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October 16, 2019

Highlighting Developmental Issues: Radhika Viswanathan And Samyuktha Varma

As told to Ojas Kolvankar by Radhika Viswanathan. Illustration by Osheen Siva

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RADHIKA VISWANATHAN AND SAMYUKTHA VARMA
Researchers and Development Communication Specialists

A Bengaluru-based writer-researcher duo, Radhika Viswanathan and Samyuktha Varma, are bringing to the fore complex developmental issues in the country, like stunting and malnutrition, the challenges faced by informal economies, environmental hazards and the struggles of the female workforce, by using the accessible and approachable format of podcasts. While navigating censorship and funding the self-sustaining platform they are, through In the Field, utilising the lesser-known digital platform to provide some perspective about the often-overlooked realities of living in India, and what the future looks like.

“Podcasts are an exciting medium for us. While we were working at organisations where we had to write reports and articles, we were restricted to only one way of communication which wasn’t interactive. What we really wanted to do was to start a conversation. When you are listening to a podcast, it is a very personal and immersive experience; the listener isn’t distracted by images or texts. Through our episodes, we create a mood with various sounds, inflections and commentaries. Historically in India, even the most complicated texts have been passed down orally. When the audience listens to our episodes, they connect their personal experiences and relate to them uniquely.”

In The Field started two years ago, and the first episode was uploaded on October 24, 2017. The development sector in India is a small space, and everyone interacts with each other — debating, discussing and sharing thoughts and ideas. A lot of this happens even outside of the workspace. Samyuktha and I have known each other for a long time now. Coincidentally, we studied in the same university. We started working together about ten years ago, and back then we were looking at issues relating to drinking water and urban water scarcity and solutions to curb it.”

“Our views on development have evolved; we’re interested in tracing the journey, ideas about change. Ten years ago, what we thought of as a sign of progress is different from what we think now. For instance, building dams is considered to be an environmentally unsustainable concept today, although in the past, it had been very well-received. Examples such as this one have had an interesting journey. They have been informed by people and movements, policies and finances, which is what we are spotlighting through the show. We want to have a conversation about where we stand now and where we want to be in the future.”

“When we started out, there was very little space for podcasts in India; people didn’t grasp the potential of the medium. In the past two years, we have seen the coming of age of this platform. In The Field is funded by brands and philanthropists — more people are willing to support these kinds of shows, there is also a wide range of listeners from both India and the rest of the world, and we get consistent direct feedback from our regular listeners, which is helpful in understanding what content is working.”

“We maintain transparency with our audience; we inform them about the shows which are completely independent and editorially-driven and those that are co-produced with a funder or with another organisation. We want people to understand the intention of the show, the origin of the idea and how they work together. It is becoming increasingly important for all journalistic efforts to be clear about the distinction between independent content and that with advertising revenue. But, our ultimate interest lies in talking about society at large.”

“Our forthcoming show, City of Women, is scheduled to release in January 2020. It has been funded by the Google Podcasts creator programme and inspired by urban women. It explores how they interact in cities and public spaces, and the way their lives are constructed around them. As a society, we don’t think of women as the inhabitants of the city in the same way as we do men. While carrying out daily activities — from waking up, to going to work, to returning home — women have to navigate issues like personal safety and societal conventions. Traditionally, women aren’t seen as loiterers or explorers. The main reason why women are allowed to go out of their home is for work.”

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