The moment Rachna, 19, steps behind the microphone she is a changed person. A radio jockey, she loves to communicate with her listeners on the community radio station in Lalitpur, a district in the impoverished, drought-affected Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s largest state.
Now a role model for girls in her village, she remembers a time when she was not even allowed to leave the house without a male escort. Today, of course, Rachna’s voice is heard in every home in the remote corners of Lalitpur.
Says the radio jockey sitting comfortably at the radio station located in Alapur, a small hamlet in Birdha block of Lalitpur, “I can’t believe I am now a RJ broadcasting and anchoring radio programmes. What makes it even more meaningful is that I get to talk about actual issues like mother and child mortality that affect my community.”
So committed is Yadav that after completing her daily chores, she is motivated enough to walk three kilometres to reach the Lalit Lokvani office in Alapur to anchor shows. She hold discussions on issues like breastfeeding and mother and child nutrition, which are two concerns that need immediate attention in Lalitpur.
Both Rachna and Yadav are part of a new communication revolution that has swept rural UP in the form of the much-needed Lalit Lokvani, the first community radio station in the state. In September, with the click of a button on the console, Ranvir Prasad, District Magistrate of Lalitpur, and Jugal Kishore, Joint Director of Bharatendu Natak Akademi and well-known theatre personality, made history by launching the radio service to reach over 80 villages.
What makes this radio station unique is the fact that it has encouraged women from within the community to take to reporting and anchoring programmes on issues that concern them. These focused scripts that are usually written with women in mind – draw tremendous responses, especially because it uses the typical Bundelkhandi dialect.
The community radio station had begun in 2007 by narrow casting programmes to a few villages. The station received its wireless operating licence (WOL) in August 2010, which allowed it to officially broadcast on a frequency of 90.4 megahertz to villages within a span of 15 kilometres around Lalitpur.
An initiative of UNICEF Lucknow, Sai Jyoti, the NGO that runs the station, and Ideosync Media Combine, community radio is being pegged as an important means of community outreach in UP, a state where the people have been facing multiple problems for decades.
But can these young women radio jockeys make community radio the powerful tool of information dissemination it is made out to be? Explains Rachna Sharma, Behaviour Change Communication Specialist, UNICEF Lucknow, “In the three years that Lalit Lokvani had been narrow casting to the villages it demonstrated what a powerful tool community radio is. The women anchoring these shows focus not only individuals shaping lives of people but also facilitate a more horizontal spread of information.”
But running a radio station is not cheap and Lalit Lokvani has to generate Rs 70,000 (US$1=Rs 44.3) every month to keep going. While UNICEF Lucknow plans to support the station until 2012, the team at Lalitpur has already started working out ways to generate money with on-air advertisements.
Vidya Galav, 20, another talented RJ on Lalitpur Lokvani, couldn’t agree more. As she put it, “I believe community radio is the ultimate agent of social change that will liberate our mothers, daughters and sisters from their mental and physical shackles. Through the radio they can listen and learn that women can go beyond the role that society has laid down for them and transform themselves.”