Saturday, February 13, 2016

In Photos: A Day With Rural India's Barefoot Radio Producers

Last summer, in a tiny town called Orccha in central India, I met Ekta, Gauri and Kausalya - three women working for a community radio station called 'Radio Bundelkhand'. The radio station, now in its 8th year, serves farmers in about a dozen villages within a radius of about 70 km.
For two days, I followed these three women as they traveled around villages, interviewing farmers, recording their stories and later, broadcasting content that they created just for these farming community. Here are 10 photographs that describe the journey I took along with these barefoot journalists and their amazing audience.

1. It was a very hot summer day with the mercury hitting almost 40 degree Celsius. We had hired a car, so the journey was relatively easier. 

But on a normal day, the reporters travel in an auto rickshaw (also known as Tuk Tuk to some) from their office in Orchha to the entrance of a village. From their, its a long walk to the inside of the village.With them they carry a voice recorder, a notebook and, often a radio which they play for the entertainment of the villagers, many of whom do not have the money to buy a radio.

"We go everywhere - the field, the community pond or the backyard where people usually gather and rest during the hot afternoon. We don't expect them to leave their work and come, talk to us. So, we go them.," said Ekta the oldest of the three reporters. 

And just as she had said, I saw them walking right though a village called Vaswan, to a field where they interviewed two elderly farmers the challenges they were facing: lack of water, pest attacks etc. Every interview ended with the reporters promising the farmers to address the problems in their next week's program.

3. During these interviews, I had some mixed feelings: "Men are talking about their problems and that is good. But where are the women?" I was thinking and wondering if this was yet another place where women were barred from talking to outsiders.

I was wrong! Once the three women finished talking to the men, they walked to another part of the village. Someone called them and asked them to follow.  Soon, we were at the backyard of a house where, under a Neem tree, women and girls of all ages were gathering, all of them eager to talk!

4. Soon, the interviews began. Gauri - the youngest of the three radio reporters - began by talking to younger women about their opinion on the radio station and its program. Did they have any suggestions for improvement? They sure did!

"We want more news about vocational training and competitive examinations. Also,  please play more 'modern' songs on the radio," the young women urged.

5. The girls soon had to give way to older women who had been waiting patiently until now. They had a lot of to say! But first,  they all wanted to sing a song for other listeners of the radio station.

 Here - you can listen to a folk song the women sang. It is about a woman asking her father, why did he marry her off so early and then goes on to describe the problems she has had because of this early marriage. 

6. Their song over, the women turned to discussing the role of the radio in development of a farming community : "We don't have TV (because they don't have enough electricity to run  a TV). There are no cinema halls. The radio is our source of entertainment, information and education. This is our media, said the women. They then discussed how the radio's program was helping them become better farmers and also smarter businesswomen.
"We now know what is the market rate of each vegetable we grow because the radio gives us that information. Earlier, retailers used to fool us into selling at a very low price, but now they can't," they said.

7. From Vaswan, they proceeded to another village called Chitawar

Here, to my utter delight and surprise, the gathering included the village's oldest women. They sat with a radio in the middle, while young women and girls surrounded them. A few feet away, there was a buffalo chewing cud with a content look on its face. '

"Here, even the buffalo listens to a radio," the women joked.

8. And then there was some more singing and some more story telling. Men joined in the conversation with their own stories. 

One of them talked about the ill affect of child marriage and how the media (in this case, the radio) could and must help end that practice. Reporter Ekta recorded this. "There are still a lot of child marriages in this region, so we will definitely play this message," she said

9. And then everyone turned to me: "come, sit with us," some said. Others asked me to sing with them. "This is our radio, our program," they said again and again. 
So, I grabbed the opportunity to take a picture with these women who are keeping the media of radio alive and kicking in their region!

10. By evening, we were back at Orchha - the studio of the radio. The reporters immediately got busy editing their stories and recording the voice overs. Soon, it would be dark and they would go home - traveling for a minimum one hour in a rickety bus.

But right now, each one of them - including Kausalya who was 7 months pregnant - looked as though this studio and these stories was her entire world.

Months later, I still vividly see those faces - serious, full of concentration, trying to tell a story of the ground in a powerful way. And I hear the echo of what the women said "The radio is our source of entertainment, information and education."

 You can read my story on the community radio and the impact that it has been making by clicking on this link: Farmers Find their Voice Through Radio in the Badlands of India. 

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