13/12/2015 5:07 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Voice Of A Rural Community May Fall Silent - Unless We Step In

Eleven-year-old Deepu went missing in Hoskote, 17km from his own village of Obalapura, Karnataka. He got lost in a crowd and his parents were unable to locate him. When Sarathi Jhalak, the local community radio station got involved, the community rallied together, and Deepu was found by listeners who decided not to ignore the young boy crying by the roadside. But now, Sarathi Jhalak struggles with a lack of funds and has gone off air temporarily.

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Indian child with radio

Eleven-year-old Deepu (name changed) went missing in Hoskote, 17km from his village of Obalapura, Karnataka. He got lost in a crowd and his parents were unable to locate him. Vijay, who runs a computer centre in the village, got in touch with Sarathi Jhalak, the local community radio station, and asked for help in looking for the boy. The community rallied together, and Deepu was found by listeners who decided not to ignore the young boy crying by the roadside.

We all walk the same streets, as strangers. Even as threads between people stretch thin, the radio opens a portal of connectedness for its listeners. The voice, its timbre and inflections speak to you. It is more personal than the written word. It especially gets your attention if it speaks in your language, and discusses your concerns. That is the beauty of community radio -- it is tailor-made for the listener, and makes them feel like they are part of a community.

The team at Sarathi Jhalak

Sarathi Jhalak caters to a community of 15 lakh people and covers 150 villages in the outskirts of Bangalore near Hoskote. These are the areas where people servicing the IT hub in Whitefield live. Jobs in nearby Bangalore and agriculture are the main sources of income here. The quality of education accessible is not great, and the dropout rate is high. Shamantha, the founder of Sarathi Jhalak, felt that a radio station would be an easy way to reach the people from nearby villages.

"There are the literates, and there are the informed educated," says Shamantha, "The students in this area are first-generation literates and they need something more to bolster their education, and to become empowered." She points out that merely being educated need not necessarily make a person knowledgeable. "When a student comes here and has to make a programme about something they're familiar with, they are able to call the project their own. They find resources on their own. They run shows for the listeners, as semi-experts talking about something they have seen their entire lives. It also supplements the cultural scene, where students interact with local writers, theatre personalities, activists, lawyers, health workers and local women's collectives," says Shamantha.

Shamantha speaks at an event.

Sarathi Jhalak currently provides internships to 24 college students in and around Hoskote. Shamantha trains them in radio as well as print journalism. In fact, anybody can come to the station, receive basic training in the use of equipment, and begin broadcasting and talking about things that they feel are important.

Ambika, 26, is a broadcaster who was unable to complete her studies. Joining Sarathi Jhalak, she says, has opened up her life. She now knows doctors, lawyers, artistes in nearby areas and through her, so does the rest of the community. For her, it broke down barriers of self-consciousness. She is thrilled when people ask her parents if they are "RadioAmbika's" parents. "There were times, when I would feel awkward. For example, I hosted a show on public health, where people with some very personal issues would give the doctors intimate details about their bodies, on air. The matter-of-factness and the doctor's professionalism made me realise that one needs to seek help without hesitation," she reminisces.

Sarathi Jhalak was recognised as one of eight community projects in the country for using social innovation by the Ministry of Broadcasting and Information. But now, it struggles with a lack of funds. "While everyone in my family appreciates the social currency the job brings, they are not happy that the money from the station does not fund even travelling costs. I am committed to working for as long as I can, but we'll have to see," says Ambika.

Their equipment is also under repair forcing the radio channel to shut down for a bit until some funds can be arranged to replace the most important machines. "We have taken a loan of 2 lakhs to be back on air immediately. We are hoping to raise funds that allow us to pay a little bit more to our staff too. They do such a great job of researching and finding facts to present to the community," says Shamantha.

While Sarathi Jhalak has gone off air temporarily, its voice cannot be silenced. Currently, a fundraiser has been started to help the channel get back on its feet.

Radio stations and other such media are vital in bringing the community together. Without them, several voices would go unheard.

If you would like to help Sarathi Jhalak be back on air, click here.

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