In Odisha, community radio connects Adivasis with COVID-19 information

community radio
A radio show in progrss at the Radio Surabhi station (Picture sourced byTazeen Qureshy)

Bhubaneswar: As the sun rises over the horizon at the nondescript and pristine Chappar village in Odisha’s Koraput district, the radio comes on. For the past year, the community radio station ‘Dhimsa’ has become the Adivasi population’s primary source of information related to COVID-19, providing regular updates on government guidelines and safety protocols. The first programme begins at 6 am and is followed by the latest updates on the pandemic. The shows are broadcast in the local dialect, Desia, and are heard in 62 villages in and around Umuri block in the district.

In Odisha, community radio stations like Dhimsa are leading the fight against COVID-19 by bridging the communication gap between government and Adivasi communities. Odisha is a land of over 62 tribes, which live in remote and inaccessible areas of the state and have their own dialects for communication, making information sharing a challenge.

COVID Response Watch Logo“Community radios cater to those people who have absolutely no other means of communication. We reach out to the remotest corners of the state and curate information in an interesting manner, so that people listen to it. We also go for narrowcasting, in which a volunteer or a community radio staff takes a radio and broadcasts a special show in a hamlet or village. After the show, the listeners are asked to give feedback, which is shared by the government or health officials. If there is any information or link missing, the feedback mechanism helps bridge the gap,” said NA Shah Ansari, National Advisor, Community Radio Association of India and Chairperson, Namaskar Community Media Network.

Currently, there are 19 community radio stations in Odisha and each of them is engaged in sharing information related to COVID-19 for a specific target audience in the local dialect. The initiative started during the first wave when the community radios started designing special shows for awareness generation on COVID-19. Radio Dhimsa has been hosting special audio skits and interactive sessions in the Desia dialect with government and health officials. Yasmine Lenka, a PhD student in charge of the station, has designed special jingles with messages on the pandemic, which are played all day long.

“Most of the tribal population are not educated and fall prey to misinformation easily. Our main job has been to dispel the myths and share accurate information with the people. During the first wave, we shared messages on Covid-appropriate behaviour and safety protocols that need to be followed. Once the vaccination drive started, we encouraged people to take vaccines. There is a special ‘Mamu-Bhanaja’ (uncle-nephew) skit popular here, so we designed a show on similar lines to attract more people. We also tied up with local NGOs and shared pre-recorded messages in villages where we don’t have the reach,” said Lenka.

radio on wheels
Community radio stations have also started ‘Radio On Wheels’ programmes in which a mobile van travels across villages relaying COVID-19-related information (Picture sourced by Tazeen Qureshy)

In the Kandhamal district of Odisha, another community radio ‘Muskan’ has been sharing COVID-19 related information in both Odia and the local Kui dialect. They have tied up with the local administration including the Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO) and are sharing government guidelines on lockdown and shutdown, information on vaccination and other related messages. Radio Muskan has a modest broadcast set-up, but they have been reaching out to people in the 22 km area, which is otherwise difficult to cover due to the terrain. Most of the villages where they broadcast are inaccessible and have major electricity and network issues. But Radio Muskan has managed to encourage people to follow the covid appropriate behaviour.

“The success of our special programs on COVID-19 is visible. Once, I was sitting with my staff members in a tea shop when a villager came up and asked for a handwash. People in this area are not aware of sanitation and hygiene. So all of us were shocked when he asked for a handwash. On enquiring, he told us he had heard on the radio that handwashing is important to keep COVID-19 at bay. He went on to explain to us the correct procedure of handwashing, without realising we were the ones who had broadcast that information on the radio,” said Muskan, the Station Director of Radio Muskan.

Other community radio stations like ‘Radio Surabhi’ in the Daspalla block of Nayagarh district, have gone beyond broadcasting on COVID-19 to directly helping the people. For the last year, Radio Surabhi has been hosting a daily show ‘Sikhya Surabhi’ for students of classes one to five. A special resource person has been designated for the purpose to help with scripting the 30-minute show which covers all subjects.

“As the schools were shut due to the pandemic, children in villages didn’t have an option to study. Though there were online classes being held, not everyone could afford a smartphone. We decided to hold a special show for the kids so that they remain in touch with the syllabus. The recordings of the show were sent to other radio stations in other districts as well. For the listeners who have smartphones, we have also created a WhatsApp group where we conduct weekly evaluations. The WhatsApp group has almost 90 to 100 students from across the state,” said Smita, station-in-charge of Radio Muskan.

These community radio stations will be continuing these special shows throughout the pandemic. “Though the popularity of radio might be diminishing in general, for the rural population, it continues to be the key information source. Community radio stations keep designing specialised programmes on several themes like malnutrition, menstrual hygiene and keep all communities update on what is happening around them,” said Ansari.

Tazeen Qureshy is a Bhubaneswar-based freelance journalist and a member of, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

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