- On 11 January this year, Shakeel Rizvi, a resident of Jagdalpur in Bastar region, Chhattisgarh’s Maoist badlands, called up Swara in desperation to report the unlawful arrest of the sarpanch of Koleng village – Panduram Nag. When Nag did not turn up home for six days, his relatives reported his disappearance on Swara. Nag was released on 18 January.
- When Mangli Kunjam, an adivasi woman, lost her government job, she was sold many times to flesh traders. When a good Samaritan reported the matter on Swara, a police team was rustled up and the state administration got cracking to help Mangli. A lady from Holland called up Swara to pledge support to Mangli.
- When another caller reported on Swara the outmigration of people from Bastar region because they were not getting MGNREGA work, the district collector took prompt action, suspending two subordinates.
Bultoo Radio: Via Mobile Phones and Bluetooth
These and hundreds of messages recorded by adivasis and non-adivasis across Chhattisgarh on CGNet Swara, a radio-based platform where callers from all parts of India, especially those ridden by conflicts, can call up to report unusual events, forms the foundations of a nascent conflict transformation process across a state torn by violence. More recently, Chhattisgarh featured in news reports after Maoists attacked CRPF jawans and killed 25 troopers in Burkapal village in Sukma district.
After several years of fits and starts, Bultoo Radio (Bultoo is how adivasis and other villager dwellers in the Naxal-infested Bastar region pronounce ‘Bluetooth’) has now taken off (its “soft launch” was in 2010) in earnest, providing adivasis and non-adivasis a platform to share information via Swara.
Mobile phones and their Bluetooth tech facilities are used to record and send in messages emerging from various districts to a centralised hub, from where the recordings are played out. While Bultoo Radio has about ten full-time employees, it has thousands of volunteers across Chhattisgarh.
Bridging Cultural Differences Between Adivasis and Non-Adivasis
Subhrangshu Choudhary, Raipur-based journalist-turned-educationist, to The QuintWe intend to give it a Facebook-like character by calling the process Voicebook, where adivasis and non-adivasis, among whom there is a cultural chasm, can find potential common ground and thereby bridge the gap that exists between them.
Choudhary runs a school in Anooppur near Amarkantak close to the Chhattisgarh-Madhya Pradesh border, where men and women of both communities receive training on conflict transformation in a state characterised by two inter-connected conflicts that have been continuing for long. The first is cultural, between adivasis and non-adivasis, and the second is between the Maoists and security forces.
So far, little has been done across Chhattisgarh to transform (resolution is still nowhere in sight) the conflicts.
“Technology is being, and can be, harnessed in the form of Bultoo Radio, which has several lakh subscribers, to minimise the differences between adivasis and non-adivasis, which is fuelling the second conflict,” Choudhary said.
When there has been a “break in communication between communities, radio could bring them back to at least listen to each other,” he added.
There are too many disparate voices – including on the political spectrum – across Chhattisgarh, where only a military approach has been followed by the Centre and the state government to seek a solution to the Naxal violence. Development has also been sought, but it has been patchy and unidimensional in a state riven by corruption and mismanagement.
Two Obstacles: Govt Babus and Maoist Leadership
While Choudhary is “optimistic”, Bultoo Radio faces two major obstacles that come in the way of finding common ground. First, while political leaders and senior bureaucrats are appreciative, and even encouraging, the lower-rung babus are bitterly opposed to the effort. On the other hand, the Maoist leadership is very suspicious of Bultoo Radio, though the cadres on the ground “like” the concept.
Subhrangshu ChoudharyWe believe that the state government alone cannot do everything, so Bultoo Radio is a small attempt at making democracy work. It involves jugaad to improve upon what we already have.
Choudhary and his colleagues have been campaigning in colleges across India’s megacities to generate awareness and build a broad-based pressure group, which could impact on the Chhattisgarh government’s willingness to act.
The team uses simple but savvy marketing strategies to attract funding and volunteers. For instance, the national song, Vande Mataram, has been tweaked as “One-day Mataram” that envisages one day’s volunteer work in Chhattisgarh’s districts where the Adivasi-non-adivasi conflict is the sharpest.