajmer district of Rajasthan turn on their radio transistors and tune into 90.4 FM to listen to Norat Mal and Aarti Devi’s broadcast. The village’s relationship with Tilonia Radio started on November 9, 2009, when Norat, who belongs to Tilonia, was helped by frugal community radio expert Raghav Mahto and four other men and women from Tilonia in setting up a makeshift broadcasting studio in Barefoot College’s Tilonia Craft shop.
Raghav was a radio repairman from Mansoorpur in Vaishali district of Bihar who learnt how to broadcast radio programmes by a hit-and-try method. With an FM station range of 15 km, Raghav received fame almost overnight. From 2001 to 2006, Raghav FM attracted thousands of listeners until the local authorities noticed his unlicensed station and put shutters down on it. With Raghav’s experience, setting up a community radio station in Tilonia became much easier. Another factor that helped was the name of Barefoot College on the campus of which the broadcasting studio was to be set up. The idea to set up a community radio station was suggested by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan founder Aruna Roy and Late journalist Ajit Bhattacharya, and its set up was facilitated by Digital Empowerment Foundation Founder-Director Osama Manzar. The thought behind it was to share the rich collection of audio/visual archive and social message driven puppetry script with a wider population that was not just restricted to Tilonia. And so, Tilonia Radio helped share these audio files through the medium of radio. While the challenge was not in setting up an infrastructure, it was in generating/collecting content and using technology to broadcast it. The challenge is quite similar even today. While Norat has access to unlimited information now, the challenge is to pick content which would prove to be useful for the people of Tilonia and villages around it. Before Norat got comfortable with using digital tools (he still considers himself to be a novice though), collecting data involved only primary ground research.
It was only in 2012, that Norat was introduced to the amazing world of Internet. Today, fieldwork actually compliments his online research or vice-versa. The World Wide Web, and Facebook especially, have been extremely beneficial for this purpose, believes Norat. “I go into the field and collect content while Aarti handles the editing, rest is all Ram bharose (left to God),” Norat says and laughs. “These days, I get a lot of information on the Internet,” he adds. Norat explains there is no dearth of information online. Besides carrying out regular interviews, interactions and vox-pops with the village, he looks for royalty-free broadcast material available on the Internet and often imbibes it for Tilonia Radio. The government is always coming up with new schemes or policies, so he also has to keep an eye out for gazette notifications. However, lately all the government websites have been through or are going through a revamp. The position of content is being reshuffled. “For example, the new layout of the rural development and labour ministries has made it difficult for me. I feel lost and have to literally search for information on every page of the websites,” he says. This raises an important question. With the incumbent government so gung-ho about Digital India, they’re paying key attention towards making government websites look more appealing.
However, in this effort of making the websites more “appealing” are they losing out on ensuring its ease of use or accessibility? Are there more people, like Norat, who feel lost going through the new government websites? In the middle of our conversation, Norat is interrupted by two men from the village who’ve come with a set of papers. After his interaction with them, Norat tell me, “This was my offline community radio. As I raise awareness among people about the Right to Information (RTI) through the radio, people from the village and nearby often come to me for more details about filing an RTI or for detailed information about some government scheme or another. The good thing about a community radio is that it not only supports people online but also offline.” Norat and Aarti frequently organise offline awareness vsessions for villagers as well. Most recently, on January 12, 2016, a special event was organised in which several activists were invited to talk about pension, ration and MGNREGA. The event was part of an upcoming 13-episode broadcast series called ‘Ab Ki Baar Mera Adhikaar’. Returning back to our conversation about using the Internet for content generation, Norat says, “I don’t know much about Facebook, except how to accept friends and like what people say. In fact, I hardly post anything on Facebook. Instead, I like to read what others write.”
Facebook has been a platform where harbingers of community radio have formed a community of their own. There are dedicated pages for various community radio stations that share content that they have broadcasted. If their content is applicable or useful for another region, it is picked up by the respective community radio station. There is also a document on the Google Drive where everyone can share open content. This way, community radio stations get to share content with each other, which would otherwise not have been possible. This creates a larger sense of community — the community radio content that was otherwise available for a population within the 15-km radius becomes available and useful for people across the country through the Internet, and subsequently the radio. “Today, you can apply for all kinds of identification cards — such as Ration Card, Aadhaar Card and Wage Card, among others — online. There are a lot of good government schemes, especially for girl child and education — that are available for the people. The people just don’t know about it. So, as a community radio broadcaster, I have the responsibility to make people aware about such schemes, which is why I have to stay on a look out on the Internet for any new or upcoming government scheme,” he adds. Tilonia Radio is live every day in Hindi and Marwadi from 7-9 am, 12-2 pm and 6-9 pm. Digital Empowernment Foundation (DEF) provides Tilonia Radio with technical, strategic and content advisory support. The Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi is also an online support provider to the community radio station.
It was DEF who had recommended and asked Raghav to assist Norat in establishing a low-cost broadcasting studio in Tilonia, and then provided further training for content generation and sustainability. On July 21, 2015, under the Wireless for Communities (W4C) programme implemented by DEF in partnership with the Internet Society (ISOC), DEF set up a wireless Internet connection at Barefoot College in an effort to take the Internet to areas where there was no access. Radio Tilonia now uses this Wi-Fi connection for its broadcasting purposes. Radio Jagriti in Birni village of district Giridih inv Jharkhand and Radio Bulbul in Bhadrak district of Odisha are two other community radio stations for which DEF provides financial, technical, strategic and content support. Henvalvani Community Radio in Chamba region of Uttarakhand is a partner for DEF’s Soochna Seva programme in the state. Over the years, DEF has also recognised the efforts of at least 25 others by awarding them with Manthan Awards under the category of Community Radio which was introduced in 2007. DEF Strongly believes in the power of the community as a tool of mass communication and information dissemination.