BENGALURU: It’s 9am at Anugondannahalli village in Hoskote Taluk, which is approximately around 50 km from Bengaluru. A bunch of students and office-goers are waiting in the bus stand for a bus, which comes once in an hour. Farmers are heading to their farms. Women, with over-sized handbags flowing down from their shoulders, are running to work, while a few others are busy finishing their household chores.
The elderly are sitting at a street corner discussing farm loan waivers. There’s something common among them: all are hooked to Saarathi Jhalak, a 90.4 FM station that keeps them educated and entertained throughout the day.
Saarathi Jhalak, a first-of-its-kind Community Radio Station (CRS), is owned and run primarily by the women in rural Karnataka. The station has come a long way in reaching out to a huge community and today, the programmes relayed cover Malur and Anekal taluks, Sarjapura, Whitefield, Marathahalli, K R Puram, Hosur, and Kundalahalli gate to name a few, catering to a population of close to a million.
The station was started by D S Shamantha, a former media professional, in August 2012. Shamantha, who gathered years of experience working in different media organisations, felt the real future of rural India lay in developing community radios. The aim of Saarathi Jhalak, she says, is development and the station educates villagers on public health, agriculture, folklore, legal issues, social welfare and related issues apart from entertainment.
While the working class and college students tune in to the radio during their travel to and from city, the villagers staying at home rarely turn it off. Farmers carry radio to their farms and say they feel less lonely as they have constant company.
As of today, the station has four RJs and anyone is free to walk in to the station to share their knowledge. All RJs are recruited from the village itself and the programmes are woven around keeping the rural belt in mind. A three-month training will be provided to those interested and once they are ready, they will be recruited officially to go on air. The RJs continue with their regular jobs while allocating a few hours to radio out of passion, admitting they had not expected such a response that has turned them into mini celebrities!
RJ Sunil, who is working with the station for the past two years, is enjoying every bit of it. He is also elated by the popularity the station has got him.
Another RJ Sowmya, a homemaker, usually makes it a point to talk about women and hygiene and taboos surrounding menstruation during her programme. “Most of our listeners call us while returning from work and tell us about their day. The rapport is so good that if we don’t turn up even a day, villagers walk in to enquire if we are okay,” Sowmya says.
“Sowmya was an introvert when she joined us a few months ago and did not even have the confidence to communicate with us. She now argues with me over some programmes and handles the shows alone. This is the kind of confidence one can gain after training with us,” says Shamantha.
Eshwar, a villager who works in a factory nearby, assists in planning programmes. “Back then I used to listen to the station regularly. When I was told that I too could be a part of the station, I pitched in. Today, I help them in scripting the programme,” he says.
The station is usually thronged by people waiting for an opportunity to share their views with the listeners.
The most discussed topics include farming, legal issues of farming community, women and personal hygiene. ‘Jhalak Masala- a cookery show, started only last week, has gained immense popularity. The show is run by a 75-year-old woman Prema - a listener from Sarjapura, who volunteered to be a part of the show. Shamantha is now planning to use Prema as a role model to bring women of her age to the radio station and give them a platform to share their age-old experience.
The RJs here speak fluent Kannada and all the programmes are in Kannada. “Our village is in the centre; it is a stone’s throw away from Andhra and Tamil Nadu border. Hence, sometimes we do play Tamil, Telugu and Hindi songs,” Sunil says.
“Many people who have completed their training from this centre have got placed in MNCs and have carved their own success path. One such student Mani had zero knowledge and confidence before he joined us. Today, apart from working in a travel agency, he works with us as our sole technician,” says Shamantha.
“The station, alongside changing the lives of many, has brought the villages and government authorities closer. The station acts as a middleman between the government schemes and beneficiaries by providing necessary assistance to the needy,” she adds.