Desi Radio is a community radio situated in Southall, in the west part of London. It is managed by the Punjabi diaspora. It runs in 1602 MW, between 7 AM and 12 midnight. Then it goes to automation. I visited Desi Radio on April 29, 2016 during my stay at SOAS, University of London, thanks to a fellowship from Charles Wallace India Trust. I met Amarjit Khera, Chair of the Punjabi Centre and a few volunteers at the station.
I met Ajit Singh, 68, one of the radio staff. Ajit shared the sufferings of Punjabi people because of partition. He said, “When Indian society is distributed on three separate fronts i.e. caste, gender and religion, Punjabi society is divided by four fronts including partition. The idea behind Desi Radio wasto create unity among Punjabi people to fight against caste, religion, gender and difficulties due to partition.” He recalls the 1947 Indo-Pak partition and expresses his anguish, bycalling it the Punjab Partition. Politics and religion played a big role to spread hatred during partition and later. He described the people as East Punjabi and West Punjabi instead of people from India and Pakistan. He said, “There is diversity among Punjabi people, and isn’t that difference beautiful? Still, there is so much in common. Can religion divide us? We have learnt a lot from our past. Now, we use music as a tool to unite East and West Punjabi people. There are differences inthe accents of East Punjabi and West Punjabi. But, Desi Radio is beyond these differences and is a common platform for everyone.”
Desi Radio airs programmes, especially songs, news and discussions. There is a team of about 70 volunteers, who work with Desi Radio. Whilethese volunteer-presenters raise questions in their programmes,the people from the community express their opinions. Some of them question the power of God. They also challenge the idea of king. They also discuss sex. Ajit said, “South Asia is anti-sex. As Jayadev has rightly pointed out: how sex can be unnatural?”
I met Kashmir, Amarjit, Pami and Amolok. Amarjit (Shaan) Singh, a student of Business Management broadcasts a programme of bhangra music for two hours. He selects 10 to 12 songs, based on people’s choice in his programme. He also listens to reactions of people after broadcasting theirpreferred songs. Shaan cites, “For me, discussion programmes are more important than songs, although the former is difficult to handle. Slowly, I’ll move to discussion programmes. Presently, I am engaged in song-based programmes.” Kashmir Panue, a full time volunteer explains that she reads the news, presents music programmes, andalso does chat shows. Elaborating on her work, she also reveals how much the radio station has meant to her, “I had a guest this morning, a counsellor. I do fund raising activities. I learnt more Punjabi here. I built my confidence here, by speaking to people. Where can I do a radio show? This radio gave me an opportunity.”
Paramjit Kaur Thind (Pami is her radio name) specifies that she interviews professionals. I talk on local issues like housing, street cleaning, and informative programmes. I am learning and at the same time providing information to the community. I am working as a volunteer. My programme appeals to listeners. Hence, listeners demand four hoursof programme instead of two.”
Desi Radio can be listened to throughout world on internet. When I ask if it is a community radio or an international radio,one of the volunteers tactfully answers, “International listeners enjoy listening to us, but we want to remain local. We have staff members. We collect local advertisements and do local business. We pay minimum wage to the staff.” Most of the programmes of Desi Radio are run to unite Punjabi people and culture.
Bidu Bhusan Dash
Department of Media and Communication Studies
Savitribai Phule Pune University