CGNet Swara: Voice of the unheard




By Kashif-ul-Huda, TwoCircles.net

Between Arundhati Roy’s walk with the comrades and corporations-backed government war machine mowing down the jungles in Chattisgarh, there are millions of tribals whose voices remain unheard. Not that they cannot speak but there is a barrier to access because of language and remote areas. Knight International Journalism fellow Shubhranshu Choudhary intends to change that by using technology as a platform to make news & information easily accessible to all.

The problem in Chhattisgarh is twofold: very few reporters know the local language, and there is no news service in any of the tribal languages. With help from UNICEF, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Microsoft Choudhary is hoping to revolutionize journalism at the grassroots level. Tribals can now call-in a number to listen to first-hand news of their region and can also record their own news.

The service called CGNet Swara and can be accessed by calling 91- 8041137280. Though calling this number costs money, still, many calls have been logged with people listening to the latest news and also a number of people calling in to leave their own news. News can be as simple as irregularity in the Public Distribution System to reports from public hearing on land acquisitions in the area to teachers not showing up in village schools.

These audio recordings are also available online. A team of dedicated volunteers translates and releases the audio recording after verifying the information. CGNet Swara is a useful resource for journalists covering Chhattisgarh. For general public it is a way to go beyond the propaganda dished out by both sides of this conflict and hear the real voices caught in this violence.




Shubhranshu Choudhary has worked with BBC, Deustche Welle, and Voice of America. [Photo: TwoCircles.net

As part of Knight Journalism Fellowship, Choudhary is preparing hundreds of tribals to become citizen journalists. Gondi, spoken by majority of the tribals here, has no written script but now CGNet Swara has become first news outlet of Gondi language. Utilizing the rich oral tradition of Gonds, Choudhary teaches them modern journalism principles and tribals are able to communicate their issues and concerns to a wider world.

Success of this program also comes with its own sets of challenges. CGNet’s servers have been shut down twice. Server hosts have shut down the website without any explanation. Perhaps government propaganda machinery is uncomfortable with the message not under their tight control. Shubhranshu Choudhary, born and grown up in Chhattisgarh, is hopeful that in this tussle between technology and politics, technology will win in the long run.

Links:
CGNet Swara audios: http://audiowiki.no-ip.org/admin/playback.php
CGNet yahoo group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/chhattisgarh-net/
CGNet : http://www.cgnet.in/