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Sunday, Oct 20, 2019

‘Gurgaon Ki Awaaz’ radio station talks about women’s issues

Chahat Chowk is a programme the Gurgaon Ki Awaaz radio station started in 2013 in collaboration with the UNESCO Chair on Community Media in Gurugram.

gurgaon Updated: May 28, 2019 15:15 IST
Kankana Roy Jain
Kankana Roy Jain
Preeti Jhakra and Sharmila Sharma hosting an episode of Chahat Chowk, a programme the Gurgaon Ki Awaaz radio station started in 2013 in collaboration with the UNESCO Chair on Community Media in Gurugram.
Preeti Jhakra and Sharmila Sharma hosting an episode of Chahat Chowk, a programme the Gurgaon Ki Awaaz radio station started in 2013 in collaboration with the UNESCO Chair on Community Media in Gurugram.(Parveen Kumar/HT Photos)

Tucked away in the lanes of Udyog Vihar is a community radio station, one where radio jockeys invite you in for a cup of tea if you tell them you are outside, one where you will not hear Bollywood music, but a whole lot of raginis, maithilis, baul geet. Gurgaon ki Awaaz, the 10-year-old radio station that airs on 107.8 FM, can be heard up to 15-20km in the villages around Udyog Vihar.

In the last six years, the radio station, set up by non-profit organisation The Restoring Force, has managed to break the deafening silence around women’s sexual and reproductive health among its listeners.

Chahat Chowk, a programme the radio station started in 2013 in collaboration with the UNESCO Chair on Community Media, was designed as a community learning programme. Commonwealth of learning (COL) provided financial support for the first two seasons of the radio programme. The format involved radio jockeys going to villages, meeting the villagers, and discussing sexual and reproductive health issues among the people of Mullahera. In fact, that is also how the show got its name. Sharmila Sharma, the presenter of the show, says, “We decided to call it Chahat Chowk, as all our discussions would happen at chowks and chaupals of the villages, and the show revolved around the people’s chahat (desire) to break the shackles (of society) and speak of things they had never spoken about (publicly before).”

In its third season now, Chahat Chowk has emerged as one of the radio station’s most popular shows. Recounting the journey, Sharma says, “The first time I spoke to the people of Mullahera about sexual and reproductive health, I remember there was reticence, giggles and some solemn faces that seemed to be asking for help.”

The village, comprising industrial workers, migrant labourers, drivers, watchmen and domestic workers, had never discussed such topics—they were completely taboo. Arti Jaiman, director of the radio station, says, “Understandably, they were initially shocked, and it took them a while to warm up to us. They trusted Sharmila; that mattered.”

Jaiman recollects how after a few weeks, the stories started coming out. She says, “There were a lot of stories—of non-consensual sex, marital rape, pregnancy and contraception myths. There were men who did not know about the menstrual cycle. There were women who took pride in hiding their sexual pain and problems from their men.”

Chahat Chowk is aired every Saturday, the first half hour dedicated to narrating stories picked up from villagers and the remaining half hour a question-answer session, wherein an expert addresses callers’ queries. Identities of callers are never revealed.

In the comfort of the anonymity that radio offered, people started talking about their problems. But even as they were addressed and ground-level progress was made, there were some listeners who were not happy with the show. Jaiman and Singh recollect how, initially, it was difficult to gain the trust of the community and convince listeners who considered the show’s content vulgar and inappropriate.

One such listener was JK Tailor. Tailor was among the several inhabitants of Mullahera who felt that the people over at the community radio station understood and attached significance to their plights; they found solace in the programmes. So when he heard Chahat Chowk for the first time, he called up the radio station and lambasted them. “Yeh kya ashleel cheez suna rahe ho? (what is this obscene content you are making us listen to?)”.

He continued to listen to the show, however, and in a month’s time, came to appreciate its educational aspect.

Like Tailor, there are many listeners in Mullahera who make it a point to never miss this show; they say it has improved their lives.

The show is currently a one-hour-long question-answer session with an expert gynecologist or an ANM (Auxiliary-Nurse-Midwife) worker from Gurugram Civil Hospital or Mullahera Health Centre. Such is the impact of the show that in the last six years, around 30-40 women from Mullahera have flocked to the hospital or health care centre every week to meet the ANM they had spoken to on air.

On one hand, as Chahat Chowk continues to break the silence around sexual health, Bawra Mausam, another show attempts to tear away at the stigma around sexual harassment. Aired as a half-hour show every Friday between 10.30am and 11.00am, it is a first-person narrative of sexual harassment and aggression. Preeti Jhakra, who hosts the show, says, “It is heartbreaking to hear their experiences. Some of them break down during the show.”

Jainam says these are individuals who have never narrated their trauma to anybody for fear of shame and censure. In some young girls’ cases, their own family members have not believed them, blamed them or simply normalised the behaviour of the predator, especially when it was a male family member.

While this city-based radio station continues to address issues related to sexual health in a non-judgemental and informative way, another community radio station in the bylanes of the remote Ghaghas village in Mewat is stirring a hornet’s nest by discussing women’s reproductive and sexual health disorders, rights, safety, and experiences of sexual assault on air. Alfaz-e-Mewat was started in 2012 by a non-profit organisation that has been working in the area for the past 20 years. Mewat, considered one of the most backward regions of the country with little to no development reaching its cities and villages, not to mention its extremely low literacy rates, is also a community where most women do not have a voice of their own.

The Meo-Muslim community that forms the majority in the region does not endorse watching televisions and, due to low literacy rates, newspapers are not read either. In such circumstances, the community (samudayik) radio is a unique source for the dissemination of both education and entertainment.

Fakat Hussain, a senior radio jockey at Alfaz-e-Mewat, says, “Our broadcast reaches 18-20km around Ghaghas village. Even though most villagers don’t have their own radio sets, they can listen to us on their phones.”

In 2017, the radio station, in collaboration with Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, started a 365-episode programme called Sehat ka Paigam. The half-an-hour show addressed women’s reproductive and sexual health as well as widespread health problems in women of the region like anaemia. The radio team went on the ground and found out about primary problems and medical disorders among the women of the region. The show dispelled myths about menstruation and pregnancy, HIV, family planning and sexually transmitted diseases. It had on board doctors from General Hospital and Nalhar Medical College, Nuh. Despite that, initially, it still did not get any women callers.

Pooja O Murada, director, communications, at the radio station and SM Sehgal Foundation, parent organisation of the radio station, says, “We have been coordinating with hospitals and working in the area for the last 20 years. I knew women had no voice in this area. So, when Sehat ka Paigam was launched in 2017, we knew we would get male callers. Some of them wanted to understand women’s health, some of them were simply asking questions on behalf of the women.”

To make the women speak up, Murada posed as a caller for multiple episodes and started asking questions. “The idea was to convey the message, ‘woh puch sakti hain, toh main kyu nahin? (if she can ask, why can’t I?)’,” she says.

While Hussain and Murada admit that the number of women calling till the last episode was still minimal, they say the show did start a conversation around women’s health. Murada adds, “The male general physician at Mewat General Hospital would double up as the gynaecologist. We regularly spoke about this. Even an educated urban woman thinks twice about going to a male gynaecologist preferring a female one, and here the government expected the women to go to a male general physician with their gynecological problems.”

Murada continues that during the tenure of the show, the government paid some heed to the programme and a woman gynaecologist was posted in Mewat hospital for the first time in 2018. She says, “We invited her on the last episode of the show, but now there is no gynaecologist in the hospital again.”

Last year, the radio station aired a 12-episode programme called Kuch Tum Kaho, Kuch Hum, wherein two radio jockeys, Fakat Hussain and Anuradha, became a part of the community, gained their trust and drew out their experiences. They narrated experiences of women who were victims of sexual harassment, as well as men who had unknowingly dehumanised and objectified women.

Hussain says, “Many did not like the content of this program, but it was necessary.” One incident he particularly remembers is the story of a girl who fought with her family to give her exam at the local college , but while waiting for her father to pick her up from the college, was molested by a group of boys. In response to this, a man called the radio station on air and said that this is what happens when you send girls to study.

“Then a woman called us on air and said that she always asks her husband to speak for her, but she wanted to call this time to tell the previous caller that girls have as much right to study as boys do and he should never speak about a woman like that again.”

For Shaheen Hussain, a listener from Sirojhpur Jhurka in Nuh district, to get the courage and ability to speak up is why she listens to this radio station. She says, “We constantly hear ‘ladki hain yeh, kya karegi padh likhke’, ‘aurat hain, apna hi to mard hain, usko peet raha hain toh kya’ (‘She’s a girl, what will she do with a degree’, ‘She’s a woman, it’s her own man, what’s the big deal if he’s the one beating her up’). Alfaz-e-Mewat gives us a voice and the hope that our issues too are heard and may be resolved.”

First Published: May 26, 2019 00:35 IST

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