By Teresa Rehman
SHILLONG, India (AlertNet) - Climate change issues are reaching a remote new audience in Meghalaya, a hilly state in northeast India, via 'Mawsawa,' a popular FM radio music show.
'Mawsawa' in the local Khasi language, means a "tone that echoes back," a metaphor for imitation and spoof.
The pioneering show is "basically a spoof on Western music. For instance, a Bryan Adams song is sung in the local language but in the same tune, using traditional musical instruments. And the lyrics would be something to do with the environment and climate change," said Ian Khongmen, the head of 93.5 Red FM radio, the station that hosts the show.
The station, working in cooperation with the state government, is committed to raising awareness about the problems associated with climate change in the area, but is managing it with a new vigour, spiced with humour and drama, listeners say.
Better yet, the show is reaching even small remote villages that have yet to be electrified and do not yet have the luxury of television - places where a battery-powered radio may be the only way of receiving messages on climate change.
REACHING REMOTE AREAS WITH RADIO
"On my tours to remote hamlets, I have seen people listening to FM radio even on their mobile phones. I have seen farmers working and listening to radio. It was then that we decided to tie up with the FM station to spread the message of climate change and other environmental disasters at the grassroots level," said P.S. Nongbri, Meghalaya's deputy conservator of forests.
How effectively is the program reaching rural areas? Last year, when the forest department did a segment for World Wildlife Week in which they broadcast bird calls and asked listeners to identify the birds, "it was only people from interior villages who could answer correctly and win prizes. We were amazed by the reach of the radio," Nongbri said.
Talking about environment issues is an ongoing mission for the FM station. It has developed exclusive characters like Kong Lor (Kong is an endearing term for elder sister), who have become a vehicle for its messages.
"Kong Lor is like the conscience-keeper of the community who talks about the values and tradition which give us a sense of pride. She talks about environmental problems but with a lot of zest and spectacle and manages to strike the right emotional chord among the listeners," said Khongmen, the station head.
The radio station, on the air from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., last year ran a series of segments aimed at generating awareness about the region's 'sacred groves' - protected forests that are tied up with local religious beliefs and are considered conservation models.
Another set of programs, for Earth Day, focused on the need for tree planting.
Disc jockeys regularly make their way to local festivals, and have helped put on street plays on environmental issues in association with local traditional institutions, or 'dorbars'.
"Our station is entertainment-based but we try to push in these pertinent issues," said R.J. Ashlyn, a presenter who runs a listener call-in evening show.
Meghalaya has witnessed large-scale deforestation due to illegal and poorly planned coal mining as well as pollution of its water resources by cement and limestone plants. Trees on Nongkhum island, the one of the biggest river islands in the West Khasi hills, are being indiscriminately felled to produce charcoal.
"Destruction of catchment areas of main rivers and streams caused by mining is the most pertinent problem in Meghalaya now," Nongbri said.
MUSICIANS JOIN INITIATIVE
The radio initiative has caught on with local musicians with similar environmental interests. Kit Shangpliang, a musician from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, has been penning songs on themes including social evils, poverty and terrorism, and now has taken up climate change as well.
His rock band 'Summersalt' regularly focuses on conservation themes, be it conservation of forests or of indigenous culture and values. Songs use indigenous musical instruments of the Khasi people or even traditional kitchen tools turned into instruments.
"We want to look at conservation in a holistic manner. It's encouraging to see radio stations like Red FM talking about climate change," Shangpliang said.
The lyrics of one popular Khasi-language song go like this: "Have you given some thought to the destruction? Mother Earth is in shambles, the forests have been felled again and again. Have you thought how the creator would feel? Feel the pain, the sky has to endure." Radio hosts plan to feature the song in some of their programs.
"We are committed to create awareness about climate change," Khongmen said. "We are together in the fight to ensure a cleaner and more secure future for our planet."
Teresa Rehman is a journalist based in Northeast India. She can be reached at www.teresarehman.net