Even as in a district of neighbouring Chhattisgarh, people were rushing to pay obeisance at the site where a 71-year-old woman had committed sati in Chechar village a week ago, in rural Andhra Pradesh, a group of illiterate Dalit women were busy making waves, of the radio kind.
A group of Scheduled Caste women, led by Narsamma of Machnoor village, some 110 km northwest of Hyderabad, created history when Sangham Radio, the first rural community radio station in the state, went on air on Wednesday. “Akka chellenlu podaame mana sanghamku maatlada podaame” (Come sisters let us go to our Sangham to talk) the radio crackled as Justice P.B. Sawant, a retired Supreme Court judge, switched on the 50watt transmitter at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. It wasn’t just a coincidence that Justice Sawant inaugurated the station. It was he who gave the landmark judgement in 1995 that ended the state control of air waves.
While the incident in Chechar was another reminder of regressive mentality, Machnoor women are in sync with time and the concerns that come with it. Through their station they want to spread awareness about human rights as well as eco-agriculture. Their’s is the first all-women community radio station in Asia. It is owned, managed and operated by women from marginalsed rural communities.
The broadcast can be heard in a radius of 25km, covering 100 villages and a population of about 50,000. The radio is facilitated by and licensed to the Deccan Development Society (DDS), an NGO working in the district. “The women want to use this new media space to save their dying language and culture, spread message of sisterhood, eco-agriculture, women's control over seeds and a host of other issues,” P.V. Satheesh, DDS director, pointed out.
Justice Sawant compared the event to the revolution started 150 years ago by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule when he opened a school for SC girls. He exhorted the women to use the radio to reclaim their rights and realise a true democracy is distinct from the electoral democracy— which abandons people once elections are over.
The Sangham Radio, which will broadcast for about 90 minutes every day, for now, is expected to grow in time and content.