This article originally appeared in My Republica on June 12, 2015.
The members of Saraswoti child club look at Gunja Chaudhary in awe, as she walks sporting a smile, her head held high. This 15-year old girl has become a mascot for girl’s empowerment in her village. Gunja who is also the President of the Child Club, explains, “The people in our village are very conservative. They tell us that girls need to keep quiet, and if we don’t keep our opinions to ourselves, then we will be unhappy,” she says adding that is why many girls in her village don’t speak up, but she’s not like them.
Hailing from a very conservative society of Siraha where girl’s mobility is almost a taboo, Gunja initially had to face the wrath of her family when she expressed her desire to join the village child club. Her dreams were vetoed by her uncle and her brother, who thought that becoming a part of the child club would not only stain her character, but also harm the prestige of their family. “But then Anupama came into my life,” shares Gunja with a smile.
Anupama, the protagonist of the popular Maithali radio drama ‘Sangor’ or ‘together for change’ not only reminded Gunja of the hardships that she had had to go through as a girl, but also made her realize the power of having a voice. She narrates, “Anupama, the strong headed, vocal character represents all the girls who live a suppressed life. But her determination to live life on her own terms, and the fearless battles that she fought with her family to achieve her dreams has inspired me.”
Motivated by the drama character Anupama, Gunja decided to talk to her uncle and brother once more. This time she invited her aunt who was a graduate of the child club. It was a herculean task to convince her family members about the benefit of being a child club member, but after constant coaxing, and promises that she wouldn’t stray, they finally agreed. She also introduced the radio series to her family members and it became an instant hit among them. Gunja narrates, “Due to the familiarity of language my family started listening to the radio drama. Like me, my mother and grandmother were also impressed by Anupama. They now tell me that I have to be confident and brave, just like her.”
Gunja also uses the radio drama as an ice-breaking tool in her child club. With reference to the radio drama the members of the child club discuss about various issues that are seldom talked about in public. “We have also started a weekly sexual and reproductive health class for the club members,” the young club president shares with pride. The radio series not only informs its listeners about the various issues in their community through soulful dramas, but also strongly advocates from creative discourse among people to solve problems, and to mitigate any possibility of conflict.
In a time whe global media is increasingly shaping itself to a more digital structure, the presence of radio as a tool to change people’s life has constantly been debated. However, the success of radio drama like ‘Sangor’ prove the critics wrong, and plinths the fact that radio still has a hold on people’s lives, and can influence behavior, as well as attitudes.
The radio drama not only crafts, local issues to realistic story plots, and characters, but it also recognizes the power of the local language as a powerful medium to bring about change “Local language play a vital role in sustaining radio medium. It not only connects them with the listeners, but also evokes a sense of belonging inside them. This encourages them to take positive action,” says Maithali language expert, Dr. Rajendra Bimal.
According to him, the use of regional language not only generates high-level of acceptance from the listeners, but also empowers people with critically required information without sounding preachy. The radio drama with its realistic plots and characters have created a loyal fan base in the Eastern and Central Tarai region. A recent listenership research conducted by Search for Common Ground (SFCG) indicates that 70 % of radio listeners in both the Eastern and Central Tarai listen to the radio series every week.
The radio drama that started in 2009 recently completed its 200 episodes. It has dealt with various contemporary issues ranging from child marriage, girls’ education, dowry, politics, small-armed groups, a constitution and rights, and many more. “The drama has become a part of the general life for many,” expresses Anita Tharu, the writer of the radio drama.
A lot of research goes into writing a radio drama and the drama writing team employs various participatory tools such as local story clinic sessions to brainstorm on story ideas, use of listener responses received through email, SMS to build stories, interaction with target audience and stakeholders, and feedbacks from thematic experts on drama plots and stories to convey the right message.
The participatory approach, which is the heart of the radio program not only helps sustain the radio drama, but has also been successful in inspiring locals to champion various social issues through solution oriented dialogues and community programs. The benefits of participatory local language radio dramas not only sustains the radio medium, but also helps change behavior, and cater information to target audiences who do not have the luxury to access other popular media forms.
Ayush Joshi is the Communications Coordinator at Search for Common Ground Nepal.
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