Meet The SHEROES – Archana Kapoor Of Radio Mewat
One woman who dons multiple hats, Archana Kapoor of Radio Mewat opens up about her journey and thoughts today,
You have been a documentary filmmaker, author, activist, publisher. Tell us all about yourself and the different hats you don.
I am a documentary filmmaker, and my work gave me an opportunity to travel a lot. To areas where it was otherwise difficult to go, like Siachen! My themes for films varied from suicides of cotton farmers to saris of India, from the handicrafts of India to the Border Roads Organisation and its work at the borders. Therefore, one was moving from one subject to the other. However, this exposure also made me realise that there was a lot to be done in each sector--be it the weavers, the farmers, the construction workers, the craftsman or anyone else.
Then I visited Bangladesh and I was exposed to the phenomenal work being done by the country through the stories of the farmers, weavers, daily wagers. I also traveled to Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee and was really impressed by their work, and was inspired to set up an NGO. I knew that it would not be easy, as in India, NGOs (barring a few) are still not taken as credible organizations. However, I was determined to start working. That is how SMART was set up.
SMART has worked in Uttar Pradesh, in Tamil Nadu post the tsunami, in Mumbai post the terror attack, and in Mewat. However, increasingly, our focus is on Mewat. We started with education in 2000 and gradually realized that we could not work in silos. For bringing about change, we would have to take a holistic approach. We would have to look at livelihoods, health, sanitation, information and more.
Therefore, we run projects on health and look at empowering communities to create a demand for better health services, on financial inclusion to help the community get access to banks and its services, on governance, on panchayati raj, on consumer awareness and many other demand-driven projects.
What is the prime focus of the Community Radio?
The Community Radio was set up in September 2010 with the sole focus to provide a platform for sharing of information--for people to engage with learn about each other. In areas where most problems are on account of lack of information, the community radio serves as an effective medium for disseminating content that empowers communities, gives them an identity and access, ensures their participation and helps in sensitizing people about their rights.
What are the challenges faced by the radio, and how do you overcome them?
We have now been operating for close to six years. We have, over a period, of time overcome many challenges and still continue to do so. The first challenge is to get members of the community to come to the station and participate in program production; the second is to have at least 50 percent of the programs produced and broadcast by women. We have to continuously ensure that a few do not take control of the station--the more the base widens the better the quality and content of the program is. Thus, we have to continuously engage with the community and ensure that they are listening to the content of their station--especially when the market is getting crowded, with quite a few options available.
The radio is a not-for-profit venture, and the expenses keep increasing. The more hours you broadcast, the more programs you need and the more voices one needs. However, in the region where we work, Mewat, it is not possible to expect people to devote their time without any remuneration. Thus financial constraints are also something that we are constantly struggling with.
Who are the team members of community radio and how do you search them?
The entire team is from within the community. The staff comprises of those who are interested in radio and want to be part of the change that is happening around them. Initially, we gave opportunities to walk-in candidates; some stayed for a while and left while some continued. So we have two reporters who have been with the radio since day one. We engage with the community through radio, facebook and our website. We also get people through word of mouth publicity. However, we compensate all for the time--even the volunteers are paid.
Share some impact stories of the community radio station.
The radio has had a deep impact. Participation of the community is on the rise. I think we have made a huge difference to the treatment of tuberculosis, which is very common in Mewat. We have been able to help people get rid of the taboos, and realised the importance of it being treated. In creating awareness about consumers rights, the radio has won mention in the Limca book of records.
The community radio-based helpline, the first in the country, received over a 1,000 calls in its first year and created awareness among people about things like checking the price, expiry date and asking for bills. With the help of a small grant from Panchayati Raj Ministry, the station helped in the hosting of Gram Sabhas, which were never held in all these years. We were able to improve the accountability of the Panchayats and make people aware of their rights. Though our awareness programs on financial inclusion, we were able to help open over 25000 accounts and act as a bridge between the farmers and the banks.
Our program 'aapki police aapke saath' was a boon to women, where they could just call the station and lodge a complaint and get reprieve within no time. The stories are endless and increasing by the day.
Has the community been able to shape Radio Mewat and reach out to more people around the region?
The station is run, managed and promoted entirely by the community. They are able to produce content, engage with the community and administration and manage technical issues. It is indeed heartening to see how the youth has taken to technology in such a short time. They are no longer afraid of questioning those in power or going live on air.
Radio plays a great role in reviving culture. Any stories you'd like to share with us from the Mewat region?
Mewat has had a long history of oral tradition. The Mewatis consider themselves to be descendants of the Pandavas, and thus have been reciting the Mahabharata since years. But lack of opportunity and of an appropriate platform to showcase their talent and art resulted in the Mirasis slowly disappearing and changing their profession. Radio Mewat discovered this talent and has contributed immensely in reviving the Mirasi music.
It has approached all the musicians and recorded songs. It has collected over 500 hours of music. It also organised a radio based talent hunt and showcased the audio version of 'Mewat has talent". Over 120 participants enrolled in this talent hunt ranging--from the age of seven years to 67 years.
What are the other projects undertaken by SMART?
SMART has been able mould all its work around the radio. It has just started a project on Science for Women's health and nutrition, wherein it is going to host a daily show to build the scientific temperament of women and also provide information on science and nutrition. It is working with women in conflict areas to build their confidence to participate actively in decision making and to protect their children from the influence of radical ideologies, and is engaged in a project on financial literacy for women.
What role does community radio play in our country?
Community radio has a huge potential if properly explored and exploited. It is a good medium to promote local dialects, cultures, traditions and voices. It can look beyond the mainstream and help build confidence, identity and a sense of belonging in communities that are increasingly getting overshadowed by the majoritarian views and communities.
The journey has been tough, but the difference, even if small, is enough to keep us going. The fact that today over 100 young people can move around confidently and have the courage to stand up to power is in itself heartening.
Collated by Paroma Sen