Modi Steps Up India's Baloch Outreach Programme

The external services division of All India Radio has also urged MEA, MHA to provide it with more Balochi speaking staff; at present four refugees are running the entire show.

New Delhi: With Prime Minister Narendra Modi first raising the issue of human rights violations in the Pakistani province of Balochistan in his Independence Day speech and his government following that up by raising the issue in the United Nations recently, the message has gone out loud and clear that India views this issue as an effective counter to Pakistan’s repeated references to violence and rights abuse in Kashmir. And in another step in the direction of reaching out to the Baloch people, India on Friday also launched a website and mobile app through its broadcaster, All India Radio, to not only expand its reach but also make it Baloch language radio programme, which has been running since 1974, more interactive.

Ever since Modi raised the Balochistan issue in his August 15 speech, the staffers at All India Radio have been working on ways and means of improving their Balochi language programme. While the programme, which is aired from 8-30 p.m. to 9-30 p.m., has been on for over four decades, it has over the past couple of decades suffered due to paucity of manpower as none of the Indian universities teach Balochi language and getting people from Pakistan or Afghanistan, where it is spoken is not too easy.

But with India’s renewed focus on the rights of Balochi people, and its raising of the issue for the first time in the United Nations on Wednesday, the broadcaster has also gone into overdrive to shore up its resources for meeting the growing need to have the programme reach out to its targeted audience.

Speaking at the 33rd Session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, India Ambassador and Permanent Representative at the U.N. in Geneva Ajit Kumar had stated that while India’s credentials as a peaceful, democratic, pluralistic society that is deeply committed to the welfare of its people were well established, Pakistan is characterised by authoritarianism, absence of democratic norms and widespread human rights violations across the country including Balochistan.

After the political and diplomatic offensive, India is now seeking to train its guns at Pakistan by increasing its reach through the airwaves as also the worldwide web and social media.

Besides launching the multimedia service and mobile app, All India Radio is also working towards technological upgradation to improve the reception quality of its programmes for the Baloch listeners.

Another area of concern for the All India Radio – which currently has 57 radio transmissions, covering 108 countries in 27 languages, including 15 foreign languages – is that the responses and mails it used to get from its listeners abroad had suffered extensively about a decade ago when the Centre had stopped transporting and supplying it the mails through its foreign missions on account of their rising cost.

But now through e-mails and social media interactions, the feedback system is gradually being restored. As As Amlanjyoti Majumdar, station director of External Services Division of All India Radio said hopefully, “the app and the website launched for the Baloch people will help in getting feedback too”.

Elaborating on the issue, he said “the websites and apps launched for other language services were all linked to the social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter and there has been a perceptible change in the quantum of responses and mails which we receive. We hope that would be true in the case of the Balochi service also.”

For the moment, a greater concern for the AIR management is augmenting the resource pool of Baloch language. Over the last 13 years, when its regular Balochi language staffers suddenly left, it has been making do with three sibling refugees from Balochistan – Dolly, Indra Kumar and Subash – as also a refugee from Afghanistan, Maria.

It was recently reported how these Balochi speaking translators-cum-announcers (TAs) have been doing a variety of programme ranging from ‘Haal’ or news, ‘Tabasra’ or discussion, and a musical programme in which old songs from Balochistan, which are available in AIR archives, are played.

According to Sanjay Koul, the ESD coordinator, these TAs not only read the news, they also translate it. “The general news is provided by the news division to all the 27 different language units which translate them,” said Koul, pointing out that this also makes it essential for all staffers to be bilingual, having knowledge of Hindi or English as well.

Duration, expert staff

With the Centre laying greater emphasis on the Baloch outreach programme, Majumdar said the External Services Division of AIR has urged both the Ministry of External Affairs as well as the Ministry of Home Affairs for assistance. “Besides we are making our own efforts. We recently notified and issued advertisements for taking interns for different languages. But for Balochi we did not get much response, because it is not taught in our universities. That is true of Sindhi also. So we have a problem with the languages which are not taught in India.”

But Majumdar is hopeful of getting more hands. “In external services we have two ways of recruitment. One of the native speakers from these countries and the other of Indian nationals who speak the language. So both the things are on. It is just that if we have to get people from Afghanistan for radio, it has to be on government to government basis. There the MEA comes into play and therefore we have requested them to get people. They are in a better position to identify and deliver us these resources.”

On whether there were any plans to increase the duration of Baloch programmes, he said: “That depends on so many factors, not just the manpower. These are international frequencies and these are allocated by an international body. So these factors have to be taken into consideration. Also, we need to see if actually we need to increase the duration because now with the website the programme will be available to the listeners even after it is broadcast. So a listener will be able to listen as per his or her convenience.”

As for the quality of Balochi spoken in its programme, Majumdar said it is spoken in two different ways, one is of the Pakistan side and the other of the Afghanistan side. “It is not that one is completely exclusive of the other. Both the variations are understood by all the Balochi speaking population. We have staffers for both these dialects. We have a mix of it.” But with just one lady who knows the Afghan-style Balochi, AIR is desperately looking for more trained hands to deliver on the enhanced expectations of it.