Riding wave of popularity, Jammu and Kashmir’s Balti news service back on AIR

ByAshiq Hussain, Srinagar
Apr 04, 2023 09:14 AM IST

Cancellation of the Jammu and Kashmir’s 30-min daily programme, widely popular Balti-speaking areas across J-K, gilgit, Ladakh, PoK, had left listeners disheartened last year

Following continued demand from the tribal community, Balti news service has found its way back onto All India Radio (AIR) Srinagar a year after discontinuation. The short-wave service, which had been on air for 33 years, was widely popular in the Balti-speaking areas across Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan and the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

AIR Srinagar officials said a truncated 10-minute Balti news service returned on April 1 on FM-2. (HT File)
AIR Srinagar officials said a truncated 10-minute Balti news service returned on April 1 on FM-2. (HT File)

Speaking of the same, officials said a truncated 10-minute Balti news service returned on April 1 on FM-2 following a growing chorus for its revival from the community.

“The 10-minute Balti news service was started again this month on FM-2. Earlier it was broadcast on short-wave service which has been discontinued,” an official of AIR Srinagar, said, adding, “There is a considerable Balti speaking population. Keeping in mind their demands, the news service division (NSD) once again started this service.”

The cancellation of the then half-hour daily programme featuring development issues, talks, music and news had agonised thousands of its listeners spread across the region irrespective of the physical boundaries.

A 20-minute Balti programme materialised on the directions of the Union home ministry in March 1988 presenting Indian viewpoints across the border. An additional 10-minute news service of the programme debuted on air immediately after Kargil war, which had prompted Radio Pakistan’s Islamabad and Skardu to also broadcast news in Balti language.

The 10-minute Balti news service, in its new slot, is broadcast at 6 pm daily on 103.5 FM-2 against the original schedule of 7.20 pm on short-wave.

After the scrapping of the programme, the Balti-speaking people had approached multiple forums in Delhi including PMO, information and broadcasting ministry, tribal affairs ministry and Prasar Bharti for its restart.

Community on Cloud-9

Raja Iftikhar Hussain, in his 60s, president of association of Baltis in Himalayan Indus region of Ladakh and J&K and advisor from Kashmir for All India Balti Association, said the community was happy, but were looking for the restart of the 20-minute programme as well. “The news has started but we also demand the start of the programme. Everyone is happy. Baltis not only live in J&K and Ladakh but also in Uttarakhand and Shimla,” he said.

An emotional Arif Ali, a 51-year-old Balti news listener from Srinagar, said, “It was an overwhelming feeling. Many of our people, particularly elderly, were pushing us for its restart, and now they are happy.”

A majority of Balti-speaking population live in Pakistan’s Baltistan and PoK, but Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir’s Srinagar, Tral, Ganderbal, Bandipora and Ramban areas also have a significant chunk.

The programmes aired by AIR service cover development issues, feature songs, religious naats and qasidas and special requests on Sundays. Their popularity transcends borders, proving the reach of its “soft power”.

An AIR Srinagar official said the demand to revive the Balti programme in its full length was to be taken by top officials, adding, “AIR’s programming section has to take this decision.”

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