January 15, 2016 04:01 IST
CGNet Swara is a voice-based online portal that allows people in the Central Gondwana region to report local news by making a phone call. Photo: CGNETSWARA.ORG
Gondi is the lingua franca of the Maoist movement today, but All India Radio does not broadcast even a single new bulletin in the language.
One winter morning, in Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh, I was watching a group of Adivasi kids peering into their mobile phones. The early morning sun was mellow, and they were so engrossed that they did not notice me drawing near.
“We are doing Bultoo sir,” one of them told me when I asked what they were doing.
It took me some time to understand that they were transferring audio and video files using Bluetooth technology in their mobile phones.
I was in Barwani to take a class on citizen journalism with Adivasi children.
Later, I discovered that more than 80 per cent of the students had Bluetooth in their mobile phones and actively use it to share audio and video files with each other. I had no idea that even my mobile phone is Bluetooth-enabled. I had never used it. On the other end of Central India, in Balrampur district, on the border of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, I found a similar phenomenon. It is a Maoist insurgency-affected district with a large proportion of Oraon tribals, who speak a language called Kuduk. An experiment here has thrown up a model for how to solve the problem.
Eighty per cent of Balrampur’s gram panchayats are connected by optical fibre cables thanks to the Digital India push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The problem is, there is broadband but there isn’t much content in Kuduk on the Internet.
Experimenting with possibilities
The mobile phone is common in every household even in this remote Adivasi district. People earlier used it only to make calls. Now, they also use it to report on the happenings around them and to listen to the “Bultoo radio”. If wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) haven’t been paid, if forest right deeds have not been distributed, they report about it in Kuduk. Once the messages get recorded on a central computer connected via the Internet, they also get translated into Hindi and English. Then it reaches officers such as Collector Alex Paul Menon, who was once abducted by the Maoists, and also reaches each gram panchayat. One person from each village comes to the gram panchayat office every day and downloads the daily programme of “Bultoo radio” on his mobile phone and shares it with all villagers upon return.