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Gram Vaani: Voice of the village for women in the wilderness

Written by The Optimist

 

Anju, a 15-year-old from the Musahar community, goes to school every day. An ordinary, mundane feat? It is not, if you consider that 17% of the Musahar girls get married at age 10, 19.7% get first-time pregnant between age 11 and 14 and 78% of the entire population — both male and female — are illiterate. Of the remaining, 17% have studied only till the primary level and only 1% gets higher education! So says a survey by Karitas India, revealing how utterly deprived the Musahar community is of a ‘healthy life’.

 

Anju and her friends listening to MV through speaker

 

Anju’s, however, is a different story. She lives in Gokhulpur village, under the Nehusa panchayat in Harnaut block of Nalanda district in Bihar. Her village is about 10 kilometres away from Harnaut. She studies in Class IX in Nehusa High School. We got the chance to meet her during one of our Mobile Vaani (MV) events on International Day of Education (on January 24). MV is a mobile-based voice media platform that empowers young girls to become citizen journalists in their own dialects and gain respect in their villages. Gram Vaani  community reporter, Poonam, had visited the place earlier. They were conducting an activity, called ‘Each One Teach One’.

Anju was asked if she was interested in taking the lead in making the other girls of her age learn to write their names. (Gram Vaani had found that none of the girls in the village went to school). The team had given this task to a few other women and girls in other villages, too. And, to utter surprise, Team Gram Vaani found that Anju managed quite easily to teach about 10 girls to write their names in just seven days.

 

This mobile-based voice technology, is empowering women and girls in remote villages

 

We also got to know about the villagers’ livelihood pattern. About 95% of the population were migrant labourers because of extreme poverty. They went away to such places as Haryana, Punjab and so forth for periods extending over six months and took their entire families along since leaving the girls behind was not safe.

During an in-depth interaction with Anju’s father, we learned that, if the girls did not get married early, upper caste villagers — the Yadavs and the Brahmins — took advantage of it and tried to sexually exploit them. The reason why the girls were not educated, we were told, was not only that they got married at an early age, but also because they accompanied their parents migrating to different states for months together.

 

A Gram Vaani initiative

 

Although Anju’s father is a village ward member, he is uneducated and works as a daily-wage labourer. He is not much different from the rest of his clan as he, too, got his elder daughter married off at age 12 due to societal pressure. Fortunate Anju is the younger one. Although her father wants her to get married early, she is determined to study at least till the middle school level and earn by herself. She has been staunchly refusing her father’s demands. Her education has proved to be a blessing and she, certainly, has been setting an example, breaking age-old community norms.

Anju has managed to carve her path out of stony apathy, but what about the other girls of the village? Upon enquiring, we found that many of them are truly interested in studying, but cannot afford to since they live here for very short periods in a year, besides also working as daily-wage labourers. We, at MV, have some plans for these village girls. We want to provide them with non-formal education in collaboration with organizations willing to work towards this end.

 

About Gram Vaani

Gram Vaani is a social technological enterprise that believes in developing and using appropriate technologies and people-driven processes to build participatory media networks that can empower communities. Mobile Vaani (MV) helps users generate content in their own local dialects through an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS).

MV uses the ‘missed call’ concept, where users place a call to an MV phone number and the server disconnects and calls them back, making the system free of cost for users. Development agencies and government departments have used the platform to collect crowd-sourced data on the performance of government schemes, push messages on health and related topics and enable citizen-government engagement by conveying grievances to relevant government authorities.

Several impact stories have been documented about how MV has increased awareness of government schemes, leading to increased utilization; enforced accountability and challenged corruption in implementation of welfare schemes; and mobilized communities to organize anti-alcoholism drives, among others.

 

 

is a powerful channel of information and influence. The messages they transmit not only inform citizens, but also change and reinforce social norms, mobilizing them to act. But women’s access to media is a tough proposition because of patriarchal norms that limit mobility and access to technology, such as mobile phones. Self-expression is empowering, too, but there are few platforms where women can safely voice their concerns, learn from peers and nurture their capabilities.

Meri Awaaz Meri Pehchan (MAMP) is a novel mobile-based community media platform operated by women through collective structures that accelerate their access to technology, enable their creation of content which is useful for them and provide a safe forum for discussing their issues that can change social norms and even strengthen local governance. We are creating a bottom-up media platform for constituencies that get the least importance in media: low-income rural and urban women. For this, we have a toll-free number exclusively for women in this location.

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The Optimist

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