My return to the city of Mysore after three years is fraught with some trepedition and much anticipation. In parallel to Bengaluru, Mysore has been experiencing the increasing presence of the IT industry which has brought with it changes in its cultural and social contours and I'm not sure what I feel about these shifts. As my colleague, Chloe, and I weave our path through the city in a rickety auto looking forward to our reason for being there, the collective listening of the 4th anniversary broadcast of the Kelu Sakhi programme of IT for Change, the new neon lights of the growing city glower all around.
The Mysore office of IT for Change is located in a quiet residential area which belies little of the beehive list of activities taking place there. As we enter, we are enthusiastically greeted by Aparna and her team and whisked into the room where a radio merrily throwing jingles, takes centre stage as the office members sit around in quiet reverence. The Anniversary special one hour programme of Kelu Sakhi (Listen, My friend) has been under planning for the past one month and holds deep meaning for this team which has worked hard to share this medium of communication with the sangha women of Mahila Samakhya over the past four years. At 9 pm, the many hours of ideation, writing and recording will find culmination and a new river of conversation will flow into remote houses across the district.
A suggestion to shift base to the terrace is greeted with animated agreement and we settle back into that reverential circle in the soft breeze of the star lit night. The clock hits 9 and the Kelu Sakhi song fills the evening. The programme is a collage of the activities and characters created over the years by the team. It has an informal format where the commentary takes the shape of a banter between established characters created by the team and has snippets from the programmes that have taken wing over the last year every monday. We are told that some of the characters potrayed by the team, are so loved that villagers call in and make specific references to them. For the anniversary the team has also put together some innovative features such as a humourous exchange of two mosquito characters regarding their stay in the villages, a critically argued dialogue on the need for women's empowerment, a beautifully rendered dream sequence of young girls not wishing to grow up because of all the atrocities time casts upon them. Bytes from women who joined Kelu Sakhi along this journey of four years and shared questions, experiences and thoughts on the programme are also included. Their experience of hearing themselves on the radio, is also shared, where many affirm the joy and pride of being recognised in their village alongwith the desire to reach for their rights. In the last section of the programme young girls who have attended the government residential education programme for out of school girls, in shy voices, share their experiences and assert the need for education. Aparna, tells us that one of her team members has also come from this government programme. The Kelu Sakhi programme ends with a call for all women and men to put their hand on the radio and jointly take the oath of ensuring that their girls will not be mistreated and be provided with every possible support. It is a powerful rendering, as voices of men and women rise in unison to affirm their faith in one of the core mandates of the Mahiti Manthana project.
At 10 pm the programme ends and there are congratulatory smiles and a look of relief in the faces of the team. They have been doing this each week but still as we sat around that little radio, one could feel their nervous energy. The result of a deep involvement and commitment to the programme, is my guess. As we begin to chat and relax post the programme, the team jokes about the roles they played and rue the fact that the last bit of the programme was rudely cut by the station.
As a researcher, who is stepping into the theory of network society with tentative steps, Kelu Sakhi serves as an experience which showcases the vast possibilities of that society. Theory comes alive in several ways as ideas of counter publics, resistance identity, etc. swirl to the surface in the short space of an hour. Simultaneously, conversations with Aparna depict the difficulties which underlie the promise of ICTs. The possible roles that different actors of this landscape might have to undertake in order to begin to truly unfold the gifts of this form and use of technology. Or, as the nearby twinkling city of Mysore never fails to remind, be prepared for a further deepening of divides in our societies not so distant future.