The Optimist Citizen

This man did not study beyond class 2 and yet set up a community radio station all by himself

Raghav Mahto was a radio mechanic from Mansoorpur who used bare minimum resources to develop a community radio station. It later got shut down in 2006 due to legal and financial issues. However, the story of this man who barely has any education setting up an infotainment radio for the public good never fails to inspire us.

In the small town of Mansoorpur, located 3 km away from the Vaishali district of Bihar, resides the barefoot innovator Raghav Mahto. He runs a community information resource centre to sustain his family of four. His humble voice cracks at the mention of the long lost ‘Raghav FM’, an initiative that brought him to the limelight in 2006. Despite being not educated beyond class 2, he engineered an FM channel with bare means. Mahto shot to fame after his community radio got shut down due to legal issues. However, he is determined to fight poverty and bring back the glory of his innovation

Recalling the beginning of his incredible story, Raghav shares, “I used to work at a tent house repairing transistors and generators. But, that work was seasonal and didn’t fill my pocket enough.” So, he laid the foundation of his shop where he began repairing the radio, television, etc. One fine day in the year 2000, while he was repairing a cordless mic, he discovered the novel idea of community radio.

He further improvised it to make the transmitter with Rs 100 and began operating the radio within a 20 km radius. The community radio brought joy to the villagers who found it both entertaining and informative. They would flock to the station to air messages such as missing cattle and panchayat meetings. Besides broadcasting popular songs in Hindi and the local dialect, Raghav’s FM would provide information about emergencies, polio & AIDs awareness programs, literacy initiatives, and local events. For a backward area of Bihar, this innovation proved to be a boon.

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“I didn’t know about frequency or other terms. I just knew how to repair it. I had to do something to earn my livelihood. That led to the formation of the Raghav FM,” shares Mahto. This radio station was broadcasted from a shack. And the palm-size transmitter used to hang on a tall bamboo cane erected on the highest terrace in the village. The word spread like a wildfire and Mahto’s popularity grew by leaps and bounds. Everything was going fine until a team of CBI and Information and Broadcasting Ministry officials raided his radio station in 2006. Still in his 20s, Mahto didn’t know he needed a licence and a government-approved transmitter to run a radio station. He could not afford the transmitter costing around Rs 3.5 lakhs. So, he handed over the transmitter to the officials, and Raghav FM came to a standstill.

After this devastating event, Mahto moved to Tilonia village in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district. During this time he met his wife Kiran Kumari, and the couple worked together to help Barefoot College, an NGO, in setting up a legally licensed community radio station in Tilonia. Kiran went on to become an accomplished solar engineer. Besides this, Mahto used to train physically disabled women in repairing radios at the college. In 2009, he returned to Mansoorpur and set up his centre to teach computers to the children.

Mahto is an inquisitive man and a self-taught innovator. In the world of fancy degrees, his simple idea of using minimum resources to bring in social transformation won many hearts. A few years ago, he joined the “Wireless for Community” centres in Guna in Madhya Pradesh. He equipped himself with knowledge of wireless networking and felt proud of doing things outside of his comfort zone. Then, he returned to his village to continue running his centre and imparting digital literacy and IT skills to the people. Since then, he has been teaching and providing employment opportunities to the village youths.

Today, when we talk about local employment and self-reliance, we need more people like Raghav Mahto who can bring about social transformation in the remote pockets of the country. They need resources and knowledge to upskill themselves and work in the right direction. There is a wide gap between them and the policies of the government. As Raghav puts it, “We want the government to support us in our initiatives. It is only then we would be able to become changemakers and bring a social and cultural change in our communities.” Mahto looks forward to reviving his community radio station in future. He said, “We need a registered NGO to run a radio. Our NGO is now two years old. Next year, we will apply and hopefully, Raghav FM will be back to serving the people of Mansoorpur.”

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