HEARING THE UNHEARD

From forced Mann Ki Baat broadcasts to ban on politics, community radio in India is choking

The government insists that they stay away from politics and news, leaving them crippled in terms of content. The concluding part of our series on community radio.

India, with a population of 120 crore people, has 179 community radio stations, many of which are struggling to survive on shoe-string budgets. And they face constant government interference. The latest missive came from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on April 30 ordering community radio stations to record and send their daily programming schedules to Delhi over email.

The order, which was seen as a brutal form of crackdown over community voices, after its action on the non governmental organisations, was reversed the very next day because of a fear of backlash from the activists who have been long fighting cases in the courts to free up community radio in India from the clutches of the government.

While the latest order may have been withdrawn, community radio is far from free in the country, 13 years after the government first opened itself to the idea of having community-run radio services. Even now, the community radio stations are required to maintain archives for three months and the government is free to ask them for programming of a certain day in case it receives a complaint.

However, an official at the I&B ministry claimed that not one complaint has been received in the history of community radios in India.

“The format is self correcting, if you violate community sentiments nobody will hear you,” said the official, requesting anonymity. “The government should be trying to promote, instead of curtailing, the freedom of community radios.”

Only dance and drama

The policy guidelines framed for community radio services bar stations from airing anything remotely political or news-like. The problem arises because the restriction has made the radio lose its relevance and importance for certain communities.

“The policy document is so loosely worded that it hangs like a sword over us all,” said Hemant Babu, director of Nomad Communication which manufactures transmitters and helps set up community radio stations across the country. “Anything could be political or newsworthy for the government when it tries to prosecute you and there’s no way of getting out of it.”

Shubhranshu Choudhary, who has won accolades for his work with community radio and citizen journalism in Chhattisgarh, agrees. “All that we have on community radio is government propaganda, dance and music,” he said. “Nothing remotely political or newsworthy can be transmitted. A farmer needs to know what’s happening around him and a fisherman cares about high-low tide more than he cares about what new scheme the government has come up with.”

The grouse of not being able to air news programmes is one of the few common things between community and commercial radio stations as they stand together to support a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court which argues that radio is the only media barred from broadcasting news in the country.

“India is perhaps the lone democracy where the dissemination of news and current affairs programmes on radio remains a monopoly of the government-owned broadcaster, Prasar Bharati Corporation, which owns and operates All India Radio/Akashvaani,” the petition by the NGO Common Cause stated.

Calling the different policies for community and commercial radio stations “discriminatory”, the petition argues for the government to allow political news as well since a lot of news like weather updates is already bundled under the banner of “information”.

Arm-twisting tactics

From attempts at monitoring to informal circulars advising these radios to run programmes on Prime Minister’s pet projects such as Mann Ki Baat and Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan, those who operate these services don’t view the recent decisions in a very positive light.

“These are not orders, these are ‘strong advisories’ for the broadcasters to do Mann Ki Baat and other programmes,” said Babu. “Many of our partners claim that they are forced to broadcast because otherwise their grants will be delayed and they would be arm-twisted further.”

The I&B official corroborated this. “Over time, the screening committee on community radios is being overruled by orders from the top,” he said. “From broadcasting government programmes to granting of licenses, nothing has ever worked on principle.”

Back door entry

Evidently, people like Shubhranshu Choudhary and Hemant Babu have been waiting for licenses to come their way while government departments have been getting licenses in complete violation of the guidelines.

The government of Madhya Pradesh’s tribal affairs department Vanya has at least two community radio stations listed under its name even though the policy document clearly bars any political or government arm from obtaining a license.

Similarly, religious groups have long been receiving licenses, despite the screening committee rejecting their applications. “In such cases, the government manages to overrule whatever we suggest,” said a member of the committee, on condition of anonymity. “There are many temples, churches and other religious organisations in India running community radios under the garb of being an NGO while we all know that they are not.”

Hemant Babu, who has applied for a license of starting a community radio in Maharashtra, said that his application has been pending for four years now. “We have fulfilled all the necessary conditions yet it’s turning out hard to obtain the permission,” he said. “On the other hand there are radios operating out of temples in Karnataka where saints and demigods sit and broadcast their messages to the community violating all guidelines.”

For the first part of our series on community radio, click here.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.