Remembering Mahatma Gandhi's first radio broadcast on Public Service Broadcasting Day

On Public Service Broadcasting Day on November 12, Mahatma Gandhi and freedom fighter Dr. Usha Mehta were remembered for their immense contribution to the spirit of service in media

by Nishant Saxena
Published - Nov 14, 2017 9:00 AM Updated: Nov 14, 2017 9:00 AM

It was Diwali that day, 70 years ago, when Mahatma Gandhi couldn’t visit the refugees of Partition stationed at Kurukshetra in Haryana and decided to convey his message through Radio instead. This was going to be Gandhiji’s first and last live broadcast at All India Radio (AIR), on November 12, 1947.
In the year 2000, November 12 was declared as the Jan Prasaran Diwas (Public Service Broadcasting Day) after it was conceptualised by Suhas Borker, Convenor, Jan Prasar.
"I see 'shakti', the miraculous power of God," Gandhiji had reportedly said about the medium of radio as he entered the studio.
“Soon after, around 3:30 pm Gandhiji began his speech saying, “My brothers and sisters who are suffering, I do not know if only you or some other people are also listening to it...”,” said Professor Hemant Joshi, Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), as he addressed a small gathering at an event held in India International Centre (IIC), Delhi, organised to observe Public Service Broadcasting Day.
“Mahatma Gandhi was neither a Prime Minister nor a President, he didn’t hold any post. Like a common citizen he spoke from the AIR studio. This was the best example of public service broadcasting,” said Borker, who was also present at the event.
Gandhiji, who used to run several newspapers and understood the power of media, was completely against commercial ads and believed that only those non-commercial ads should be accepted that serve some public purpose. For him, the aim of media was service.
The Ordinary yet brave: Dr Usha Mehta
“Very ordinary and simple yet a woman so courageous that she braved the bullets of the British to run, what is popularly called, the Underground Secret Congress Radio,” said Rita Mukherjee, former Chief Producer, All India Radio as she introduced late Dr Usha Mehta at the event.
Mehta, born on March 25, 1920, was a Gandhian and a freedom fighter mostly remembered for courageously running an underground radio station to give out uncensored news and recorded messages of imprisoned leaders during the Quit India Movement in 1942. She was also conferred with the Padma Vibhushan in 1998 for her contribution to the nation.
“She along with her colleagues was running the underground Congress radio carrying uncensored news and messages of our then leaders so that general public could listen, which was very important,” said Mukherjee.
Mehta had told Mujkherjee during a previous interaction that running the underground Congress radio was the most beautiful as well as the saddest thing in her life.
“It was also the saddest time for Mehta because she was betrayed by one of her team members who leaked her location,” said Mujkherjee, who has also made a documentary feature on the freedom fighter.
On November 12, 1942, after successfully running the underground radio by continuously switching locations, Mehta was arrested in Bombay and imprisoned for four years.
Although the AIR Archives Library has preserved Gandhiji’s speech there is no official record of the documentary feature on Dr Usha Mehta’s life.

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