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Published on November 10th, 2016 | by EJC

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In Central India, One Phone Call Can Change A Community

Pahadi Korwa is a small tribal community in Central India. Pahari means hilly people in the local language. These people are more traditional than people from the same tribe who live in the plains. Pahari Korwas live up in the hills. They are called Primitive Tribals in Indian official language.

There are only 30,000 of them left. And only few hundreds of them speak their own language, Pahari Korwa, which is on the verge of extinction. Not many from the community have finished school and reached college. Jeetanram Pahadi Korwa is one of them.

From a community meeting he came to know about CGnet Swara mobile radio, a voice-based online portal that allows people in the forests of Central Tribal India to report local news by making a phone call. He was thinking about it for some days until one day he mustered enough courage to call the number.

“Two pregnant women have died in my village Upar Salkheta in last two months because we do not have road and could not take them to hospital in time,” he recorded. He also added the number of local officers who should have helped and requested that listeners call them.

He was quite surprised when a team of Government officers reached their village after a few days. They set up a camp and asked everyone what their problems were. They solved quite a few problems then and there, and ordered for a road to be constructed soon.

Jeetan was not sure how this miracle happened until the officer told the following story. He said he got a call from New Jersey in USA the night before and was surprised that the caller had information about a remote village in his district. The caller had heard the story in the audio blog CGnet Swara.

Jeetan again called up CGnet Swara – this time to report that they had applied for Forest Rights Act in 2008, 6 years ago, but only half of the 35 families received rights for their farming land as per the law. To his surprise, this time the officers contacted him directly to ensure that those who had not applied would be able to get their land deeds.

Jeetan got in touch with CGnet Swara again and said he would like to learn more about getting involved with CGNet Swara. He was advised to start a Bultoo radio for his community. He was keen to take up the project and brought six people from his community to the CGnet Swara office to learn how.

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Image: CGnet Swara.

There are no mobile signals where Jeetan lives up in the hills. They need to travel a distance to reach a place where they get mobile signals to make a phone call. First, he learnt that Bultoo is the rural name for Bluetooth, the technology which he had been using to share audio files to listen to songs on his mobile. Similarly, Bultoo radio works by sharing audio files via Bluetooth on a grassroots level from one person to another.

Now, Jeetan’s friends – who had never seen a computer before – are learning how to edit audio messages to make a radio program out of them. They are also training their fellow Pahari Korwas to report using their mobile phone. The citizen reports generated from this will then be used to make the Bultoo radio programs. In addition, they are giving special trainings to those who still speak the Pahari Korwa language so that no one is left out.

Once they make the Pahadi Korwa Bultoo radio programs, they will transfer the files to fellow tribals who own smartphones with internet connectivity. When they download the program, they travel to their villages and transfer the audio file to each mobile phone in village using Bluetooth for free. Then everyone can listen to the same program as many times they want – again, for free.

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Image: Purusottam Singh Thakur.

If they have any questions regarding these programs, they record questions using CGnet Swara App which forwards the messages to internet (when the phone reaches a mobile signal) to be included in the following week’s program. This is the first program of any type in Pahari Korwa language.

Many in the community are listening to the programs and asking questions for the next episode. They are raising their problems, and now people from urban areas are also listening to these on social media after they are translated. Some of their problems are getting solved. There is communication for the community, by the community, and a renewed opportunity to continue communicating in their local language.

The younger generation has started listening to Pahari Korwa language on Bultoo radio. Jeevan’s daughter Fulmet is the lead compere for the radio programs where they sing songs in their language and explain their meaning. Many old people are talking about their traditional knowledge of medicine and food from the forest. Some are including pictures from their smartphone cameras.

Community is built by communication; but, until recently, this poor community had no communication platform for them. Although India is the world’s largest democracy, it does not allow free radio broadcasting to the public. A country of 1.3 billion people only has one radio station, which is controlled by the Government and acts as a mouthpiece for the party in power.

This government radio does not broadcast almost anything in any of the languages spoken by more than 100 million indigenous communities in India. India is also facing a huge insurgency which is primarily made of adivasis or indigenous community. The insurgents are led by Maoist guerrillas.

A closer look at the adivasi ranks of guerrillas tells us that they have mostly taken to Maoist leadership because of a break in communication with the mainstream community. Their voices are not heard, so their problems are also not solved. They feel that they have no option but to take up guns.

India has deployed a huge number of soldiers to tackle the Maoists. But sometimes the solutions to problems are simple. If India promotes communication platforms like the one for Pahadi Korwas, they might be able to raise their issues.

Once these issues are promoted across social media, the wider community can put pressure on officers to create change and some of these problems might be solved. This 21st century problem now has a 21st century solution.

About the Author:

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Shubhranshu Choudhary runs Institute for Rural Journalism Entrepreneurship in Central India where he farms with students to run the Institute and tries to train self-sustainable rural media entrepreneurs. He is a former BBC South Asia Producer, who has also worked with The Guardian before. As a Knight Intrnational Journalism fellow he developed world’s first Communtiy Radio on Mobile phone called CGnet Swara and later developed it as Bultoo Radio, a rural version for Bluetooth Radio. He won Google Digital Activism award in 2014

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