Thursday, May 11, 2006

A metaphor of India April 9, 2006

Raghav FM Mansoorpur l is a radio station which used to beam Bhojpuri and filmi songs, give community news and advice on all sorts of things, including AIDs and polio. Raghav Mahto, a 22 year old radio mechanic, started it three years ago. Bored with running an electronics repair shop in Gudri Bazar near Mansoorpur village in the Vaishali district of Bihar, Raghav stumbled one day on an innovative way to broadcast radio from his thatched roof shop by slinging a transmitter on a bamboo pole with a total investment of Rs 50.The do-it-yourself community station became an instant success.

Raghav was happy and popular, besieged by requests from his fans to play their favorite songs. He earned Rs 2000 a month—a nice return on his Rs 50 investment--fed his family of five and won the respect of villagers in the surrounding districts of Muzaffarpur, Vaishali and Saran within a 35 km radius of his station. "I air devotional songs at dawn and dusk”, he told BBC, and this made him more popular with women than men. Two weeks ago, on March 27, the station was closed for not possessing a license and violating the Indian Telegraphs Act. “A formal police complaint has also been lodged against Raghav”, said Sanjeev Hans, the Vaishali district magistrate. A three-member team of the union communications and IT ministry seized his equipment.

Disappointed villagers are learning to live with silence. They could tune in to AIR’s self-righteous programs, but they want to hear the chat of their community--who stole whose cow, their MLA’s broken promises, about the approaching Vaishali festival--and they want to hear it in their local dialect. And pray, what is wrong with thousands of Ragavs offering community broadcasting radio across the country? What if Raghav had started a newspaper? No problem. What if he wanted a TV news channel? No problem, again. But giving news on the radio is illegal, except by AIR.

Nothing quite dramatizes the gap between the aspirations of the Indian people and the stifling bureaucratic Indian state than the long struggle waged by our people for freedom to broadcast over radio. Kicked and dragged to break AIR’s monopoly, the government has reluctantly offered a few crumbs. A few years ago some FM stations were allowed to broadcast after paying outrageous fees. Soon they were bankrupt; the government was forced to abolish fees and agreed to share revenues with the private stations. With entry eased, 340 stations are about to begin, but they are not allowed to give news.

Raghav FM Mansoorpur l is the quintessential metaphor of a diverse and plural India. Mohandas Gandhi would have celebrated the idea of a radio listening community to unite our caste ridden, factionalised village. Community radio can initiate development, empower women and dalits, and advocate legislation from below. The government has permitted colleges to run campus radio stations, but the license process is so cumbersome that few have got going. The lesson from Raghav’s story is the need to de-licence community radio based on an “open spectrum” policy rather than licensing individual radio stations on a case-by-case basis. The only thing to ensure is transparent enforceable rules to prevent hogging of airwaves. Alas, since we do not have an enabling state, it is time for a PIL in the courts to test the twisted mind that allows one to deliver news in print and on TV but not on the radio.


About Health Blog said...

The government has permitted colleges to run campus radio stations, but the license process is so cumbersome that few have got going.

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