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Women become citizen journalists

Women in rural Bihar now have an innovative media to voice their issues, be it personal, social or financial.

A little over two months from its launch in Bihar, Mobile Vaani, a 24x7 citizen radio-over-phone, free service is becoming increasingly popular among the rural masses, especially women.

Vimala Devi from Khajauli block of Madhubani district recently said in a call to Mobile Vaani: “I feel sad when somebody holds a woman’s thumb and takes a thumb impression. Women should come out to learn, read and write and build a healthy, just and equal society.”

Banking on a high level of penetration of cellphones in rural areas, Gram Vaani Community Media Private Limited, a social tech company based in IIT-Delhi, is running a social media platform akin to Facebook, YouTube or Twitter for the rural masses, a majority of which still does not have access to the Internet.

The company’s website, www.gramvaani.org, says they began the venture with “the intent of reversing the flow of information, that is, to make it bottom-up instead of top-down”.

An interactive voice response system-based citizen journalism platform, Mobile Vaani was first launched in Jharkhand in 2011. Its Bihar office started operating in December last year. It gets people to become both listeners and reporters by allowing them to leave a message or listen to messages left by others for free. One doesn’t need an Android or a smart phone to join the network, any basic phone would do.

Sultan Ahmed, regional manager, Bihar-Jharkhand region of Mobile Vaani, told The Telegraph on Saturday: “While in Jharkhand, most calls to the network were made by men, in Bihar, we are witnessing an interesting trend wherein the callers are mostly rural women. Our Bihar office gets around 500 calls every day and most of them are from women. It is in consideration of this trend that we are now focusing more on women self-help groups to become their voice and develop a strong network between them as well.”

Sumit Kumar from Nawada district was all praise for Mobile Vaani in one of his recent messages. “Mobile Vaani is giving a voice to the rural community in the state. Very soon, it would be popular among the disadvantaged and marginalised community,” he said.

Mobile Vaani had two launching partners in Bihar, namely JEEViKA - Bihar Rural livelihoods Promotion Society, a World Bank-funded programme, and Drishtee, a social enterprise based in Noida.

“The farmers seem highly enthusiastic about Mobile Vaani and utilise it for various purposes, like spreading information about government schemes or increasing productivity in farms. At present, we are mostly associated with farmer groups but we are going to engage local administrative officers as well to ensure direct interaction with farmers on frequent basis.

Moreover, we also aim at promoting folk art through Mobile Vaani,” said Sanjeev Kumar Jha, mobiliser, Drishtee, Madhubani.

Considering the acceptance level, Mobile Vaani is expanding its operations in the state. “We have our volunteers in Nawada, Jamui, Nalanda, Samastipur and Madhubani at present and the response has been satisfactory. Accordingly, we are now going to expand our operations in Muzaffarpur, West Champaran and Sitamarhi districts by the end of February.”

Through Mobile Vaani, the rural population is raising all sorts of issues, including local governance. In a recent call, Amar Kumar Yadav from Madhubani said: “There is no development on the ground. Government schemes are not being implemented in an effective manner. I see bad roads, electricity and lack of health centres in the district. How is the government going to improve the basic facilities in the district?”


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