Radio Ujjas:Greening The Ears For The Kutch People

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Kutch, the largest district of Gujarat, in India has distinct geographical features. With 51% of its land covered by desert and with scant and irregular rains, Kutch is under constant threat of drought. In absence of perennial water sources, the saline desert soil is unable to retain sufficient amount of moisture, leaving the region arid and unproductive. The government effort to stall the sinister advancing desert by widespread plantation of Prosopis juliflora, a weed, has led to further destruction of grazing land which caused the nomadic tribes to settle here with their cattle.

The earthquake in 2001 turned everything topsy-turvy. Kutch suddenly came in focus and massive relief and rehabilitation programmes carried out after the quake helped the Kutchis to reconstruct their shelters.

Lack of education and inadequate nutrition, early and frequent child bearing, the double burden of household responsibility and wage labour and above all violence further marginalise the women. A tremendous rise in the incidence of violence against women has occurred in this area, due to increase in social-domestic conflicts. Already severe patriarchal norms and behaviour take perverse forms in the face of greater economic pressures, and greater resistance from women. In such a socio-economic background, community radio has played a distinct role in the society of Kutch.

Organisational efforts

Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan
It was in response to the situation faced by the women during the droughts of 1985-’88 that the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) was set up in 1989. KMVS was initiated as an independent organisation of rural women that would work towards developing the women’s capabilities and harness their collective strength. With the intervention of KMVS in this area, women have become more able to access and define their own and communities’ needs. Their ability to analyse their own situations and take ownership of programmes is definitely a positive outcome of a long process of education and conscientisation.

It has also enabled women to articulate ‘new problems’ or issues in a systematic and sustained manner. With the empowerment of a network of women’s groups at the village level (sangathans), women are articulating the need to equip themselves with more information and skills in order to intervene successfully in the larger social and political process.

From its inception, the organisation has concentrated on building local leadership and creating women’s groups (sangathans). KMVS has concentrated primarily in the remote and less accessible villages. Today there are independent sangathans in each of the four talukas that they are working in. The organisation today has more than 10,000 members organised into mahila mandals (women’s groups) in 165 villages in five talukas. The mahila mandals in the villages are organised and federated into the taluka sangathans. All the taluka sangathans federate into Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan.

KMVS has set up issue-based units for education, health, savings and credit, marketing and design support, legal aid, panchayati raj and communication, which support the taluka sangathans with specialised training inputs and resource persons who support planning and management of village level activities. The organisation also engages itself on environmental issues and works full-fledged on natural resource management.

Ujjas Mahiti Kendra
Members of the sangathans have over the years come together around a variety of issues. Educational interventions started in 1992 with the literacy camps. KMVS is now focusing on adolescent girls’ education, basic functional literacy with sangathan members and development of context specific educational curricula on different issues for literates and neo-literates. The educational activity was started in two blocks. The idea of its extension took a shape of ‘Ujjas Mahiti Kendra’ (Ujjas Information Centre). The Mundra Mahila Vikas Sangathan established Ujjas Mahiti Kendra and started publishing a newsletter named ‘Ujjas’. Its principal objective was to document and disseminate different types of information among village people, particularly women. It is in simplified Kutchi and Gujarati and easy to read for the neo-literates. Today, around 2500 copies are circulated so that the sangathan members get to know about sangathan activities and people get a view of rural women.

Drishti media collective
Drishti is a group of media professionals working on issues of gender justice, human rights and development. It was founded as a non-profit Trust in 1993, with a firm faith in the ability of video, theatre, radio, other media and the arts to contribute to seek to document alternative histories, give expression to voices on the margins, create public awareness and build public opinion, mobilise people to action, and lobby with structures of authority. Drishti believes that social communication need not be dry, boring, pedantic or depressing. In fact, we believe that good form and technique must be used to communicate issues of social importance more effectively.

Towards radio
But even Ujjas had to face a big hurdle, the literacy level in Kutch is very low and there are areas where it is nil. But since Kutch has a vast area, the distance between villages make the educational activity difficult. So a medium was thought of that could enable to reach out to masses and radio appeared to be an appropriate medium. Low literacy, far remote villages and that too in border area and poverty do not let the villagers take full advantage of the media like newspaper and television. These two mass media automatically become relatively ineffective as those nomads whose main occupation is animal breeding and herding, inhabit most of the Kutch and many of them stay out of Kutch during summer because of their cattle. But they all try to keep themselves informed by keeping a radio transistor set. The survey conducted during 1998-’99 indicated radio as the most used medium. Using it would definitely expand the outreach of our education programme to the non-literate also who reside in the far-flung villages of Kutch. Taking all these aspects into consideration, it was decided to use radio as a tool for this development communications package.

Kunjal Paanje Kutchji:
The government made a provision for 33% reservation for women in Panchayat bodies in 1995. There was a constant demand from the mahila sarpanchs for training, proper guidance and to make the environment more conducive for a woman sarpanch to administer in this hegemonic society. On this demand, a serial was conceived in docu-drama format. This radio programme ‘Kujal Paanje Kutchji’ (Sarus crane of our Kutch) started its broadcast from All India Radio, Bhuj station on 16th December, 1999, with a plan to continue broadcast for a year in 53 episodes. The central focus of the serial was the participation of women in political processes, specifically panchayats at the village level, which was explored through the character of Rani, the first woman sarpanch of Ujjas village. This serial, discontinued due to the earthquake, was re-launched on 24th January 2001. The initial publicity of this programme was done through posters in 408 villages and road shows in some villages. Again people of Kutch responded to it with equal enthusiasm and Kunjal managed to draw more than 1,400 letters from its audience.

Kutch Kuchhato:
‘Kutch Kuchhato’ was a 5 to 6 minute documentary module that featured interviews, thereby ensuring a committed space to the voices of people from Kutch. This section also helped in disseminating critical information. Interviews, whether in the field or in the studio, used to be recorded by a team of 9 village-based reporters educated on an average up to 7th standard. KMVS and Drishti conducted a series of training for this team to prepare them for the task of being reporters of a radio programme, including orientation to development, social justice and gender issues, journalism, technical radio production, interviewing methods, etc.

A radio partnership:
This programme was the result of a partnership between several groups and individuals. It was produced by KMVS, directed by Drishti Media Collective, a media NGO, based in Ahmedabad and written by Paresh Naik, an Ahmedabad based writer and filmmaker. The Centre for Alternatives in Education, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad provided support in conducting village-based surveys to assess the impact of the radio programme on the ground. The programme was financially supported by UNDP-GOI, including the cost of commercial airtime.

Underscoring Kutchiyat:
The regional identity of Kutch in Gujarat is distinct and well defined, and is an emotional identification point for most Kutchis. Hence, this programme was consciously planned as a vehicle for public articulation and expression of Kutchi identity. The Kutchi dialect has no written form. A preliminary village-based survey conducted by KMVS to assess the media habits of rural Kutchis revealed that there was a great demand amongst audiences for listening to Kutchi programme. Hence, our choice of language was Kutchi.

Tu Jiyaro Ai :
The overwhelming response that ‘Kunjal Paanje Kutchji’ got, encouraged us to rebroadcast it. The rebroadcast resumed but had to be discontinued due to the earthquake. KMVS immediately started a bi-weekly broadcast of a new 15-minute radio programme called ‘Tu Jiyaro Ai’ (to be alive) in March 2001 in the aftermath of the quake, once again with the support of Drishti Media Collective. The programme was in a magazine format and features a range of interviews, songs and profiles to capture and grapple with the range of issues to air and share their concerns about rehabilitation.

Kutch Lokji Vaani:
‘Kutch Lokji Vaani’ was the third programme produced for broadcast in All India Radio’s sponsored programme category. The broadcast started on 28th July, 2002. This programme conceived in a way that could present a mirror to the society and remind people of their uplifting past. This programme was to cover their obvious as well as hardly visible concerns by providing a platform to question government malfunctioning, its policies, and to address community. To address these requirements three separate capsules were designed for ‘Kutch Lokji Vaani’, such as ‘Pardafash’ (Expose), ‘Musafari’ (Travelogue) and ‘Lokvani’ (People’s Voice). Apart from these three capsules there were two other segments that needed

The response
The choice of making the serial in Kutchi language was amply vindicated by 1560 postcards received. 70% of the postcards were written by men, 16.55% by women and 13.5% by mixed groups. This large number of postcards, received from women is more encouraging as the literacy levels amongst women in Kutch is 26.5% (including urban population). The Centre for Alternatives in Education, IIM-A was involved in researching and designing the listenership and feedback surveys for this programme. The first village level survey, conducted after the broadcast of 12 episodes showed a dedicated listenership of 6%, which rose to 66% after 10 months of broadcast. Listenership amongst radio-owners in Kutch went up to 80%. This programme in specific and KMVS as an organisation were awarded the Chameli Devi Award 2000 by the Media Foundation, New Delhi in March 2001 for overall media efforts including Ujjas newsletter.

Publicity campaign
It was very easy to let our dedicated audience know about this programme even before a systematic publicity campaign took off. Kunjal Paanje Kutchji was already on air and there was already a communication link with the audience through letters. Their letters used to be responded by writing them back and we started informing them about Kutch Lokji Vaani. Radio promos and jingles were prepared and broadcast from the All India Radio, Rajkot, from where the programme was to be broadcast. During its preview before the sangathan (local community organisation) members, all of them took responsibility to publicise the programme and inform the villagers about it when they got back to villages.

A systematic campaign was designed. The sangathan and KMVS staff were involved and it took off on 24th July, 2002 and continued for next ten days. The sangathan staff joined the reporter team and went to more than 500 villages covering whole of Kutch and its 10 blocks. Announcements on megaphone, postering and wall writing etc. happened. Street meetings were addressed and road shows took place with playing music of the programme. Promos and jingles were played on radio and it continued for a month. On the day broadcast began, the reporter team, divided in 10 blocks, selected a village and made the villagers listen to the firstst episode. To make sure that this community listening continues, for the year they continued to go to different villages in their respective blocks and gathered villagers to listen to the programme.

Research and documentation
It was absolutely necessary to get acquainted with the matter before it is talked about on radio. For the Musafari module, many places were visited and people consulted especially locals and an attempt was made to extract their views regarding a particular legend or folktale. Many elders and poet-historians were consulted. The songs, proverbs and anecdotes were identified for each episode and suitable music was recorded. For music documentation, music trips were carried out recording songs sung among different communities on different legends and historical figures. Music for a few was composed and got recorded in studio. Even interviews were recorded to support the story and for reference that could be helpful in scripting. For the Pardafash segment, the written document was extremely necessary to support the statement. Details and figures regarding the damage and the reconstruction activities after the earthquake were collected and frequently referred to. We relied on many sources to identify issues e.g. our reporters, the sangathan members, SETU workers, newspaper, letters and phone calls. Once an issue came up, the reporter visited the village and met the people to know their view and cross check it again and again. For the Lokvani segment, first hand information by the reporters mattered. Most of the issues came up during their routine village visits. In most of the stories the reporters played merely the role of compere and the participants’ views got preference.

During these four years of the project we have learnt many things. We realised radio’s affinity with oral, non-literate cultures; it can easily reflect and generate debate on local concerns, needs, priorities and issues. This highly localized programming brings pluralism into our broadcast culture; it gives a sense of selfhood and how a radio programme in local language affirms local cultural identities. This type of programmes are participatory in contrast to the alienated spectatorship on the part of the audience in mainstream media.

Full version of this paper can be accessed at


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