India Interior

Let the stories speak of change

Usha Rai | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on December 30, 2016

Sound advice Young and old tune into Kishor Varta stories. - usha rai

Adolescent group discuss Kishore Varta stories

An audio programme for youth aims to close the gender gap in Rajasthan

Nitesh Verma, 33, is a tailor in Sisola village, Bundi district, Rajasthan. He married some nine years ago and has a daughter of seven and a son of two. Every morning when he woke up, his wife would be waiting with a steaming cup of hot tea for him, before busying herself with other household chores. He never offered assistance. One night he heard ‘Dulhan ki batein’, an audio story on his mobile that talked of gender issues in a manner that got him thinking.

It was part of the Kishor Varta education programme being implemented in 30 senior and higher secondary schools of Bundi and Udaipur districts and 15-20 village clusters through youth groups and clubs. The programmes can also be accessed through interactive voice response system (IVRS) on mobile phones. After hearing the stories, Verma’s life changed.

He felt he should help his wife but was embarrassed to do so. After hearing the story about eight times, he plucked up courage, got up early one morning and made tea for the whole family. His wife was surprised, but he merely said, “henceforth I will make the morning tea”. Later he got her to listen to the Kishor Varta stories on his mobile. She too liked them and loved the morning tea from him. There was a nagging worry about what the elders in the family would say.

“It took a while convincing other members of my family that I was only fulfilling my responsibilities,” he says. Now when he returns from work, he helps his wife collect water, chops vegetables and kneads the dough. In fact, every decision of the family is taken with her inputs.

Nitesh is among the few thousand young men, adolescents, community leaders and older generation who, after listening and discussing the Kishor Varta stories in Hindi, prepared by the Men Engage Alliance of the Centre for Health and Social Justice and implemented through a Rajasthan-based NGO Manjari for the State government, are bringing a change in the thinking of the male-dominated, patriarchal society. Simultaneously, in an area where child marriages are still rampant, the stories talk about the legal age of marriage and sexual and reproductive health issues.

Crafted for rural audiences, the four stories, ‘Lakhanpur ka Raju’, ‘Dada ka gussa’, ‘Haldi ki jaldi’ and ‘Dulhan ke batein’ encourage youngsters to help in housework and support education and outdoor activities for girls; discuss male anatomy and wet dreams; pitfalls of marrying young, and sharing responsibilities after marriage. With the help of teachers in schools and facilitators in youth groups, the stories serve as tools for group discussions.

The digital IVRS platform for the programme was developed by a New York-based ICT company. Through a toll-free number, callers were able to engage with the 10-12 minute stories through a set of fictional characters and a plot that progresses from one level to the next. This November, Kishor Varta won the Vodafone Foundation’s Mobile for Good (M4G) Award.

Knowledge about health and harmony in homes for child-rearing has improved. Groups are encouraged to oppose sexual harassment and domestic violence faced by women. Girls’ mobility in villages has improved. Boys have intervened at home on behalf of sisters who want to continue their education.

However, in March 2016 the toll-free number was suspended owing to rising costs. Now the stories are directly disseminated by facilitators in schools and villages. The programme has reached 3,000 people offline, through 30-35 community meetings.

Kishor Varta stories have also been copied onto the memory cards of students’ mobiles or are played on the facilitators’ laptops.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

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Published on December 30, 2016
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