MARAA explains their innovative approach to Community Broadcasting during the peak of the pandemic
The impact of COVID-19 pandemic can still be felt in many different ways; its reverberation can still be sensed in our daily lives. Community radio (CR) stations found themselves at a crucial juncture when the pandemic hit in 2019, where they had to adapt to the new environment and be responsive to relay accurate information between the state and the community. They had to find ways to sensitively report grief and loss that struck communities in the most unpredictable ways. It called for a fundamental shift in the way radio producers worked. In that sense, the pandemic did lead to a transformation, a metamorphosis that is a continuous process – of breaking and forming.
MARAA was supported by an IPDC-UNESCO 2020 grant which made it possible for 20 representatives from 13 CR stations across 13 states in India to meet online every week for 10 months. What emerged was a network of CR stations that supported each other to push their boundaries of imagination during the peak of the pandemic. Working across culture, language and context in a yearlong process, CR producers shared their ideas, reflections, questions, memories, and visions through this period. When the crisis demanded the CR producers to react and act immediately, a process of ‘Metamorphosis’ nudged the CR producers to tread slowly, to reflect, question, observe and to sense the times we are in. As part of the process the 13 CR stations collaborated to produce radio programmes on community habits rather than on ‘issues’ during the pandemic.
One of the CR producers shared, “I have become more confident during these sessions. Earlier I was scared to speak in English but now I am speaking in English, Tamil, and Hindi. During the sessions we have been able to build a space of trust between us all.”
With each disaster, we have a tendency of coming together to respond, and then soon disperse. In such a moment, we felt there was scope in building on the spirit of collaboration and observing transformation within and around us. We shared daily practices, folk songs, proverbs, recipes, dreams and nightmares. We pushed the CR producers to go to localities in their community they had never visited, to explore inter-generational conversations, to document alternate beliefs systems around illness and medicine, to go along with people as they coped not just with the pandemic, but their everyday life.
“This collaboration resulted in better ideas for programmes. My voice was heard in Bundelkhand and my partner’s voice was heard in Mewat. Many listeners called us and said that they have not heard this kind of programme before on our radio. They did not know that there are other CRs broadcasting in different parts of the country,” shared one of the CR producers.
During the process we collectively debated about politics of representation; we explored different ways of listening. The process was designed with perspectives on gender, caste, class, governance to inform disaster responsive broadcasting. We also introduced forms of storytelling like comedy and music; the process was geared towards telling stories from different perspectives. Most importantly, we encouraged the CR producers to bring themselves into the heart of the conversation, as a critical voice of the community who are also affected by the pandemic and the times we are in.
The yearlong process has been documented in form of a book which is a collection of perspectives and creative possibilities of programming on CR.(link to the pdf– https://files.elfsightcdn.com/1399398f-6019-4463-9164-548c3fe9d5b6/10aee7c8-56c4-4a6d-a316-8e432dae6df1.pdf)
There is also a video production which attempts to encapsulate the friendships formed over zoom sessions, holding and supporting each other through a period that no one was prepared for. (You may listen to the programmes here: https://maraa.in/portfolio/covid-19-cr-response/)