Matters India Reporter
New Delhi: The first Salesian community radio in South Asia faced the brunt of police crackdown on the ongoing agitation for a separate state for ethnic Gorkhali people in the Darjeeling Hills in North Bengal.
Police raided Radio Salesian 90.8 FM: Voice of the Hills on August 10 as the agitation entered its 60th day.
The radio station is the first college campus radio in West Bengal and entire northeastern India. It was launched on December 8, 2016, after prolonged efforts to obtain broadcast license since June 2012. The station is also available through on-demand web radio at www.salesiancollege.in since October 28, 2016.
Community Radio is the third tier of radio broadcasting in India after the government run Akashvani (All India Radio), and popular commercial FM radio stations. Unlike commercial radio stations, Community Radio is a station of the people, by the people and for the people, and 50 percent of programs are produced with community participation. Hence, local people frequent Salesian College which hosts the radio station.
In the third phase of the Gokhaland agitation, earlier in July, government authorities shut down the lone Nepali satellite television channel ABN. Prior to that, in early June , the government agencies had shut down for short while all television channels operating in the hills such as CNC, Darjeeling TV, Himali TV and Kurseong TV.
Another fallout of the on-going agitation is that internet access in the hills shut down since July 17 has not yet been restored in spite of protests by Human Rights and Yuva Morcha (youth front) groups.
The Salesian College Sonada was established in 1938. It is among reputed higher education institutions in the hills and a constituent college of North Bengal University.
Around noon on August 10, Darjeeling ASP (Additional Superintendent of Police) along with a troop of some 25 armed personnel of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) visited the campus. Earlier in the day, the same force had cleared the Gorkhaland daily julus (rally) and nari morcha (women picketers) in neighboring Sonada town.
The visitors left their vehicles outside the college gate on the main road NH 55 (National Highway) and walked up the 70-meter college drive way. After the officers were escorted to the principal’s office, the visitors accused the radio of spreading “false rumors” and involvement in the he movement.
They asked the station director and the college principal to stop airing any issues related to the Gorkhaland demand.
In addition, one of the officers made a disturbing comment to the college and community radio staff saying that, “a political party meeting is held at Salesian College Sonada where the party heads tend to decide and plan for the Gokhaland movement.”
Radio station director Father C.M. Paul dismissed both these allegations as totally baseless. “Our community radio station strictly adheres to the All India Radio Code and has back-up of 90 days of programming,” he asserted.
The programs include the daily five hours of LIVE shows called Naulo Bihani (current affairs) and popular afternoon show Samarpan during which listeners call in to request or dedicate songs to their loved ones.
Program segments in the morning live show Naulo Bihani include Headline News from the leading Nepali language full color daily newspaper Himalaya Darpan which has news from various Hills regions like Kurseong, Mirik, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and neighboring Sikkim state. The state administration considers the said newspaper to be ‘yellow paper’ – allegedly inclined to sensationalism and funded by vested interest groups.
College principal Father George Thadathil says the reasons for the second allegation “could be traced to the outdoor broadcasting initiative by the entire Radio Salesian team on August 2 when they took spot interviews of the various Nari Morcha (women’s group of picketers) from Kurseong to Ghoom.:
The two town are at a distance of some 25 kilometers on NH 55 covering several hill townships like Kurseong, Sepoydhura,Tung, Dilaram, Gorabari, Sonada, Jalapahar and Ghoom.
The two-hour show consisting of Kurseong bytes was broadcast on August 4 in Charcha Paricharcha show and was repeated two days later.
The much appreciated programs marked 50th day of Gorkhaland agitation and 14th day of fast unto death by young people in Darjeeling, Kurseong, Mirik and Kalimpong to obtain Gorkhaland state.
The visitors made a stern warning and left with a threat to come back with warrant to shut down the station.
The radio staff assured the visitors to discontinue broadcasting Headline News segment from Nepali daily.
Reflecting on the incident, the Radio Journalist Team along with station director and principal re-affirmed their commitment to continue to be the “Voice of the Hills” and work for the welfare of the community through the only Nepali language community radio in India.
Radio Salesian reaches beyond its home at Gorabari village situated 6,500 ft above sea level to Sonada, Kurseong, Mirik, entire Balasun Valley, Dhajea, Sukiapukhri, Sandakpu and border districts of Nepal.
There were only 206 community radios operated by NGOs and Educational Institutions in India according to the last count of community radios taken early 2017.