Kolkata is the birthplace of Amateur Radio. Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose discovered wireless microwaves and demonstrated them in Calcutta Town Hall in November 1894. The first amateur radio operator in India was Shri Amarendra Chandra Gooptu (callsign 2JK), licensed in 1921. Later that year, Shri Mukul Bose (2HQ) became the second ham operator. Both of these gentlemen were from Kolkata and they made the first two-way ham radio communication in the country in 1921 in Kolkata. By 1923, there were twenty British hams operating in India. In 1929, the call sign prefix VU came into effect in India, replacing three-letter call signs. The first short-wave entertainment and public broadcasting station, “VU6AH”, was set up in 1935 by E P Metcalfe, vice-chancellor of Mysore University. However, there were fewer than fifty license holders in the mid-1930s, most of them British officers in the Indian army.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the British canceled the issue of new licenses. All amateur radio operators were sent written orders to surrender their transmitting equipment to the police, both for possible use in the war effort and to prevent the clandestine use of the stations by Axis collaborators and spies. With the gaining momentum of the Indian independence movement, ham operator Nariman Abarbad Printer (VU2FU) set up the Azad Hind Radio to broadcast Gandhian protest music and uncensored news; he was immediately arrested and his equipment seized. In August 1942, after Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement, the British began clamping down on the activities of Indian independence activists and censoring the media. To circumvent media restrictions, Indian National Congress activists, led by Usha Mehta, contacted Mumbai-based amateur radio operators, “Bob” Tanna (VU2LK) and Nariman Printer to help broadcast messages to grass-roots party workers across the country. The radio service was called the “Congress Radio”, and began broadcasting on 2 September 1942 on 7.12 MHz. The station could be received as far as Japanese-occupied Myanmar. By November 1942, Tanna was betrayed by an unknown radio officer and was forced to shut down the station.
Temporary amateur radio licenses were issued in 1946, after the end of World War II. By 1948, there were 50 amateur radio operators in India, although only a dozen were active. Following India’s independence in 1947, the first amateur radio organization, the Amateur Radio Club of India was inaugurated on 15 May 1948 at the School of Signals at Mhow in Madhya Pradesh. The club headquarters was later moved to New Delhi, where it was renamed the Amateur Radio Society of India (ARSI) on 15 May 1954. As India’s oldest amateur radio organization, ARSI became India’s representative at the International Amateur Radio Union.
Partly due to low awareness among the general population and prohibitive equipment costs, the number of licensed amateur radio operators did not increase significantly over the next two decades, numbering fewer than a thousand by 1970. CW (Continues Wave) or Morse code and AM (Amplitude Modulation) was the predominant modes at that time. The electronic equipment was mostly valve-based, obtained from Indian army surpluses. During the mid-1960s, the modes of operation saw a change from Amplitude Modulation to Single Side Band (SSB) as the preferred communication mode. By 1980, the number of amateur radio operators had risen to 1,500. In 1984, then Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, waived the import duty for wireless equipment. After this, the number of operators rose steadily, and by 2000 there were 10,000 licensed ham operators. As of 2017, there are more than 27,000 licensed users in India.
Amateur radio operators have played a significant part in disaster management and emergencies. In 1991, during the Gulf War, a lone Indian ham operator in Kuwait provided the only means of communication between stranded Indian nationals in that country and their relatives in India. Amateur radio operators have also played a helpful part in disaster management. Shortly after the 1993 Latur and 2001 Gujarat earthquakes, the central government rushed teams of ham radio operators to the epicenter to provide vital communication links. In December 2004, a group of amateur radio operators on DX-pedition on the Andaman Islands witnessed the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. With communication lines between the islands severed, the group provided the only way of relaying live updates and messages to stations across the world.
In 2005, India became one of few countries to launch an amateur radio satellite, the HAMSAT. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the microsatellite as an auxiliary payload on the PSLV-6.
Amsat India and Exseed Space entered into an agreement where Exseed Space designed and manufactured a Qube amateur satellite. The payload was realized in record time – just 6 working days – by the Exseed Space team headed by Ashhar Farhan, VU2ESE. The satellite was launched on PSLV C45 on April 1st, 2019.
[Featured Photo shows a framed picture of Shri Amarendra Chandra Gooptu, VU2JK, surrounded by frames of his amateur radio license and awards.]