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Shubhranshu Choudhary of India wins Digital Activism Award


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Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

  Shubhranshu Choudhary, CGNet Swara, Internet Radio News  
This year's Digital Activism Awards shortlist had 17 nominees, who "courageously and creatively stood up against some of the world's most repressive regimes". Shubhranshu beat Edward Snowden to win the Award.  
Sajan Venniyoor  

On his way to London to attend the Freedom of Expression Awards ceremony -- where he went on to win the 2014 Google Digital Activism Award – Shu (the short name journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary is referred to as) was busy calling his friends from the airport, looking for ways to expand the reach of CGNet Swara using radio, and pretty much any other means possible.

I don't think CGNet Swara has been far from his thoughts any time since he set it up in 2008, except maybe when he was writing Let's call him Vasu.

But of course CGNet Swara is not a community radio service, though it delivers news in Hindi and Gondi to tribal communities across central India. It does so using mobile phones and the internet. Gondi has about 2.7 million speakers.


Shu quotes a Gondi scholar, Moti Ravan, who points out that Gondi speakers are divided across five states. "Gondi is an ancient language [but] every new census shows fewer and fewer Gondi speakers. There are no government-run schools where the medium of instruction is Gondi, and the state-run All India Radio does not broadcast any news in the language."

If ever a language deserved its own community broadcast service, it is Gondi. But of course, Gondi is "the “lingua franca” of the Naxal movement", and CGNet Swara has been hounded from server to server, state to state, in its struggle to keep the unique news service alive for its underprivileged listeners. The Dandakaranya region covers nearly 100,000 sq kms across four states. While the possibility of getting CR licences for the region is not exactly zero, you only have to overlay Dandakarnaya over the CR Map of India to see why Shu plays around with mobiles, the internet, CB Radio and other exotic technologies to get his people connected.

In his simple and moving acceptance speech Shu said: "India, though, is world’s biggest democracy, we do not allow Radio. We will need help from outside like yours who can give us space in Radio transmitters.

But it will be a different type of radio, new radio. In this democratic radio, programs will not be created in studios or newsrooms but they will be created in far off forests and villages where people through their mobile phone will report. Some of us in the middle on computer/internet will work on improving/editing them. We Journalists will also be elected by the community and not selected by the powerful few. This way we will create news which is by the people, of the people and for the people. If we want a better democracy, a peaceful tomorrow, we cannot leave Journalism in the hands of few any more. Time has come, like politics, Journalism also needs to become everybody’s business.

And it is possible."

This year's Digital Activism Awards shortlist had 17 nominees, who "courageously and creatively stood up against some of the world's most repressive regimes". Shubhranshu beat Edward Snowden to win the Award.

Compared to doing news in Gondi, leaking classified documents from the NSA must be a walk in the park.

Declaration: The published piece was circulated through googlegroup india-ej.

[Sajan Venniyoor is the Country Representative of Deutsche Welle for India, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. He is also a founder member of Community Radio Forum, India.]


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