In a mediascape that is dominated by large-scale, corporate media, the story of CGNet Swara speaks to the potential of technology as a democratizing factor in enabling the voiceless to be heard. Shubhranshu Choudhary, Knight International Journalism Fellow and founder of CGNet Swara visited the Chair and delivered a talk on March 20, 2012 on harnessing ICTs to bring communities back into the communication loop.

Horizontal communication processes of the past have been usurped by corporate as well as state entities today and made into a one-way, top-down vertical process. Those at the top set the agenda for what becomes ‘news’, he said. This leaves little room for communities to get their voices heard and to play an active role in the communication process. “CGNet Swara is an attempt to revive those voices that are lost in the din of ‘news’ defined from the top”,Choudhary said, talking about the underlying idea behind the project.

CGNet Swara is a voice-based technology project that enables communities in Central Gondwana (Chattisgarh) to speak about their day-to-day experiences, problems and issues that often go unreported in the mainstream media. From reports about dearth of water supply to instances of corruption, people belonging to the tribal communities of the region have now begun using CGNet Swara to converse with the rest of the society.

“We had initially thought of a community radio project, but were denied the license given the understanding that we operate out of a zone that is perceived to be one of the biggest internal security threats in the country”, Choudhary said, referring to the Maoist conflict in the state of Chattisgarh. Hapless tribal groups get caught in the crossfire and are often denied their basic rights, he said.

CGNet Swara currently works through the concept of the ‘missed’ call, wherein individuals who would like to report an issue and/or listen to reports from other members of the community give a ‘missed’ call. The system calls them back and it is through an automated system that they can either record their messages, or listen to the messages left by others like them. For those who have access to a computer and the Internet, these messages are displayed on the web portal of CGNet Swara.

 “From instances of authorities ensuring that certain grievances are redressed, to creating awareness across villages and bringing groups to unite for a cause, CGNet Swara has ensured that the voices of the voiceless are heard by the powers that be”, Choudhary said, sharing the success stories of the project. In fact, replicable models of CGNet Swara are in the pipeline in different parts of the country.

Reported by Preeti Raghunath