Patna: In the age of smart phones and 24-hour television channels, the poorest of the poor still rely on the vintage transistor radio to quench their thirst for news and entertainment. And Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has a perfect plan up his sleeve — organising ‘Radio Melas’.
In a bid to ensure transistor radios to Mahadalits, the poorest of the socially marginalised, Nitish Kumar has asked top officials to organise radio fairs across the state.
Nitish Kumar has announced that the government would pursue private manufacturing companies to organise fairs at different places where the poor can buy transistor radios at reasonable prices.
Officials in the human resource development department say the fairs will be the first of its kind in the state and probably in the country as well.
As per Census 2011, Dalits constitute nearly 15 percent of Bihar’s 104 million population. The commission has identified 21 of the 22 Dalit sub-castes as Mahadalits. These include Musahar, Bhuiyan, Dom, Chamar and Nat.
“The beneficiaries (Mahadalits) will not be given money to purchase transistor radios, but provided coupons by the companies,” Nitish Kumar said.
In 2009, the state government had decided to directly hand over Rs.400 to each family to purchase radios.
However, Nitish Kumar said it was decided not to give money to the families as officials of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes welfare department and the Mahadalit Vikas Mission apprehended that the money might be misused by the families.
After the free cycle scheme for school girls gave the cycle industry a boost, radios for Mahadalits is set to have the same affect on the transistor manufacturing industry.
The Mukhya Mantri Cycle Yojna was started in 2007. Official sources say the government has distributed thousands of bicycles to girls till now. And the attendance of girls in schools has shot up from less than 170,000 to 490,000 in just three years. The scheme has now been extended to boys as well.
Bihar was the first state in the country to constitute a Mahadalit Commission. It was decided that the commission would study the status of the neglected sub-castes among Dalits and suggest ways to uplift them.
In power-starved Bihar, most Mahadalits are living without any electricity, except in state capital Patna and some towns. Millions are still living in the lantern age as electricity has become a sort of luxury.
Protests against acute power shortage broke out in Bihar in the last month. There have been reports of people blocking roads and ransacking electricity board offices.
At a time like this, a battery-powered radio device makes perfect sense for the poorest of the poor, what with it being one of the cheapest means of entertainment.
“While the state has a daily requirement of 2,200-2,500 MW, it produces only 45-50 MW of power. The central government supplies around 750 to 900 MW. So there’s a power deficit of around 1,000-1,200 MW a day,” an official said.
Mahadalit Satrughan Ravidas, who works as a daily wage labourer, said, “The state government had announced it will give us money for radio two years ago but till date there is no trace of it”.
Satrughan, in his late 30s, a resident of Jeetuchak village under the jurisdiction of the Naubatpur police station in Patna district, said that radio will provide them an easy opportunity to listen to music, news and social and political programmes. “We don’t have television; radio will certainly give us some advantage,” Shatrughan told IANS.
Another Mahadalit – Suresh Razak, who works as a washerman in Lohanipur, a middle class locality here, said that people like him hardly need radio but those living in rural areas will get some benefit by the radio scheme of the state government.
“I owned a TV set and have radio also because I am earning by working hard in Patna; this is rare as most of the Mahadalits are fighting for survival. Radio will be a gift for them,” Razak, in his mid 40s, said.