All we hear is… Alfaz-e-Mewat

Preeti Mehra | Updated on January 24, 2018

Listen up Pensioners call in with their woes on the Gaon ki Chaupal programme hosted by Alfaz-e-Mewat community radio station in Ghagas village of Mewat district, Haryana Kamal Narang

Community radio station informs and entertains backward region of Haryana

The room is soundproof. Outside we can hear Shakir and Anuradha repeat the questions put across by listeners calling in. They also try to clarify the queries and make some observations. The two radio professionals are seated beside Mahavir Goyat, a Haryana government official from the Social Welfare Department’s ‘Pensions Section’, who is live on the community radio station Alfaz-e-Mewat.

Situated in Mewat district’s Ghagas village, the radio station caters to almost 183 villages, and is at the moment dealing with the issue of pensions on one of its regular programmes, Gaon ki Chaupal.

Mewat has a large number of pensioners. According to official figures the region has on its rolls 42,393 senior citizens, 14,744 widows and 3,589 people with disabilities, who each receive ₹1,200 a month under the scheme.

As the questions, answers, concerns and complaints roll out on the air in the Mewati language, it is obvious why the community radio came into being three years ago.

Aired 12 hours a day, seven days a week, its importance in the lives of people here is indisputable.

No small-town buzz

Just an hour-and-a-half drive from corporate Gurgaon, it is a surprise that the region totally lacks the small-town buzz of a suburban area. Instead, its many problems become evident, some as basic as water and agriculture, others as essential as education and livelihood.

Home to the ethnic Meo Muslim community, it is one of the minority-concentrated backward districts identified by the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Sehgal Foundation, a Gurgaon-based rural development organisation, is active here since 1999. It has created several sustainable models for managing water resources in this primarily saline-water geography, where agriculture is dependent on rain-fed sources.

“Besides putting up rooftop harvesting systems in every school to provide drinking water for the children, we have augmented groundwater levels through check dams, contour trenches and recharging wells,” explains Salahuddin Saiphy, Sehgal Foundation’s programme leader in water management.

Villagers have been trained to manage and maintain their water resources, community soak-wells and wastewater disposal pits.

Towards legal literacy

The Foundation also focuses on promoting sustainable agricultural practices. Farmers are informed about the government schemes available to them and other entitlements to enhance their agricultural productivity.

However, most important of all, it empowers citizens with knowledge, skills and the confidence to demand their rights, access public services and participate in all decisions impacting their lives. “We conduct extensive trainings twice a month to build a local leadership, which in turn trains others in the village and handholds citizens in completing documents, accessing entitlements and realising their rights,” says CEO Jane Schukoske.

And to get villagers involved in all these activities, Alfaz-e-Mewat serves as the media pivot. Funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and housed in the Foundation’s office in Ghagas, the community radio has six local people on the staff, including two women.

Recreating the oral tradition

“Yes, we have managed to involve a large local population and many of them tune into our 107.8 FM frequency through their mobile phones. There are some programmes that take the Mewatis down memory lane, while others inform and endeavour to empower,” says Pooja O Murada, Director Communications, for whom this is a pet project.

The radio station’s most popular broadcast, Kisse Kahani, is steeped in the region’s history and told by traditional bards. Called Marasis, these musicians have been around since Mughal times and their songs valorise the history of the region, its people and kings. “However, now the region listens to all our programmes on health and sanitation, land and agriculture, legal rights and government entitlements, education and other phone-in sessions. We also make and share programmes with other community radio stations,” says Murada.

Putting it all in perspective is R Jay Sehgal, the Executive Vice-President, who says that it is imperative they link up with other development organisations to make a bigger impact. “We are an open-source organisation which loves to share information and exchange knowledge.” Alfaz-e-Mewat is one such effort.

Published on July 17, 2015

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