Radio Ads for Welfare Schemes Stink. Is Soch in the Shauchalya?

Rural development communication is in the commode. Shinjini Singh raises a stink. 

3 min read
Hindi Female

I don’t even know why I listen to the radio anymore. I am not an illiterate, unhygienic, gender-insensitive, gullible Indian villager. But here’s what I hear on three FM stations in Lucknow, between “super hit songs” every day.

“Jahan soch hai, wahan shauchayala hai”, at best can translated to “where there’s a thought, there’s a toilet!” a message issued in public interest by the Ministry of Health.

“High yielding varieties of wheat at subsidised rates are finally available at the local Block Development Office, make the switch from your reliable and cheap old crop seeds and buy a tractor because of course your crop will be bumper! All you need to do is contact your local Block Development Officer”… wherever he sits, because he will definitely tell you everything about this amazing scheme!

“So your kid has diarrhea, why the hell can’t you vaccinate him? Don’t you know vaccines are for free?” And you, “Mr Father-in-Law… did you take your bahu to the hospital for her first delivery? Did you supervise her hundred-day course of iron tablets? No? WHY? WHY? No! WHY?”

Why is that hand pump dysfunctional, Pradhan ji? “My daughter fell sick on the red water from the hand pump and so….” What? Don’t you know you can boil water to purify it…or maybe contact the Water Department to replace it? What kind of Pradhan are you?

“Yayy! Mela hai! Mela hai! Gramuday ka mela hai…” yes, yes villages are shining! Time to celebrate!!! Elections are only a year away; let’s revise your rights and remind you about the fabulous schemes we planned for you in Jan-hit (public well being).

And that’s not all, every day I also hear Bittu pleading with his mother to not have a daughter, because his grandmother will definitely kill her and he will be left without a playmate, yet again.

What is going on here? This has got to be some kind of joke or the result of hurried ad-making and very overworked staff. Personally, I would like to know what kind of brainstorming leads to such a condescending tone in radio advertisements and when was the last time creative teams or those giving animated voice overs actually visited a village and spoke to the people they are addressing?

Development communication via Indian radio has hit an all time low in Uttar Pradesh at least. It reinforces a stark image of the rural listener to an urban listener. To the latter’s mind, the average dehaathi (villager) is an impossibly thick headed and poor individual who is in dire need of being told how to use a toilet, get his kids vaccinated and to kindly improve his agricultural practices because the State is willing to help! The reality, to any individual who might have made the briefest of visits to a “poor village” in UP is quite different, of course.

Instead of crass advertisements that harangue uneducated mothers, fathers and household heads, advertising must be equally sensitive to rural and urban listeners and different income groups. While Mr and Mrs Sharma are smart to consider investing in an upmarket real estate with German landscaping for their “foreign return” son, the average malnourished daily wage earning Babloo is not stupid either. He probably does not have the time or money to even access the State’s freebies. Ask Babloo, he will tell you why he can’t vaccinate Pinky today.


(Between selling homegrown mustard oil, naming obscure animals and reminding people there’s a queue, Shinjini is writing her PhD in Development Studies at Cambridge. As a development consultant and generally cocky nosy parker obsessed with creating an equitable India, she’s lived, worked and travelled extensively across her favorite triumvirate- UP, Bihar and Jharkhand. As a frazzled fourth year PhD student, there’s nothing she likes more than Seville orange marmalade toast with Peruvian coffee while reading Page 3. She also lifts really heavy weights, sees goodness in approximately everybody and wears a seatbelt when listening to the radio)

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