In Nepal, Woman Radio Host Makes Big Splash over Airwaves


an article by Jiyoung Han for Search for Common Ground (abridged)

Sanju Kumari Das is a petite, soft-spoken woman, but don’t let that fool you. Hailing from Siraha, a volatile district in Nepal’s eastern Terai, this formidable 26 year-old commands the attention of political giants, helps end nationwide strikes, and is one only a handful of female radio show hosts in Nepal.

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Sanju Kumari Das

Sanju is a producer for the Farakilo Dharti franchise, one of Search’s peacebuilding radio talk shows in Nepal. . . . Sanju has undergone Search’s peacebuilding training and applies the common ground approach to disputes on the program.

“It’s challenging to get people of opposing sides to come to an agreement, but it’s truly rewarding when it happens,” explains Sanju. “Agreement is difficult to achieve and should be celebrated.” . .

Once when political parties enforced nationwide strikes over a disagreement on the future federal states, Sanju invited party reps on the show to talk it out. This set a constructive precedent for subsequent talks, culminating in a multi-party agreement to end the strikes.

Many of Sanju’s guests have praised her accomplishments and mediation skills. This is all the more striking in a region where women are expected to be silent before men, contrary to Sanju’s highly public profile as a peacemaker. However, Sanju believes her gender and youth are irrelevant to the quality of the show, however. She coolly explains that, as long as the proper conflict resolution models are maintained, hosts young and old, male and female, would see similar results.

“I used to think I was always right, that my opinions were the most accurate. But producing Khulla Dharti has shown me that I make mistakes, that alternative views have just as much merit as my own. I’ve learned to listen to others, which is a crucial part of resolving any conflict.”

Khulla Dharti has built a strong following, with listenership as high as 41% of all radio listeners in the eastern region of Nepal. Sanju credits the program’s emphasis on neutrality and constructive dialogue as the key to its appeal. Whether it’s critically or appreciatively, listeners are engaging with Khulla Dharti conversations. For now, they’re focused on getting Sanju back on air; the mother of two has been on maternity leave to look after her 8 month-old son. She plans on returning to Khulla Dharti soon.

Fourteen radio stations currently produce and broadcast Farakilo Dharti in three languages—Nepali (Farakilo Dharti), Maithili (Khulla Dharti), and Tharu (Chakkar Dharti)—tailoring their respective shows to the local context. Between April and June of 2013, 84% of FD episodes have led to an agreed solution between conflicting parties, while a 2013 listenership survey revealed that 80% of respondents continue the discussion with friends after listening to the show. Indeed, FD continues to have impact on its target communities, with marginalized groups across the country reporting that it gives their voices an otherwise unavailable platform.

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