The NGO I work with (not for), The Restoring Force (TRF), has received the preliminary Letter of Intent from the Ministry informing TRF that it has been granted a license to start a community radio station in Gurgaon. Considering TRF’s existing work in government schools in Gurgaon, especially in the area of career counselling and infrastructure development, it seems appropriate to focus, at first, on this area alone.

Having taken on the demanding yet exciting challenge of getting the radio station off the ground for TRF, I’m dazzled by the possibilities of this medium. When I look at our footprint - of semi-urban villages in Gurgaon district; slum clusters in the heart of Gurgaon’s mall mania; the lower middle class, middle class, upper class, and the super rich flooding the houses and apartments developed by private developers and HUDA - I can think of a million things that need to be said and heard on radio.

Health programs for migrant labour, educational inputs for children who have dropped out of school, music, plays and stories that bring alive all the parts of India from which migrant labour come to Gurgaon - drivers from Bihar, maids from Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh, cleaning staff from Bengal, security guards from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan - it’s like living in a mini-India that can be recreated on the radio.

But I have to focus. Or, we’ll lose our thread.

So, after long discussions with Manas (Chakrabarti) who is being extremely generous about hand-holding us through this exercise, we’ve decided to focus on the schools, the children, and their needs. First off, we create programming on careers - because that is what TRF has been doing, and something that is highly valued by the children, their parents, and their teachers. Next, short fillers that explain a range of concepts, from global warming to nuclear power. And, finally, what Manas calls “Talk to the doc”, a weekend programme with a doctor in the studio, who can answer questions from the community, and who can clear some long-standing health myths.

Both Manas and I are a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the task - so we kind of sat back and looked at all the notes, and took deep breaths to bring our panic levels down. But help is at hand. We have full intentions to learn from those who have walked this path before us, be it NGOs that have run community radio projects, or NGOs that have successfully engaged the community in the creation of media. We have Jagori that has promised that we can use their child rights and women’s rights audio material. Pratham Books wants to know how they can partner the radio initiative and further both their initiative of getting low-cost, high-quality books to poor children and our endeavour to give voice to this amorphous community in Gurgaon. As each link joins in, I feel so privileged to be joining hands with people and organizations who have achieved so much despite so much.

My intention is to blog the entire community radio project so that, one, the entire process is documented, and two, so that any one out there who has an opinion or input can do so via this blog. Unlike a commercial project, this project is completely transparent, so there is no hesitation in sharing ideas and progress, and failures and successes.

If this is a project that you have something to say about, you MUST write in.

First published on August 8, 2008