We need for the media to be democratic as well, so that everybody, all of us, have a say in deciding what issues are going to be discussed

A rural community news portal that is telling stories from Indias interiors
Flix Rural India Monday, October 12, 2015 - 16:52

Nankuram Sahu is an ordinary villager in a remote part of Chhattisgarh. But extraordinarily, a single phone call made by him in August this year for provision of clean water, has changed the lives of 800 fellow villagers for the better. 

In his village Machandur in Rajnandgaon district, a pond filled with filth used to be the only source of water. As a result, many of the village women had to travel as much as six kilometers to access water for basic use.

Sahu forced the concerned officials to spring into action and clean up the pond after he recorded his report by contacting the concerned officials, and he managed to achieve all this with a single phone call.

To be precise, Sahu’s story is just one among the 4700 stories that the mainstream media failed to tell or chose not to report.  

Sahu is a citizen journalist just like many others who are making themselves heard via the voice-based, rural community news portal CGNet Swara.

According to former BBC journalist Subhransu Choudhary, “If we want to live in a peaceful society, it is not enough for our elections to be democratic. We need for the media to be democratic as well, so that everybody, all of us, have a say in deciding what issues are going to be discussed, not just a few wealthy media proprietors and their chosen editors."

This is the idea with which Choudhary started CGNet Swara, his unique ‘experiment’ as he himself would like to call it. CGNet Swara was established with an aim to connect the last person in society and provide a platform to tell one’s stories before a ‘journalist’ arrived at the scene.

Although in his stint as a reporter for the BBC, he had worked in many war-torn areas, it was only while reporting in the Maoist ridden home state of Chhattisgarh, Choudhary found out that the people’s views were unrepresented as there were hardly any journalists who spoke the tribal language.

With a view that today’s media is mostly aristocratic, Choudhary with the assistance of his Knight International Journalism Fellowship wanted the voice of the ‘unheard’ to be heard. 

Realizing that the mobile phone was the only suitable and easily accessible device for the villagers, he leveraged the technical expertise of Microsoft Research India to initiate a rollout of the world’s first mobile phone-based news portal in 2006.

With the most basic technology of today, the platform helps tribals and ordinary people of rural India to ‘broadcast’ stories that matter to their community. Today, many of these stories which were ignored earlier are followed up by the mainstream media.

In an effort to expand its already successful foray into rural areas, CGNet Swara is looking to raise funds to the tune of 600,000 INR within the next six months to smoothly roll out its Urban Outreach Programme. 

The platform has been responsible for bringing about a change to the lives of many in rural areas in the Maoist-affected state of Chhattisgarh. 

As a by-product of the original initiative to give rural voices a platform to speak about their issues, the Urban Outreach Programme is aimed at getting urban people involved in making a difference to rural people’s lives. 

“For example, a person living in Bangalore can call the Block Development Officer (BDO) of a small village in Chhattisgarh to complain about a non-existing hand pump, and force the administration to work,” added Parul Agrawal, a person closely associated with the funding of the Urban Outreach Programme.

Speaking on behalf of Milaap, the crowdsourcing website through which CGNet is trying to raise funds, Anjanaa Damodar who is a senior copywriter said, “It is a unique initiative about citizen journalists giving rural people the voice because we usually associate the tech-savvy urban people with citizen journalism.”

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