Me, The Change: Born in a Maoist Hamlet, Now She Rules Radio Waves

Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Camera: Athar Rather
Producer: Vatsala Singh

More than 170 kilometers from Kolkata lies district Jhargram — a popular tourist destination with tropical forests and ancient temples. Unlike the capital, it’s neither crowded nor chaotic. People walking with umbrellas and riding on their bicycles to work is characteristic of the city. Most people’s favourite pass time is listening to the radio.

Inside Radio Milan 90.4, 24-year-old Shikha Mandi is hosting her programme ‘Johar Jhargram’ in her native tribal language, Santhali. She is India’s first RJ who hosts an entire programme in Santhali.

Santhals are the third largest tribe in India. They are mostly found in the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Assam. They are the largest tribal community in West Bengal. They make up 42 lakh people, but it’s not often that you hear Santhali on TV or the radio, even in these regions.

Shikha grew up listening to All India Radio. It featured Santhali songs and music. She would mimic the RJ and would sing the songs she heard on that show.

"“In my family, parents want their children to study and get a government job. I was leading my life based on the same plan. And never thought I would get an opportunity to fulfil my childhood dream of becoming a radio show host.”" - Shikha Mandi, Radio Jockey

Shikha was born to farmers in a tribal village called Belpahari. The village falls within a region where Maoism is prevalent. Till 2016, there were reports of Maoist violence in the village.

For her education, she was sent to her uncle’s place in Kolkata. Studying in a school with Bengali-speaking students wasn’t easy.

"“I was only 3 and a half years old when I was taken to Kolkata. I saw that people there selectively chose friends. Nobody wanted to be friends with me because I looked different, I was a Santhal — a scheduled tribe. For them we were Adivasi, the people from the jungles with whom the city people didn’t want to associate with. I felt terrible about all this.”" - Shikha Mandi, Radio Jockey

Shikha was studying in an Industrial Training Institute and was set to get a job when she found out about an interview for the position of RJ at Radio Milan.

Shikha wants people to learn about Santhals, their language and their culture.

In 2019 General Election, Shikha will be voting for the first time. The Quint asked her what matters to her.

"“A lot of students want to study in their own language and script. But due to lack of schools, they are forced to switch to other languages and adapt to them. I wish everyone gets the chance to study in their native languages.”" - Shikha Mandi, Radio Jockey 

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