July 04, 2010

Voice Of The Tribals

CGNet SwaraSwara, is a mobile-based news service which enables the tribals of Chhattisgarh in India to tell their version of stories, in their language. It is an initiative of former journalist Shubranshu Choudhury which gives daily news snippets of a region that is typically ignored by the mainstream media.

The South Asian reports:
Dial 080-40952044 and you are transported to another world in a village in Chhattisgarh’s Rajnandgaon. A reporter, Bhanu Sahu, tells you how women panches in a village are not getting payments under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme as their names are not in the muster roll. She says male panches are getting paid even without working under the scheme. The reporter says this is the state of affairs in other parts of the district too where genuine payment claims are being denied.

In barely two minutes, you listen to the story of this far-away village as mobile-based news service.

In Chhattisgarh only 0.7 per cent of the population has internet access and many people are illiterate. So only logical measure was deploying a technology which is already available - mobile phones.

Indian Tribal Blog informs:
There are no tribal journalists in the mainstream media in Chhattisgarh. The number of journalists who speak any of the tribal languages are very few. The major media in the state are owned by people with interests in coal, power and steel. That shapes how they report the public hearings that are frequently held on locating projects in a particular area. “The owner, writer, reader — they are all on the same side of this war.” Radio is the ideal medium for a state with a population scattered across a forested interior, but All India Radio has no news service in a tribal language.

How do you democratise journalism? By getting people to give their own news, even if the only language they speak is Gondi or Kuruk. By designing a telephone news service with moderators who will both vet incoming stories, and translate them into Hindi. So in February this year C G Swara went into operation, Choudhury's pet project evolved with help from Microsoft and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Swara is essentially a citizen journalism platform using voice xml technology which links a website to many phone lines.

I wonder when we will see these kinds of services available in Bangladesh?


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