The Subaltern voice on air

According to Indian Express, a 17-year-old has given Reotipur, a rural community in northern India its own radio. Arun Kant Rai built his own radio transmitter and has been broadcasting to the communities in three villages for the last two years. Commenting on it, an open-source enthusiast and prominent journalist expressed:

The technology is out of the bottle. Blocking free speech on the airwaves is going to be very tough now, unless the government of India seriously thinks in terms of banning Physics and Electronics text books too!

ruralradio.jpgWhile I have no disagreements about such initiatives and the spirit they embody, it is important to be sound out a note of caution. To do this, I will first analyse the media report, which one can label enthusiastic and celebratory in its narrative. The report begins by first setting out the context (problem) within which we read the subaltern (difficult surroundings — lack of infrastructure and parental support).

There is no electricity during the day to watch television, and the nearest cinema is over 20 kms away.

However, his father Mahendra Rai was not convinced about Arun’s talent. He dismantled the transmitter, but Arun did not give up. With some help from Amresh and his sister, Priyanka, who gave him their pocket money, he kept working on the radio station.

The narrative then shifts to the Subaltern hero and the report extolls his qualities as a hero, demonstrated by his subaltern ingenuity.

I borrowed used transistors, transmitter circuit, capacitors, trimmers and chokes from TV and radio mechanics,” says Arun. He succeeded in putting together a radio transmitter with which he “transmitted songs and news in a radius of 200 metres on the SW band.

But what does the Subaltern actually do with the radio. In that question lies a problematic. The question as Gayatri Spivak put it was “Can the Subaltern Speak?” If so, is it their own language and thoughts or the thoughts of the hegemonic structure. The answer, as read in the report is indeed a problematic one:

Each morning, he sits before his improvised short-wave transmitter and begins with the news bulletin, taking care to include the local news while compiling it. After that, it is time for some film music. On Sundays, there is a special programme — the complete audio of a Bollywood hit.

The report can be read here.

P.S: The picture used here is only illustrative of rural radio.

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