CGNet Swara: A cellphone based voice forum for rural India

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cgnet swaraIndia’s tribal population is highly under-represented in our national discussion forums. You will never find an adivasi man or woman in Arnab Goswami and Barkha Dutt’s shows, talking about the problems they face. That’s because adivasi and even rural communities are out of reach of traditional media outlets due to poor availability of roads and electricity.

Language is a major barrier. The adivasis of India are largely oral communities, and their languages are not spoken by people outside these communities. Neither print nor visual media, thus, have much significance for the adivasis. Here’s where CGNet Swara, a citizen journalism project for Chhattisgarh, comes into picture as it tries to plug the gap at both ends and attempts to connect rural hamlets to mainstream media.

CGNet Swara is a voice-based portal, freely accessible via mobile phone, that allows anyone to report and listen to stories of local interest.  Reported stories are moderated by journalists and become available for playback online as well as over the phone (+91 8050068000). Since its deployment in 2010, CGNet Swara has received over 40,000 phone calls and 1000 published reports via the service. Women of the villages actively participate in reporting news as they make full use of their new found empowerment.

shubhranshu choudharyCGNet Swara was launched by Shubhranshu Choudhary,a former BBC journalist, as part of the Knight International Journalism Fellowships, a program of the International Center for Journalists. The software underlying CGNet Swara is open-source and freely available from an online repository.  The system was originally developed as a project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is currently maintained with the support of Microsoft Research India and several volunteers.

Impact of CGNet Swara:

CGNet Swara has achieved phenomenal impact in a short span of 3 years. Here are few stories of its impact:

Sanika Munda’s report on the witch-burning issue created quite a ripple. She did a story on how Hudungi Devi from Hudung village was burned as witch. The police did nothing in spite of repeated complaints. Munda’s report ensured that the National Human rights Commission stepped in and promised to amend matters.

There was a CGNet Swara report about a case of acid attack by a husband when his pregnant wife refused to get sex determintion test. Till that day police had not filed a complaint and victim was not getting any treatment.But after the news, local media also picked up the story and  the husband was arrested and victim was given good treatment in a government hospital.

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