With a few old tools and gadgets that he had collected while working at an electronics repair shop at Gudri Bazaar near Mansoorpur in Bihar, he launched a radio station that became a hit with the villagers in no time. The year was 2004 and Raghav Mahto, who loved experimenting with old equipment, stumbled upon the innovative idea of launching a radio station that operated like a community radio service in Muzaffarpur, Vaishali and Saran districts, providing local news and views in the local dialect.
Not only this, there were Hindi songs and news you could listen to and the channel also provided information about crime in the area, programmes on AIDS awareness, polio eradication, literacy initiatives and news about missing people as well as on local functions and festivals. And all this came free of cost.
Most recently, Raghav Radio as Mahto chose to call it, added yet another chapter to its success story. A sociological textbook, published by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), describes him as a “role model for development in society” but ironically, he himself is not aware about his story appearing in the textbook.
Raghav Radio was an instant success story, a blockbuster for news dailies and channels which lapped it up with unconcealed glee, the glamour of media soon descending on Raghav’s cramped thatched-roof radio station: Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1 in Vaishali district of Bihar. Overnight, Raghav became a star and his non-descript village of Mansoorpur became famous even outside the State thanks to his innovation
As luck would have it, Raghav’s core business of radio repairing and sale of audio cassettes too picked up manifold and the inventor was happy with what was unfolding for him. For, Raghav Mahto had achieved no mean feat with his engineering and inquisitive mind. He had after all set-up a small FM radio station at his radio repairing shop, Priya Electronics, in his village, the only famous radio station in a 20 km radius of the area.
Mahto started out with making a transmission kit worth Rs 50 and fitting it to an antenna attached to a bamboo pole on a neighbouring three-storey hospital building. A long wire connected the contraption to a creaky, old homemade stereo cassette player in the radio shack; subsequently, three other rusty, locally made, battery powered tape recorders were connected to it with a cordless microphone.
And, lo! A 12-hour Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1 radio station started airing popular Hindi-Bhojpuri songs, snappy local news, public interest messages on HIV, polio and even breaking alerts on missing children, opening new shops in the locality or the scheduled visit of a politician.
In his early 20s, Raghav had not heard about community radio back then. He was not even aware that what he was doing was totally illegal. He only knew he was getting special attention in the village and his pictures and stories were all over the media. Every day at seven in the morning his childhood friend Shambhu would come to his radio station, hold a cellotape-plastered microphone in his hand and announce, “Good morning! Welcome to Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1.”
The villagers would send in requests of their favourite songs on postcards or call up Raghav at a nearby telephone booth. The man never let anyone down on the requests. Raghav Radio became an instant hit among the villagers and the sale of radio sets multiplied. “I sold around 100 sets every fortnight after I started my own radio station and I was happy with the business,” says Raghav.
The popularity of Raghav Radio FM Mansoorpur 1 grew so much that, on one occasion, when its frequency matched with the wireless transmission of the district police and cops reached his shop to shut it down, thousands of villagers gathered at the spot and chased away the police.
Later, they requested officials not to close down Raghav’s radio station as it would deny them their only source of entertainment. Raghav does not know at what age he started repairing radio sets at a mechanic’s shop in the village. “I used to work in his shop and learnt the repairing tricks in no time. Sometime, when I would be bathing in the village pond, people would come to me and ask me to repair their radio set and I used to fix them,” recalls Raghav. He would have been seven at that time, he says.
However, the widespread media publicity soon became a bane for Raghav Radio — a central team of I&B officials visited Mansoorpur and closed down the radio station “for violating the Indian Telegraph Act.”
This time the villagers were helpless as the officials threatened to arrest Raghav if he started his radio station again. The immediate fallout: The business crumbled for poor Raghav whose father was suffering from cancer and he was the sole breadearner of his family.
Today, Raghav says, “We are on the verge of starvation. I visited everyone including the local MLA and a former minister but no one came forward to help me. It appears they were only interested in listening to their favourite songs aired from my radio station.”
Life took a turn for the worse when Raghav’s ailing father died and two of his younger brothers left home in search of livelihood. Things clearly got tough for this young radio genius.
However, with media reports on the closure of Raghav Radio, a New Delhi-based NGO, Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), stepped in to support him. They visited his village and brought him first to Delhi and then facilitated his entry into the Barefoot College of Tilonia in Ajmer to train him in radio repairing for handicapped people. Here, Mahto started his life afresh. He even made a special radio transmitter equipment called “PC” for transmission at a cheaper rate — only Rs 500 to air radio programmes.
“That kit costs around Rs 5 lakh in the market,” Raghav says. He soon started community radio in Tilonia which has been transmitting folk songs in the area now. Meanwhile, Raghav also got a certificate of appreciation for India’s Best E-Content from the Manthan-AIF Award 2006.
“The Manthan Award Board of Directors hereby declares and certifies that ‘Raghav FM Mansoorpur’ produced by Raghav Mahto is an interesting revelation of grassroots talent in ICT and e-content initiative for community mobilisation and empowerment using the FM radio platform and thus deserved a creation for appreciation and recognition on this Manthan award platform,” says the certificate.
At Barefoot College, Raghav was told that he would get money for his work but when he reached the place he found his daily income was no more than a daily wage labourer. “I was paid Rs 100 every day from which I had to pay for my food and other requirements. Only lodging was free,” he says. Meanwhile, young Raghav got married to a village girl and his younger brothers too returned home after eight years of being traceless.
“The family responsibility suddenly mounted and life once again became too difficult. I requested authorities there to hike my payment but they only kept promising,” Raghav says with a heavy heart.
When it became overbearing and he could not find any alternative, one day Raghav decided to return to his village to be with his family and do something in the village itself. The roller-coaster ride of Raghav radio’s success story again came to a grinding halt.
“Today I’ve no work and I struggle hard to meet two ends meet for my family. Despite all the media highlight once again my family is on the verge of starvation,” Raghav says trying hard to hold back the tears that threaten to fall down his weather-beaten cheeks.
Raghav has pleaded before the village headman, local MLA as well as officials for some help but has got none. “I requested my village mukhia for a house under Indira Awas Yojna but he asked for a cut which I don’t have,” he says.
“I need Rs 10,000 to open my radio repairing shop once again from which I can earn Rs 200 daily and feed my family. Till then, it’s a daily battle for survival,” says Raghav whose wife incidentally is not an illiterate like him.
“The government can provide a job for my wife who is pursuing her graduation. If given a chance, I can set up a radio station at much cheaper rates and increase its frequency higher and clearer,” Raghav says. But for now it is a question of two square meals a day for the family.
Tragically, the protagonist of the Radio Raghav success story about whom students of Class XII read in their NCERT books today desperately needs some work and help to run his family.
I request readers to please contact him and help him if possible