Enabling community participation of young girls and women: Janastu community mesh radio, Karnataka

The next two days are going to be exciting, this was my thought when I boarded the vehicle on 3rd June. My first visit to a community network. Janastu community mesh radio is a community network at Halekote in Tumkur district of Karnataka. Two and a half hours drive from Bengaluru and you can see how the landscape changes rapidly from a concrete jungle to greenery all around. Halekote is a small village with a population size of 3000 people tucked in the foothills of the famous Devarayanadurga hills. The hills are rocky and there are two temples in the hilltop at an altitude of approx 1204 meters. Halekote is a quaint village with a population size of 2500 people. Agriculture, farming areca nuts, paddy, and vegetables are the mainstays of the people in this village. 

Myself at Janastu
I directly reach the Crafter Space located in the village. It is about 12 pm in the afternoon and I see Madhu, Siddhava, Rajeshwari, and Shashi sitting and weaving baskets and bags of different size and shape. Baskets of different sizes are being woven by these women from grass that grows in the still waters in this village. This grass is known as the 'Rush grass'. It is a nice atmosphere here at the Crafters Space where women come together. This space is a safe one for women, where they come together to weave baskets and share their day to day experiences. Children also visit this place to be with their mother after school. These women eat together and have good camaraderie. 

The Crafter Space at Halekote

All the women in the Crafter space own a smartphone and this enables them being connected to the outside world. Madhu knows how to use the smartphone and she has been teaching the others in the Crafters space how to use the smartphone. Madhu teaches the women how to use the internet and do youtube search. Most of the women use voice search for finding information on the internet. Some of them who have studied till 10th-grade type out their search. The internet is used for various things - serials and soaps, recipes, beauty tips, health, Whatsapp and new designs for making bags and baskets. The internet is also being used by these women to participate in remote training and sharing knowledge about the baskets they make. These women earn an income ranging from 72 USD to 175 USD depending on the number of baskets they weave each month. Most of these women keep some money with themselves and contribute the rest to the household. They pay for their own mobile phone recharge and feel proud about the same. 

Bags are woven by the women
Mother teaching her daughter while working

The crafter space is a safe space for these women who spend their time Monday to Saturday 9 am till 6 pm. The place is an open space where women feel relaxed. They complete their household chores and then come to the center. They talk to each other, listen to music and also share knowledge and information in this place. I saw Bhoomika come back from school and complete her homework in the guidance of her mother in the crafter space. 

Mother learning how to operate the mobile phone from her daughter

Janastu community radio has also empowered young girls in Halekote. These girls run the community mesh radio and conduct various radio programs for the people in the village. They have been trained to record, edit and broadcast the programs. I met Ramya and Laxmi in the Namdu1 Radio station conducting a radio program on the elderly people in the village. These girls conceptualized, gathered the data and scripted the entire program. Being a radio jockey has been a liberating experience for both Ramya and Laxmi. The radio gives them freedom of expression and also empowers them. In an otherwise traditional atmosphere where girls are married off at an early age, these girls say that they want to study further and marry when they want to. 

Myself with the RJs at Nammadu Radio, Janastu

The Crafter Space and Namdu1 Radio are small changes being introduced in the domain of community networks working towards meaningful usage and utilization of the connectivity. In rural communities, women do the same amount of multi-tasking as women in urban areas. They take care of the home and hearth after which they come to the Crafter space to weave baskets. In these communities, there is a need for safe space for women where they can come and work. This space also doubles up as a knowledge sharing and experience sharing space for the women. This space is also a location where women can voice their opinion and learn more from each other. Similar is the case with the community radio station. The empowering impact that they have in the lives of the young girls and women in the village says a lot about Janastu community mesh network. 


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