by Arun Kumar
Washington: An Indian journalist honoured by Foreign Policy magazine as one of 100 Leading Global Thinkers “for giving rural Indians a megaphone” would like the 21st century to become the century of democratisation of media.
Shubhrangshu Choudhury, who left his job as a BBC producer in 2010 to launch a unique mobile news service called “CGNet Swara” in Maoist insurgency-hit Chhattisgarh was honoured here Monday as one of the Chroniclers or “the masters of storytelling”.
“These international honours are always good to give attention to the remotest parts of India,” he told IANS in an interview as “there is more of India between Delhi and Bangalore and beyond Gurgaon”.
“So it’s good that these voices are heard in those platforms,” Choudhury said calling for the coming together of the rural or poorer India and urban India divided into three new castes – “internet, mobile and radio” – to complement each other’s strengths.
“If we can come together, we can make a better world, a better future, a better tomorrow,” he said suggesting big problems in central India – called as India’s biggest threat by former prime minister Manmohan Singh – were nothing but an accumulation of small problems.
“If we use communication technology a bit creatively” by connecting internet, mobile and radio to “hear these voices and solve these little problems” Choudhury said, “there will be less wars, less problems”.
His CGNet Swara, which has now expanded from Chhattisgarh to the Central Gondwana adivasi areas of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, was a platform to connect rural and urban India, he said.
“We are concentrating in Adivasi areas because they are the poorest of the poor people – farthest from the mainstream – who have taken up guns and challenged the government of India, challenged the democratic notion of governance,” Choudhary said.
Describing his service as a “Facebook for the poor people, where somebody posts, others listen, then they react and then everybody joins in”, he said the linking of rural and urban “activists” – anyone with five minutes to do some good work – brings hope back in society.
The working of the service is pretty simple, he explains. A woman living in a remote village picks up a phone and calls a computer to either record a message or listen. At the other end “we translate, crosscheck, verify and take it to a person who can solve the problem”.
“There is no dialogue between mainstream India and adivasis in Central India, with a population close to 100 million, much bigger than any European country,” he said, adding that “middle India is revolting” because it is difficult to understand its aspirations.
Yet, the problem can be solved by simply linking people using technology a bit creatively, Choudhury said.
Asked about his future plans, Choudhury said: “More than expansion, we want to create a model of democratic and independent communication platform.”
“Instead of making it very big, we want to make it as easy as possible, as cheap as possible,” and one which does not require outside support like a temple or a church funded by the people themselves, he said.
Choudhury lamented that his service was unable to use the radio at present because the Indian government does not allow its use in medium and short wave.
“If you have all the technologies freed – mobile, internet and radio – you can create an independent and replicable democratic model of communication, where we call it ‘journalism of concern’,” he said.
“If communication and flow of information goes in the hands of vested interests, then many voices do not come out – as it’s happening in central India – and then they revolt,” Choudhury said.
“Our whole objective is to see can we create a free, independent and democratic media,” he said suggesting, “the 21st century should be the century of democratisation of communication, media and journalism as the last centuries were of political democracy.”
“That will strengthen our political democracy.”