Dial 080-40952044 and you are transported to another world in a village in Chhattisgarh’s Rajnandgaon. A reporter, Bhanu Sahu, tells you how women panches in a village are not getting payments under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme as their names are not in the muster roll. She says male panches are getting paid even without working under the scheme. The reporter says this is the state of affairs in other parts of the district too where genuine payment claims are being denied. In barely two minutes, you listen to the story of this far-away village as mobile-based news service CG Net Swara gives daily news snippets of areas that are least reported about and are vital for the media as well as the government.
Another story is about a single-teacher school in Kangri village, where classes have been suspended as the teacher has been called for census operations.
Swara was the brainchild of journalist Shubranghshu Chaudhry, who implemented it with a scholar from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as part of a fellowship project under Knight International.
Now, it has become an outlet for information from the most interior of villages, not only in Chhattisgarh but also Orissa, Jharkhand and southern Uttar Pradesh bordering Chhattisgarh.
But since it is focussing on tribal areas which also happen to be Naxal-affected, it is also causing concern to security and intelligence agencies. The service had to be stopped for some time and was revived with a new number.
The question is whether these services, which help people in villages get heard, should be banned or monitored?
So far, there is no agency to monitor the service.
Meanwhile, there is another mobile-based news service, called Gaon ki Awaaz, started by a journalist from Noida-based International Media Institute of India and aired in Uttar Pradesh. The area being covered is the Mathura region.
Whether these services are universally accepted or not, a new tool has been unveiled for use of those who wish to tell stories of the marginalised sections of the country or outside.
If phone news service numbers are popularised, people, in Jharkhand or Sikkim, will be able to air their stories by just making a call. That, it is said, will be the beginning of the end of the rural-urban divide as well as the people-media divide as the citizen takes over.
Shubranghshu Chaudhury and his wife Smita are running Swara almost alone from New Delhi with a few activists in villages providing stories. For the service to be effective, people should be in a position not only to run the service but also be familiar with the number.
Today, Swara has just three stories and a new number which has to be popularised among tribals. There is fear of the number being misused. Smita says the solution is for the government to monitor those who run the service rather than discourage or stop it.
She says Swara may be replicated in other states. However, a better thing will be more services coming up in other states or representing other interests. This will ensure that people hear stories about Dalits, Muslims, other minorities, students, women, children by calling up different numbers. This will mean more news for print and electronic media and more corrective action, wherever necessary. This will also mean more open windows and less social vermin.