Archive for the 'Social Change' Category

 

Mar 31 2009

Jaago Re, My Idea and Lead India: The Impact of Socially Conscious Corporate Campaigns in the 2009 Indian General Elections

by at 3:08 pm

In my previous posts for the Global Voices special coverage on the 2009 Indian general elections, I have analyzed how Indian politicians and political parties are using internet and mobile tools for election campaigning and civil society groups in India are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns.

As interesting as these initiatives are, the three most effective election campaigns in the 2009 Indian general elections are run by corporate brands: Jaago Re by Tata Tea, My Idea from Idea Cellular and Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India (Live Mint/ Thaindian/ Exchange4Media/ Hindustan Times).

In my earlier avatar as the custodian of a large brand in India, I was convinced that online campaigns in India could stand on their own, without support from ad spends in mainstream media. The tactics employed by these three successful campaigns have made me realize that online brand campaigns in India will continue to be driven by heavy spending in mainstream media.

Tata Tea Jaago Re

The Jaago Re campaign was launched by Tata Tea and Janaagraha in September 2008 (press release) to start a voter registration drive in colleges and corporates in 35 cities across the country and register four million voters. The voter registration itself is driven through an interactive application on its website and kiosks, which helps users identify their constituency, prepares a ready to print voter registration form in five minutes, guides them to the nearest voter registration center and updates them via SMS when their names are added to the voting list.

The campaign, which is run by a small team of youngsters in their twenties (The Week), has an advisory board that includes former Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy, Infosys founder Narayan Murthy and Rang De Basanti director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Hindustan Times/ Indian Express/ TOI). The campaign has convinced several large colleges and companies to become 100 percent registered (TOI/ TOI/ Mid Day/ TOI/ Deccan Herald) and even convinced the election commission to allow bulk submission of registration forms.

Tata Tea has used a number of interesting ads to engage the Indian youth into the Jaago Re campaign.

Jaago Re main ad

Jaago Re Use Your Finger! Use it to Vote!

Tata Tea has also tied up with various TV channels to create micro campaigns like Bindass TV’s iChange campaign to support the Jagoo Re campaign —

Jaago Re Bindass TV Ungali Utha Vote Kar ad

Jaago Re Disney ‘If I Were a Prime Minister’ ad

Jaago Re Channel V VJ Juhi ‘Vote ya Vaat’ ad

Jaago Re also has an active social media presence with more than 15,000 members on Facebook and almost 13,000 members on Orkut.

The campaign is now conducting free Shut Up & Vote rock concerts by Bangalore-based band Thermal And A Quarter (TAAQ) across 10 cities to to engage Indian youth in the electoral process (DNA/ Indian Express/ IBN Live/ Indian Express/ DNA) —

Jaago Re has turned out to be an extremely successful campaign. Not only has it been a topic of a huge number of news stories and blog posts, and resulted in much goodwill for Tata Tea (Business Standard), it has also managed to register 531,395 voters so far, in spite of its run ins with a slow moving bureaucracy (TOI).

The Indian blogosphere is in love with the Jaago Re campaign. Rashmi Bansal believes that, with the campaign, Tata Tea has taken corporate social responsibility further than most brands do. Rajesh Kumar wonders why only beverage companies do election themed social advertising. Indian Homemaker and Chavvi Sachdev share their experiences with voter registration. Sanjukta has an interesting interview with Jaago Re campaign coordinator Jasmine Shah.

Idea Cellular My Idea

Idea Cellular‘s My Idea campaign is a continuation of its participatory democracy ad campaign where a lady politician, aided by her tech-savvy assistant Abhishek Bachchan, gathers the views of the citizens in her constituency using mobile phones —

The campaign, run by Pinstorm, asks people to submit an idea that can change India and vote on the ideas submitted by others. So far, within one month, more than 2,000 ideas have been submitted and more than 140,000 votes have been cast (Indian Television).

It’s the janus-faced Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India, however, which is likely to incite the most interesting discussions in the Indian blogosphere.

TOI Lead India

The Lead India campaign carries forward the theme of its 2007 campaign, in which it ran a nationwide ‘talent-hunt’ to search for the next generation of Indian leaders. In its new avatar, it wants to enable the Indian electorate to make the right voting decision in the upcoming elections, by providing a platform for meaningful political debate and supporting the No Criminals in Politics campaign.

TOI Bleed India

At the same time, TOI’s Bleed India campaign parodies Lead India and asks —

Lead India? Where to? Up the garden Path? Round the Bend? And by who? Our Leaders? Lol!

So while the Times Of India tries to find new leaders for a new age (good luck gentlemen!), we focus instead on those who Bleed India; Masters of the Scam, Tigers of the Tightrope: Surely they deserve some acknowledgement of their genius – in staying above the law, beyond the law, in making it and in breaking it..wah! wah! Ladies and gentlemen…you have led us and yes you have bled us.

It then creates an elaborate parody of the typical Indian politician, Pappu Raj, with his own Facebook profile and Facebook page (Exchange4Media).

Anondan tears apart the Lead India print ad while Rajiv Dingra wonders what is cooking with the Lead India/ Bleed India dichotomy. On Twitter, several users like Deepak and Kanika, find the Bleed India campaign “funny and creative”, while Sumant and Aadisht believe that Bleed India is “buzz gone wrong” and “badly done sarcasm”.

Opinion is divided on whether Jaago Re, My Idea and Lead India/ Bleed India are really socially conscious campaigns, or blatant attempts to generate buzz, but if engagement is the benchmark for success, these campaigns are the most effective ones running in the election season in India.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mar 28 2009

Digital Civil Society Campaigns in the 2009 Indian General Elections

by at 5:57 pm

In my first post for the Global Voices special coverage on the 2009 Indian general elections, I had analyzed how Indian politicians and political parties are using internet and mobile tools for election campaigning. In this post, I’ll detail how civil society groups in India are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns in the run up to the elections.

The National Election Watch, a collaboration between 1200 NGOs led by Association for Democratic Reforms, seeks to increase transparency in Indian elections by combining information about constituencies and candidates with user comments and ratings on candidates. However, the website suffers from inadequate usage and the absence of rich data (Live Mint).

The Campaign for No Criminals in Politics aims to ensure that no political party gives tickets to candidates with criminal antecedents in the 2009 general elections.

Campaign for No Criminals in Politics

The data on its website is based on the affidavits submitted by the 2004 contestants. The campaign has an active Facebook group with almost 5000 members and has also launched two videos to promote its campaign —

Bharat Votes (Facebook/ Orkut) also aims to create awareness about voting using social media tools (IBN Live).

Vote India is another voter awareness website which has got some traction (AFP/ TOI/ Washington Post). It has an active presence on Twitter and Orkut (1/ 2/ 3) and has also used a video to promote itself —

Vote India’s page on section 49(O) has been widely cited in what I believe is a misguided discussion on “negative voting”. Basically, the idea is that voters should have the right to ask for a re-election by selecting a “none of the above” option, if none of the candidates are acceptable to them (DNA/ IBN Live/ Economic Times/ Live Mint/ Mid Day). A chain e-mail falsely claims that such a rule already exists. Many bloggers, like Deva Prasad and Vimoh, strongly support the idea and even call it a powerful agent of change. A Facebook group promoting the idea has more than 100 members and an online petition to recognize the negative vote also has more than 100 signatures.

Several city and state specific websites have come up to help voters register to vote and make smart choices about their candidates. SmartVote and Bangalore Voter ID in Bangalore, Mumbai Votes in Mumbai, and Future CM in Andhra Pradesh are some of the more prominent examples.

Mumbai Votes

Another category of websites aims to engage citizens into discussion and ideation on civic issues and then use the online community to initiate offline collective action at a later stage.

Lords of Odds, which runs an online sports prediction market in India, has started a Digg-like social voting micro-site called Manifesto to help citizens create their own manifesto for the elections.

Lords of Odds Manifesto

I think that a social voting website focused on the elections is a great idea. In fact, three months back, I was toying with the idea of starting one myself at IndiaTalks. I wish that NGOPost, which runs an active social voting community on social welfare issues, would start a separate section on the elections.

Praja aims to use online tools to build a community of engaged citizens who can be mobilized to participate in offline collective action. Youth for Equality aims to build a political movement to end caste-based reservations in India. The Wada Na Todo Abhiyan aims to hold the government accountable to its promise to end poverty, social exclusion and discrimination. Change India, started by Lead India winner Rajendra Misra aims to channelize the energies of citizens, by building online and offline participatory platforms, to solve India’s many problems (Rajendra Misra has recently joined BJP, so the initiative is hardly non-partisan anymore (DNA)). India Banao also aims to provide a platform for young people to participate in public affairs. For many of these websites, online participation is limited, and their effectiveness in organizing offline action is suspect.

Yet another category of websites aim to become the default source of news and analysis related the 2009 general elections.

IndiPepal

IndiPepal is perhaps the most ambitious of these with blogs from several well-known analysts, but India Voting (Indian Express/ IBN Live), Engage Voter, India Numbers and India Votes 2009 also have content rich websites. These websites, however, are directly competing with election microsites from mainstream media — TOI, TOI Your Voice, DNA, The Hindu, Yahoo!, Yahoo! Your Manifesto, MSN, Rediff, NDTV and IBN Live (via Sidin Vadukut at Live Mint).

The Indian blogosphere has reacted positively to these grassroots initiatives, even though they have got limited traction. For instance, the ‘Indian Homemaker’ believes that campaigns like ‘No Criminals’ are a sign that we can still make a difference. Rajiv Dingra at WATBlog and Preethi J at Medianama have done good roundups of these initiatives.

Finally, the three most effective “civil society” campaigns in the 2009 general elections are run by corporate brands: Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India, Jaago Re by Tata Tea and My Idea from Idea Cellular. I’ll cover these three campaigns in the next post in the series.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Feb 28 2009

Shiv Sena’s Orkut Campaign: The Limits to Freedom of Expression in an Intolerant India

by at 3:30 am

Introduction: Freedom of Expression in the Indian Blogosphere

The Indian blogosphere is abuzz with discussions on freedom of expression after the Supreme Court refused to throw out Shiv Sena’s defamation case against 19 year old computer science student Ajith D (TOI).

However, the Indian blogosphere’s reactions to the controversy are mostly based on reports on the incident in Indian media. The quality of this reporting, however, has been very mediocre, with few details and little background information. As a result, bloggers are reacting to incomplete information.

So, before I do a roundup of the Indian blogosphere’s reactions to the story and share my own views, let me first present the basic facts.

Shiv Sena’s Tradition of Violent Protests

Let’s start with Shiv Sena itself. Shiv Sena is a far right political party in Maharashtra that built a strong base amongst the Marathi community in the sixties based on its militant ideology that Maharashtra belonged to the Marathi community and migrants from other Indian states should be thrown out. Starting from the mid-seventies, the Shiv Sena shifted its focus to a strong pro-Hindutva (and anti-Muslim) ideology, a shift that solidified in the mid nineties, when it became an integral part of right wing alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Shiv Sena has often been accused of being involved in coordinated political violence against against non-Marathis and non-Hindus. It is widely acknowledged that Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackery, who is revered amongst its supporters, has been instrumental in inciting such violence on many occasions. The Shiv Sena also has a long and well-documented history of violent protests against journalists, writers and artists who speak against its extremist ideologies (see BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, BBC 4, NYT 1, NYT 2, NYT 3, NYT 4, Guardian 1, Guardian 2).

It’s important that we look at Shiv Sena’s ire against Orkut in the context of its long history of ideological intolerance and violent protests.

Shiv Sena’s Unholy Nexus With Orkut

The story started in November 2006, when Shiv Sena activists stumbled across an anti-Shivaji community on Orkut. Shivaji is a 16th century Maratha warrior, who is revered by the Marathi community. Pune police asked cyber cafe owners to block the anti-Shivaji community after violence by Shiv Sena. A public interest litigation was also filed in Bombay High Court to ban Orkut for hosting the anti-Shivaji community (TOI 1, TOI 2, Rediff 1, Rediff 2, NDTV, Financial Express).

In January 2007, the Maharashtra government requested the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), a Delhi-based regulatory body under the Ministry of Information and Technology, to remove the offensive content. According to the Information Technology Act of 2000 and the gazette notification issued in February 2003, the CERT is responsible for investigating requests to block websites from notified officers of the Union government or the state governments. If it finds the website objectionable, it communicate its decision to the licensing and regulations cell of the department of telecommunications for passing the order to the internet service providers to block the website (Indian Express, Live Mint).

The Shiv Sena also asked its supporters to flag these communities on Orkut, so that they could be banned (Orkut discussion thread 1, Orkut discussion thread 2). This resulted in a flagging war on Orkut, where users who were part of pro-Sena and anti-Sena communities flagged each other’s communities. For a short while, many pro-Sena and anti-Sena communities were banned by Google, but many of them were quickly reinstated (Orkut discussion thread).

The Shiv Sena also sent letters to Google and internet service providers in India to block these communities and even met up with Google officials, along with Maharashtra government and Mumbai police officials.

In January 2007, Google decided to cooperate with the Mumbai police and instituted an informal arrangement called the Priority Reporting Tool which enabled Mumbai police to directly report objectionable content to Google and also ask it for details of IP addresses and service providers. Based on the recommendation of Mumbai Police, Google deleted communities against Shivaji, Bal Thackeray and dalit leader B R Ambedkar (TOI, IHT, Indian Express).

Google usually uses IP blocking to block controversial content only in countries in which it violates local laws and refuses to share the IP addresses of its users (NYT). Under Indian law, if IP addresses of the offenders need to be obtained, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) needs to be involved. So, it’s strange that Google decided to help Mumbai police short-circuit the Indian legal system. Google, by the way, hasn’t really explained why it made an exception in Orkut’s case, when the Indian cyber law already had a process for handling such a situation.

However, even as Google banned some communities that contained defamatory content, it initially refused to ban several other communities that were against Shiv Sena’s leaders or ideologies. As a result, Abhijit Phanse, the president of Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, the student wing of Shiv Sena, took matters in his own hands and led a violent campaign against Orkut.

In May 2007, the Sena sent letters to internet cafes threatening attacks against their establishments, if they didn’t stop their customers from accessing these Orkut communities. In June 2006, it followed up on its threats by ransacking several internet cafes in Mumbai and physically abusing cafe owners and customers. As a result, cyber cafes in Mumbai registered a drop in traffic and were forced to put up notices asking their customers not to visit Orkut.

The Shiv Sena also pressured Mumbai police, which has often been criticized for being partial to the Sena, to support its cause. The police instructed internet cafe owners in Mumbai and Thane to prohibit their customers from accessing Orkut, asked Google to block the controversial communities on Orkut, and even requested CERT-In, to ban Orkut. The Sena also sent a letter to President A P J Abdul Kalam, requesting him to ban Orkut.

The Sena even announced that it was developing a special software that internet service providers could install to block any message containing certain words and phrases such as “I hate” or “I despise”.

These incidents were widely documented in Indian media (see Reuters 1, Rediff 1, Rediff 2, IBN Live, NDTV, Indian Express 1, Indian Express 2, Indian Express 3, Indian Express 4, Indian Express 5, Economic Times, Business Standard 1, Business Standard 2, TOI) and debated in the Indian blogosphere and Orkut community (The Hindu). It’s especially worthwhile to see two opinion pieces by Amit Varma in LiveMint and Sevathi Ninan in The Hindu criticizing these trends.

The news stories don’t give details about CERT’s decision on banning Orkut, or the final settlement between Shiv Sena and Orkut, but several anti-Shiv Sena communities have been banned since then.

The Mumbai and Pune police have also put their arrangement with Google to good use since then.

In September/ October 2007, the Pune police arrested four Bangalore based software engineers — 25 year old Lakshmana Kailash, 23 year old Manjunath Betegowda, 23 year old Harish Shetty and 22 year old Kiran Reddy — for posting an obscene profile of Shivaji on Orkut, in which he was shown clad in female innerwear (Economic Times, TOI). It was later found that the arrest of Lakshmana Kailash, who was detained for 50 days, was based on wrong IP addresses provided by Bharti Airtel (TOI 1, TOI 2, TOI 3, The Hindu, Rediff). Lakshmana then sued Airtel, Maharashtra government and Mumbai police and demanded Rs 20 crore in damages (IBN Live, TOI). The status of his case isn’t clear from the news reports.

In August 2008, the Mumbai Police arrested Ghaziabad based computer engineer Adarsh Sinha for posting death threats against Bal Thackeray using a fake email identity in the name of Faizab Farooqi. They also arrested Mumbai resident Suresh Shetty, a moderator of this community. (TOI)

Shiv Sena isn’t Alone on Orkut

Incidentally, there are similar communities on Orkut against other political parties and political leaders, including “We Hate Congress”, “I Hate Indira Gandhi,” “I Hate Rajshekhar Reddy”, “We hate Pratibha Patil” and “I Hate Deve Gowda” (Business Standard, Rediff, TOI, Mid Day, Salon).

In October 2006, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to issue a notice to Google for hosting a community called ‘We Hate India’ on Orkut, forcing Google to delete the community (TOI, Business Standard, Economics Times).

In March 2007, Google deleted a community that had defamatory content against West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, after Kolkata police asked Mumbai police to help it ban it (Economic Times, The Telegraph).

In May 2008, the Pune police arrested 22 year old Gurgaon based IT professional Rahul Vaid for posting derogatory content about Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi on an Orkut community named “I Hate Sonia Gandhi”. In June 2008, they also arrested 22 year old Hyderabad resident Nithin Sajja for a similar offense. Interestingly, the person who formed this community wasn’t considered guilty as per the law. The police said that “hating Sonia Gandhi is a personal opinion of the person who formed the community and having a personal opinion about someone is not an offense as per the law” (TOI 1), (TOI 2).

The Pune police is also looking for three Uttar Pradesh residents — Rohit Wadhwani, Amit Arya and Ankit Sharma — for posting abusive messages involving Mahatma Gandhi on Orkut (Indian Express).

It’s interesting to note that Mumbai and Pune police is involved in almost all the cases related to defamation of political figures in Orkut communities, even though Google has similar arrangements with police in five Indian cities (Telegraph). One news report says that Pune police itself has arrested 16 people in such incidents (Indian Express). It seems as if there is a war of oneupmanship amongst Shiv Sena and Congress members in Maharashtra to win brownie points with their leaders by pressuring Mumbai and Pune police to pursue these cases.

By the way, the Indian government has also considered banning user generated videos on mobile (MMS) and the web (Economic Times) and the Mumbai police has installed keystroke logging software in cyber cafes to tackle piracy and cyber crime.

Shiv Sena’s Case Against Ajith D

Ajith D, a 19 year computer science student from Kerala, started a community called ‘I Hate Shiv Sena’ on Orkut. One of the anonymous commentators on the website posted a death threat to Bal Thackeray. It seems from news reports the Mumbai police has charged Ajith for both criminal intimidation and hurting religious sentiments.

Mumbai police tracked Ajith’s Orkut and GMail accounts for a week to ascertain his address and sent a team to his hometown in Cherthala, in August 2008, to nab him. However, television channels flashed news of their arrival, helping Ajith to escape and the police team could only confiscate the hard disk of his computer. The team also said that they were observing the Orkut postings and Internet activities of around 50 other members of the community (Hindu).

Subsequently, Ajith got anticipatory bail from Kerala High Court and moved the Supreme Court through counsel Jogy Scaria seeking quashing of the criminal complaint based on the ground that he hadn’t posted the death threat and the community itself wasn’t defamatory. The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice P Sathasivam, however, refused to protect him and said: “if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct.” (TOI) The media has also quoted very vague remarks from the judgment that can be interpreted very loosely: “You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet portals” (TOI); “Anything that is posted on the internet goes to the public” (The Guardian); “If a case is filed in a foreign country go and face it” (The Hindu).

Roundup of Blog Discussions on the Ajith D Case

As I mentioned above, several bloggers have reacted strongly to the Supreme Court judgment, often based on partial information (CXOToday).

Lawyer Lawrence Liang at Kafila writes a detailed post on whether a defamation case should be settled under civil law or criminal law and delineates a history of defamation cases against Indian bloggers. He also makes a pertinent point in the Ajith D case —

When organizations like the Shiv Sena and the Sri Ram Sene start using defamation laws, it smacks of chutzpah to me. The definition of Chutzpah is a person who kills his parents, and then claims clemency on the grounds that he is an orphan. What other way can we describe the bizarre situation of the violence prone macho men, who suddenly run around screaming about the violation of their legal rights and the slurring of their reputation?

Patrix thinks that the Indian legal system is biased against freedom of speech —

As you see, anything under the sun can be categorized as an restriction to your freedom of speech. If I say something innocuous and that leads to couple of weirdos smashing shop windows in the town, all it does to get me into trouble is the weirdos saying that my words made them do it. My freedom of speech will be curtailed under “public order” or “incitement to an offense” restrictions. Shouldn’t actions be punished instead of words?

Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW thinks that the Supreme Court judgement has repercussions for bloggers in all democratic societies —

It’s a good idea for us as individual web users to remember that even as new internet technology sets so much information and so many voices free, even in a celebrated democracy – online freedom may be one repressive legal ruling away from being put at serious risk. No matter where you might live – do you trust that your local judiciary would understand the issues in a case like this? We don’t.

Nikhil Moro from Civic & Citizen Journalism Interest Group thinks that freedom of expression lost a case in India —

Historically India’s courts have accorded a high place for expression in the hierarchy of freedoms, but as Mr. Ajit’s unfortunate affair shows, social media activists should expect the state to use a myriad of laws other than libel.

Sanjukta thinks that the Supreme Court decision is good for Indian blogging —

This would help clean up a lot of #@%$ that goes around the blogsphere, will help us become more responsible and mature writers thereby establishing credibility for bloggers’ opinion and most importantly it would kill the terrible habit of writing all kinds of indecent, uncivilized, abusive things anonymously in the comments thread. This would also compel the blog owner or community discussion board owner to keep the discussion clean and abuse free. It will enforce the dicipline of self regulation on bloggers, isn’t that a great thing to achieve.

2s at Mutiny warns against a simplistic discussion on freedom of expression —

The laws of the land must find better ways to control what is being written or said in a public forum than restricting and threatening bloggers with action. Bloggers in India must together call for what I think is a more mature approach and law towards dealing with public defamatory comments on the internet. Bloggers are, after all, not “public” figures like political leaders are and to judge both by the same yardstick might not necessarily be the best method. Besides, is this restricted to just blog posts? What about comments on these posts? What about tweets?

Pramit Singh believes that the SC judgment shouldn’t scare bloggers in India —

Some might think the days of free-for-all Orkut groups are over. Others will say they are in fear of treading against people with might – the politicians, big business, virtually anyone with an army of lawyers, who, in this case are trying to put fear of appearing in courts for God knows how many times and thus choosing to ‘write wisely’.

However, I have faith in our Justice system. Bloggers are not going to face a million lawsuits in India.

Dhananjay Nene thinks that the Supreme Court’s judgment isn’t a conclusive blow to bloggers’ rights —

One important aspect which is perhaps easy to lose sight of in this debate is that the Supreme Court did not weigh in on the guilt or lack of it in this case, but on the fact that the person could not shy away from the responsibility to face the charges in a court.

Lawyer Praveen Dalal also says that we should not read too much in the Supreme Court’s judgment —

With the Constitutional Protections on the side of Bloggers there must be very strong reasons to book a person for Defamation or disturbing Religious Harmony. The case is before the lower court that is also a fact finding authority. It is only after the lower court comes to a conclusion that we can proceed either to convict or acquit the accused Blogger. The Supreme Court of India did not found reasons to “Quash” the criminal proceeding against the accused and in the absence of the complete facts of the case as well as the copy of the judgment, it is very difficult to judge the correctness or incorrectness of the same. However, in all probability the accused would be either acquitted or released after admonition.

In an email reproduced in Vijay Mohanty‘s post, senior blogger-journalist Prem Panicker also thinks that the Supreme Court verdict is no big deal —

The SC only said that it cannot, suo moto, quash a criminal prosecution.

It did not say the case is well-founded — that is for the court to decide on the basis of existing law.

Conclusion: The Limits to Freedom of Expression in an Intolerant India

As for me, I see the Ajith D case as part of a larger trend, which operates at many levels.

At the very least, we should see this case as part of Mumbai and Pune police’s crusade against inflammatory Orkut communities. Sixteen Orkut users have been arrested in the last two years on charges of criminal intimidation and hurting religious sentiments, and one of them spent 50 days in police custody based on a mistake in identifying an IP address! It’s a serious crusade that will only become more intense in the foreseeable future and it raises several important questions.

To begin with, do we really want to defend a blogger, or a community owner, or a commentator, who has posted death threats against a common citizen or a public figure, or allowed these comments to be posted and then refused to remove them?

Going beyond that, should the Indian legal system apply the same standards for defamation for a common citizen and a public figure, especially a public figure as controversial as Bal Thackeray?

How can we allow a political party like Shiv Sena, which has set unprecedented standards in inflammatory religious speech (and violent action to back it up), to complain about blog posts or community comments hurting religious sentiments?

And, finally, given Google’s willingness to short-circuit the Indian legal system and share Orkut and GMail personal data with Mumbai and Pune police, how comfortable should we feel in building our entire online presence on Google’s services?

At another level, we should see this case as part of a trend, in India and in democratic countries internationally, where traditional institutions are fighting back against the internet and trying to limit its freedoms.
Barkha Dutt and NDTV threatening to sue blogger Chetan Kunte for defamation is a part of this trend. Shri Ram Sena beating up women in a Mangalore pub and then threatening to sue the organizers of the Pink Chaddi Campaign is a part of this trend. US senators refusing to believe that child predators aren’t a big threat on the internet is part of this trend. US, UK, Australian and Indian governments introducing tough censorship and cyber crime laws are also a part of this trend.

All these actions, individually and collectively, curtail our personal and public freedoms and also our ability to fight for these freedoms. By threatening to sue a blogger, rightly or wrongly, NDTV has curtailed Indian media’s ability to question violations of freedom of speech in India. Similarly, by closing down the internet in their own countries, US, UK, Australia and India have curtailed their ability to question violations of freedom of speech in Iran or China.

So, what happens in the case of Ajith D is important in itself, but it is also important as part of what’s happening with the internet itself. It’s critical that we force ourselves to open our eyes and see the bigger picture before it’s too late.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Censorship,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Privacy,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Feb 25 2009

Hindi Blogosphere’s Reactions to the Pink Chaddi Campaign Show the Divide Between Bharat and India

by at 11:51 pm

As I wrote my analysis of the Valentine’s Day Pink Chaddi Campaign, I realized that it only appealed to the small minority of well-to-do, urban, English-speaking men and women in India who are amused by the irony of a woman being called ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward’ in the same sentence. It also self-consciously distanced itself from the Indian mainstream which still wants its Bollywood heroines to be virginal and associates ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women’ with the Bollywood vamps of yesteryears. The choice of sending pink panties to Shri Ram Sena further reinforced this self-consciously us versus them positioning.

I had earlier done a roundup of the discussions on the Pink Chaddi Campaign in the English language news media and the English blogosphere in India. To prove my hypothesis, I decided to test the limits of my Hindi and do a roundup of the discussions on the Pink Chaddi Campaign in the Hindi language news media and the Hindi blogosphere in India. I haven’t been able to search for Hindi news stories on the campaign, but the discussion on Hindi blogs did support my hypothesis.

In the English blogosphere in India, the discussion was dominated by supporters of the campaign who went on the offensive, while the detractors were mostly reacting to them. The discussion here was dominated by outrage against the Shri Ram Sena and appreciation of the campaign’s creativity.

In the Hindi blogosphere, the roles were reversed. Detractors of the Pink Chaddi Campaign were on the offensive here, forcing the supporters of the campaign on the defensive. The discussion here was dominated by the irrelevance and indignity of the campaign and the shamelessness of the women supporting it.

Suresh Chiplunkar and Sarthi set the tone for the discussion with strong posts against the campaign.

Sarthi emerged as one of the strongest critics of the Pink Chaddi campaign and wrote a series of posts to support his perspective —

कुछ लोगों ने अभियान चला दिया है कि तीव्रवादियों को गुलाबी चड्डियां भेजी जायें, वह भी चड्डी का मर्दाना नहीं नारियाना वेराईटी. सवाल यह है कि जिस देश में चोलीजांघिये का सरे आम प्रदर्शन करना भद्र लोगों के लिये अच्छा नहीं समझा जाता वहां ये लोग नवजवानों को क्या सिखा रहे हैं.

गुलाबी (या किसी और रंग की) चड्डियां भेजने से समाज का कोई फायदा नहीं होगा, न ही स्त्रियों को सामूहिक तौर पर को शराब पीने की आजादी मिल जायेगी, लेकिन मूर्खों द्वारा इस अभियान के लिये लाखों नारियाना अधोवस्त्र खरीदे जाने से चड्डी के निर्माता जरूर तर जायेंगे. क्या मालूम कहीं यह चड्डी-आंदोलन उन में से ही किसी की करतूत तो नहीं है? (link)

Some people have started a campaign to send pink underwear to the radicals, and that too of the female, not the male, variety. The question is: in a country where public display of undergarments is not considered right for decent people, what are these people trying to teach the youngsters?

Sending pink panties won’t help the society, nor will women get the freedom to drink alcohol, but the foolish people who will buy women’s undergarments for this campaign will certainly help the manufacturers of panties. Is it possible that they are responsible for the panty campaign? (link)

मामले को समझने के लिये सबसे पहले तो आलोच्य चिट्ठे के नाम और उस के भावार्थ को जरा देख लें. वे खुद साफ साफ बता रही हैं कि यह चिट्ठा “शराबखानों को आबाद करने वाली, नैतिकता को तिलांजली देने वाली चालू (या छिछोरी)” स्त्रियों का चिट्ठा है एवं इसे अपने इस जीवनशैली को एक प्रगतिशील कदम मानते हैं.

जो जनानियां अपने चिट्ठे पर अपने आप को चालू या छिछोरी बता रही हैं और जो जनानियां लोगों से पराये पुरुषों को अपने जांघिये भिजवा रही हैं, संस्कृति का संरक्षण तो उनके हाथ कतई भी नहीं छोडा जा सकता है क्योंकि इन लोगों का मिशन सिर्फ तब पूरा होगा जब जब हिन्दुस्तान की हर स्त्री इनके समान ही “प्रगतिवादी” और छिछोरी चिंतन की न हो जायें.

हमारी मां, बेटी, बहुओं को इस “प्रगतिवाद” की जरूरत नहीं है!! उनके अधोवस्त्र जहां रहने चाहिये वहीं रहेंगे. सभ्य परिवारों में ये नुमाइश की चीजें नहीं हैं — अत: न तो उनकी नुमाइश होगी, न ही पराये पुरुषों को भेजे जायेंगे. (link)

To understand this issue you should first look at the name of the blog in question and its meaning. They are saying themselves that the blog is for women who frequent pubs and have let go of their characters. And, yet, they consider their lifestyle a progressive step.

Those women who are calling themselves loose and characterless on their blog and asking women to send their panties to unknown men will consider themselves successful only when every woman in India becomes “progressive” and characterless like them. We can’t leave our culture in their hands.

Our mothers, daughters and daughters-in-law don’t need this “progressiveness”! Their undergarments will stay where they ought to stay. They will neither be displayed nor sent to unknown men. (link)

पढेलिखे परिवारों के वे जवान लोग जो नियमित रूप से सिर्फ छिछोरे किस्म के अंग्रेजी पिक्चर देखते हैं या जो सिर्फ छिछोरे किस्म के अंग्रेजी उपन्यास पढते हैं उनके मनों/जीवनों में उभरते नैतिक छिछोरेपन को देख लीजिये, सच्चाई समझ जायेंगे. सवाल स्त्रीविरोध/पुरुषविरोध का नहीं, बल्कि नैतिक छिछोरेपन के विरोध का है. (link)

Young people from educated families who regularly watch only characterless English films or read only characterless English novels, you should see the emerging characterless nature of their minds and lives, and you’ll understand the truth. The question is not of protesting against men or women, but protesting against moral bankruptcy. (link)

Suresh Chiplunkar speculated on the reasons behind the campaign —

यदि इस मुहिम को “तहलका” का समर्थन हासिल है तब तो यह विशुद्ध रूप से एक राजनैतिक अभियान है, क्योंकि तहलका की विश्वसनीयता और उसकी निष्पक्षता पहले से ही सन्देह के घेरे में है। “वेलेन्टाइन डे के दिन पब-बार को भर दो” का आव्हान तो निश्चित रूप से दारू कम्पनियों द्वारा प्रायोजित लगता है (क्योंकि पैसे के लिये इस प्रकार की पत्रकार कुछ भी कर सकते हैं) और यदि यह मुहिम निशाजी ने स्वयंस्फ़ूर्त ढंग से पैदा किया है तब तो इनकी मानसिक कंगाली पर तरस ही किया जा सकता है।

यदि प्रमोद मुतालिक इन सभी चड्डियों के साथ चिठ्ठी लगाकर वापस भेजें कि “…कल शायद पब में आप नशे में अपनी गुलाबी चड्डी वहीं भूल गई थीं और इसे गलती से मेरे पास भेज दिया गया है, कृपया वापस ले लीजिये…” तो क्या इसे अश्लीलता समझा जायेगा?

If this campaign has Tehelka’s support, then this is undoubtedly a political campaign, because Tehelka’s reliability and impartiality are anyways suspicious. The call to fill the pubs on Valentine’s Day is undoubtedly sponsored by liquor companies (because such journalists can do anything for money), and if Nisha has started this campaign on her own, then we can only pity her mental bankruptcy.

If Pramod Mutalik were to return these panties with a note — it seems that you left behind your panties in the pub last night, in your inebriated state, and they have been sent to me by mistake, please take them back — would it be considered indecent?

Sareetha pointed out that the Pink Chaddi Campaign is a symptom of the divide between ‘Bharat’ and India —

एक ज़माना वो भी था जब सरेआम चड्डियां तार पर सुखाने पर भी पाबंदी थी । लेकिन अब दौर आज़ादी का हैं । लोग खाकी चड्डी से गुलाबी चड्डी तक पर विचार – विमर्श करने से नहीं चूक रहे ।

वास्तव में ये भारत बनाम इंडिया का मसला है । वहां चड्डियां छिपाई जाती हैं यहां चड्डियां दिखाई जाती हैं। गनीमत समझो श्रीराम सेना वालों , जो इन आंदोलनकारियों की बुद्धि भगवान ने फ़ेर दी और आप सबकी इज़्ज़त धूल में मिलने से बच गई । हो सकता था ये लोग गुलाबी चड्डियां गिफ़्ट करने की बजाय खुद धारण कर विरोध जुलूस निकालने पर आमादा हो जाती और विभिन्न सेनाओं के बांकुरों के सामने आ धमकतीं। तब क्या होता??????

There was a time when it was considered wrong to even put out your panties to dry, after washing them. But now, it’s an era of freedom. People aren’t hesitating from discussing everything from khaki shorts to pink panties.

In reality, it’s a question of ‘Bharat’ versus India. In one, panties are hidden; in another, they are displayed. Shri Ram Sena should be glad that their reputation is saved. What if, instead of gifting pink panties, these women had decided to wear them in protest marches in front of the Shri Ram Sena cadre! What would have happened then?

Anil Pusadkar argued that India has far more important issue to tackle than the game of Pink Chaddis —

उस देश मे जहां, आज भी बेरोज़गारी, भुखमरी, गरीबी, अशिक्षा, जैसी गम्भीर समस्या सुरसा की तरह विकराल रुप मे मौज़ूद है,वहां एक विदेशी त्योहार के नाम पर चडडी पहनाने और उतारने का खेल(इसे खेल नही तो और क्या कहा जा सकता है)खेलने मे सारा देश भीड़ गया है।टीवी देखो तो ऐसा लगता है इससे बड़ी इस देश मे कोई समस्या ही नही है।मै तो बस चडडी बांटने और उतारने मे लगे तमाम डिज़ायनर चड्डीधारियों से ये आग्रह करना चाहूंगा कि वे अपने आस-पास भी नज़र दौड़ाए उन्हे बहुत से लोग फ़टी लंगोटी वाले नज़र आएंगे।चड्डी देना ही है तो उनकी मदद करिए शायद आपका दान सही ज़रुरतमंद के काम आ जाए।

In a country where serious issues like unemployment, starvation, poverty and illiteracy seem insurmountable, the entire country has become engaged in the game (because if its not a game, then what is it) of wearing and removing panties, in the name of a foreign festival. If you watch TV, it seems that there isn’t any bigger problem in the country. I’ll only request the designer underwear wearers engaged in wearing and removing panties to look around them and see the many people who are wearing torn singlets. If you must give away your underwear, you should help them, so that your donation may be of some use to the needy.

Tanmay tried to make sense of the protests but didn’t find it relevant to mainstream India —

क्रिया और प्रतिक्रिया के फलस्वरूप होने वाले विरोध में पहले ये जानना ज्यादा जरूरी हो जाता है कि विरोध किया किस बात का जा रहा था। जो चड्डियाँ भेजी जा रही हैं वो किसके विरोध में भेजी जा रही हैं लड़कियों या महिलाओं पर हाथ उठाया गया, उनके साथ मारपीट की गयी इस बात पर या फिर इस बात पर कि लड़कियों को पब में पीने से रोका गया। इस पुरूषवादी समाज में महिलाओं के साथ इस तरह की मारपीट पहली बार नही हुई है, इससे पहले कई मर्तबा हो चुकी है लेकिन कभी उस जोर शोर से हल्ला नही मचाया गया जैसा इस वक्त। और अगर विरोध इस बात पर है कि महिलाओं को पब में क्यों नही पीने दिया गया? तो… पब में जाने वाले क्या लड़के लड़कियाँ समाज के कितने प्रतिशत लोगों का प्रतिनिध्त्व करते हैं। मुश्किल से शायद १५ प्रतिशत या उससे भी कम।

In the midst of these protests and counter-protests, it’s important to understand what we are protesting against. The panties that are being sent, what are they being sent in protest of: the fact that women were beaten up or the fact that women were stopped from drinking in pubs. In this masculine society, this is not the first time violence against women has happened. It has happened many times before and no one has raised their voices against it like this time. And if the protest is against women not being allowed to drink in pubs, what percentage of the society is represented by the men and women who frequent pubs? Hardly 15% and perhaps even less.

Ashish argued that the Pink Chaddi campaign will benefit Nisha Susan and Pramod Mutalik but not solve any problems —

इस आन्दोलन के समर्थकों को एक बार अवश्य सोचना चाहिए कि इससे मीडिया-मुतालिक-पब और चड्डी क्वीन बनी निशा सूसन को फायदा होने वाला है. आम आदमी को इसका क्या लाभ? मीडिया को टी आर पी मिल रही है. मुतालिक का गली छाप श्री राम सेना आज मीडिया और चड्डी वालियों की कृपा से अंतरराष्ट्रीय ख्याति प्राप्त सेना बन चुकी है. अब इस नाम की बदौलत उनके दूसरे धंधे खूब चमकेंगे और हो सकता है- इस (अ) लोकप्रियता की वजह से कल वह आम सभा चुनाव में चुन भी लिया जाए. चड्डी वालियों को समझना चाहिए की वह नाम कमाने के चक्कर में इस अभियान से मुतालिक का नुक्सान नहीं फायदा कर रहीं हैं.

The supporters of this campaign must realize that it will only benefit media-Mutalik-pub and panty queen Nisha Susan. What is the benefit to the common man? Media is getting higher TRPs. Mutalik’s roadside Shri Ram Sena, thanks to media and the panty women, is now known internationally. They’ll use this notoriety to their benefit and, who know, might even win an election as a result of it. The panty women need to understand that, in their pursuit of fame, they are helping, not harming, Mutalik.

Shankar Phulara wrote a sarcastic poem on why the campaign is misguided and pointed out that the Shri Ram Sena cadre are still walking with their heads held high, instead of lowering them in shame.

Even though many Hindi bloggers supported the Pink Chaddi Campaign, they did it half-heartedly, in reaction to the accusations from Sarthi and Suresh.

Atul Chaurasia, who is Nisha Susan’s colleague at Tehelka, supported the Pink Chaddi campaign (also see) —

शायद निशा के अभियान को आप ठीक से समझ नहीं सके हैं. उसने पहले ही साफ कर दिया था कि वैलेंटाइन डे से उसका कोई लेना-देना नहीं है, न ही वो उसकी समर्थक या बैरी है. उसका विरोध सिर्फ श्रीराम सेना के तरीके, उनकी स्वयंभू ठेकेदारी, दूसरों की व्यक्तिगत आजादी का फैसला कोई तीसरा करे जैसे कुछ बेहद मूल मसलों से है.

एक बेहद मौजू सवाल है कभी शांति से दो मिनट मिले तो विचार कीजिएगा. यदि अपकी पुत्री, पत्नी या बहन भरे बाजार इन मतिहीनों का शिकार हो जाने के बाद भी आपकी प्रतिक्रिया क्या यही रहेगी? किसी को भी किसी महिला से ज्यादती करने का अधिकार सिर्फ संस्कृति रक्षा के आडंबर तले दिया जा सकता है क्या? उत्तर शायद नकारात्मक आए.

It seems that you don’t understand Nisha’s campaign. she has already said that it’s not about Valentine’s Day, and she neither supports nor opposes it. Her protest is about basic issues like Shri Ram Sena self-appointing themselves as the custodians of Indian culture and encroaching into our personal freedoms.

Here’s another question you should think about when you have two minutes. If your own daughter, wife or sister were victims of these misguided miscreants, would you have reacted in the same way? Should anyone be allowed to take liberties with any women under the guise of protecting our culture? Maybe, you’ll answer in the negative.

Other bloggers also countered the points raised by the campaign’s detractors using similar arguments.

जो समाज जितना बन्द होगा और जिस समाज मे जितनी ज़्यादा विसंगतियाँ पाई जाएंगी वहाँ विरोध के तरीके और रूप भी उतने ही अतिवादी रूप मे सामने आएंगे।सूसन के यहाँ अश्लील कुछ नही, लेकिन टिप्पणियों मे जो भद्र जन सूसन पर व्यक्तिगत आक्षेप कर रहे हैं वे निश्चित ही अश्लील हैं। (Sujata)

The more closed and warped a society is the more extreme the protests will be. Susan isn’t doing anything indecent, but the men who are throwing personal allegations at Susan are indeed indecent. (Sujata)

जिस समाज में पुरुषत्व बहुत् गहराई तक रचा बसा हुआ हो उस समाज को झंकझोरने के लिए अपनाए जाने तरीके सतही हों तो काम नहीं चलेगा ! जिस समाज में स्त्री -पुरुष की अवस्थिति बाइनरी ऑपोज़िट्स की तरह हो उस समाज में स्त्री और पुरुष द्वारा अपनाए गए विरोध के तरीके समान हों यह कैसे हो सकता है ! (
Neelima)

A society that is seeped in masculinity can only be shaken by unconventional forms of protests. A society in which the situation of men and women is binary opposites, men and women cannot use the same forms of protests. (Neelima)

उस स्थिति मे विरोध का जो भी तरीका हो वों चुप रहने से बेहतर है। और विरोध के तरीके भी कोई सन्दर्भ रहित नही होते। एक अति दूसरी अति को जन्म देगी ये निश्चित है। पर विरोध के तरीके को ग़लत बताने वाले अपने घरो मे दुबक कर क्यो बैठ जाते है, जब राम सेना के विरोध की बारी आती है? क्यों नही इससे ज़्यादा रचनात्मक तरीका ढूंढते है, अपने लोकतंत्र को बचाने का ?
(Swapnadarshi)

In this context, any form of protest is better than keeping quiet. No protest is devoid of context. One excess gives birth to another excess. Why do those who oppose this form of protest stay in their houses when it comes to opposing Shri Ram Sena? Why don’t they think of more creative ways to save our democracy? (Swapnadarshi)

नारी के अंग वस्त्र का प्रदर्शन , यानी भारतीये संस्कृति ख़तम । यानी भारतीये संस्कृति टिकी हैं नारी के अन्ग्वास्त्रो के सहारे ।
(Rachna)

If a woman’s undergarments are revealed, it’s the end of Indian civilization! It means that Indian civilization is held up by women’s undergarments!
(Rachna)

चलिए हम पिंक चड्ढी वालों के विरोध के तरीके का विरोध करें। क्योंकि उनका तरीका संस्कृति के रक्षकों से अधिक खतरनाक है। हम यह ना देखें कि वे अपने वस्त्र उतारकर देने को नहीं कह रहीं, बाजार से नई या फिर अपनी अलमारी से पुरानी भेजने को कह रही हैं। वे इसे क्यों कर रही हैं यह समझने में सोचना पड़ता है, उन्हें समझना पड़ता है, उनके स्थान पर स्वयं को रखकर देखना पड़ता है। यह सोचना पड़ता है कि यदि मैं युवा होती, स्त्री होती तो ये सब परिस्थितियाँ मुझे कैसी लगतीं। वे केवल और केवल एक काम कर रही हैं, इस हास्यास्पद तरीके से कट्टरपंथियों को हास्यास्पद बना रही हैं। हाँ, शायद उन्होंने जानबूझकर इसे ऐसा बनाया ताकि लोगों का ध्यान आकर्शित कर सकें। परन्तु नहीं, वे अधिक खतरनाक हैं। (Ghughuti Basuti)

Let’s protest against the means of protest of the Pink Chaddi Campaign. Because their means are more dangerous than the self-apponited custodians of our culture. To understand why they are doing it, we need to think, we need to understand them, we need to put ourselves in their place. We need to think how I would have felt about the situation if I was young, if I was a woman. They are doing one and only one thing. By using these laughable means they are making the conservatives laughable. Yes, maybe, they deliberately made it so, to attract attention from people. But, no, they are more dangerous. (Ghughuti Basuti)

मुतालिक और इस किस्‍म की तमाम सेनाएं देश के अस्तित्‍व मात्र के लिए भयानक खतरा हैं जिनका हर कदम पर दमभर विरोध होना चाहिए। जिन्‍हें एक तरीके का विरोध पसंद नहीं वे दूसरे तरीके से कर लें लेकिन अपनी ऊर्जा विरोध का विरोध करने की बजाए इन मुतालिकों के विरोध में लगाएं, तथा वे जो खुद इसी सेनाई मानसिकता से हैं वे भी सामने आकर अपनी बात रखें इस उस चड्डी के बहाने छिपकर वार न करें। (
Masijeevi
)

Mutalik and other forces like him are serious threats to the country and need to be ferociously challenged. Those who do not like one form of protest may protest in another way, but they shouldn’t waste their energy protesting the protest, instead of protesting against the Mutaliks. Those who agree with these forces should come out and put forth their arguments and not wage a war on the pretext of criticizing the Chaddi campaign. (
Masijeevi
)

Here are a few other posts on the Pink Chaddi Campaign in other Indian regional languages: Mathavaraj, Neelanjala, ePathram, and Govikannan. I’ll be grateful if the writers, or someone who knows the language, will leave a comment to share the gist of the posts.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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Feb 25 2009

Three Lessons Activists and Marketers Can Learn From India’s Valentine’s Day Pink Panty Campaign

by at 3:57 pm

Introduction: The Pink Chaddi Campaign as a case study of online citizen activism in India.

Last week, I wrote a longish roundup of the discussions in Indian mainstream and participatory media around the controversial Pink Chaddi Campaign.

The Pink Chaddi Campaign

Briefly, journalist Nisha Susan set up The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook and urged women to gift pink panties to Pramod Mutalik, the head of the ultra-conservative Hindu group Shri Ram Sena, in order to shame him into backing down from his threats to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations.

The campaign has become one of the best Indian examples of how a grassroots community can come together, collaborate and take collective action using social media tools.

I have written before that managing collaboration in an online community is a cloud problem (irregular and unpredictable) rather than a clock problem.

We know the boundary conditions which are necessary for a vibrant community, but we also know that these conditions are not sufficient. So, most social media “initiatives” are trial and error affairs. Most websites fail to become vibrant communities. Most communities fail to collaborate towards a shared objective. Most collaboration fails to produce collective action. Most collective action fails to achieve the desired results.

So, instead of a how-to checklist, we have case studies of one-off success stories. But these one-off success stories are important because they help us get a sense of the boundary conditions which are necessary for effective collaboration and collective action in online communities.

In this post, I’ll outline three lessons that activists and marketers can learn from the Pink Chaddi Campaign.

Lesson 1: Build your campaign around the zeitgeist, or the social, cultural and political ethos of your identified target group. Then, give it a humorous or irreverent tweak to help it stick.

The Pink Chaddi Campaign tapped into the nationwide outrage against Shri Ram Sena after its activists beat up a group of young women in a Mangalore pub, claiming that the women were violating traditional Indian values by wearing Western clothes and drinking alcohol with men (Wikipedia).

It’s important to note, however, that this outrage was mostly limited to a small but increasingly vocal section of Indian society: young men and women in urban India, who are isolated from the harsh realities of the rest of India by a lucky combination of family background, education, and work.

We come from liberal families (or have broken away from family ties), speak English as our first language, often work in the new economy sectors of media, entertainment and technology, and spend our free time socializing with friends and strangers on online communities and in neighborhood shopping malls. We believe in personal freedom and even libertarianism but don’t really consider ourselves particularly Westernized (because all our friends are like us).

We know that our parents, or at least some of our friends’ parents, don’t really understand the appeal of hanging out in cafes and pubs. We also know that they actively dislike the idea of dating, premarital sex and love marriages, especially if it involves their daughter.

We know that even the most liberal Indian politicians are closet conservatives, and many Indian politicians are illiterate goons. Sometimes, we read stories of women being raped, burned or killed in villages because they had an affair with someone from another caste and feel ashamed of our country.

But we close our eyes and tell ourselves that the shining emergent India we know is not the same as the dark shameful India of illiterates, bigots and goons. Then, Mumbai happens, or Mangalore happens, and the world as we know it, with its clearcut boundaries between us and them, collapses around us.

With its unconventional choice of name, The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook self-consciously appealed to this strong sense of us versus them. It reached out to the small minority of men and women in India who are amused by the irony of a woman being called ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward’ in the same sentence. It also self-consciously distanced itself from the Indian mainstream which still wants its Bollywood heroines to be virginal and associates ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women’ with the Bollywood vamps of yesteryears.

The choice of sending pink panties to Shri Ram Sena further reinforced this self-consciously ironical positioning. Chaddi means ‘underwear’ in several Indian languages, but combined with the choice of colour — pink — it essentially means pink panties.

When asked why she had chosen the pink panty as the focal point of her protest, Nisha Susan couldn’t come up with a clear answer. Sometimes, she said that it was a reference to the khaki-shorts-wearing RSS cadres who are often derisively called “chaddi wallahs” (underwear wearers). Sometimes, she said that she chose pink because it is a frivolous colour. Sometimes, she chose to highlight the feminism of pink against the machismo of saffron, the Sangh Parivar’s colour of choice. She also mentioned that the gift of pink panties was a gift of love, in the Valentine’s Day tradition, meant to shame Shri Ram Sena into backing down from its threats to disrupt Valentine’s day celebrations. Some participants in the campaign even suggested that the act of sending pink panties was an assertion that Indian women are ready to put aside their sense of shame and fight for their rights.

I think all these interpretations are correct, but, at the core of the campaign was the idea of inverting the sense of shame. The Shri Ram Sena wanted to shame Indian women into submission. The gift of pink panties didn’t only serve as an ironical act of defiance (“we won’t be shamed”) but also struck at their own sense of maleness (“you should be ashamed”). That’s why gifting pink panties was a better symbol than gifting bangles, which symbolizes “you should be ashamed”, but not “we won’t be shamed”.

Consciously or unconsciously, Nisha Susan had designed the perfect viral campaign. The pink chaddi campaign was not only relevant for its target audience, it was also funny and irreverent. An ironical inside joke is often the perfect viral hook, just ask the hipsters.

Lesson 2: Build virality into your campaign. Choose a compelling message that users want to share. Then, use a platform that makes it easy for them to share the message.

In the last section, I have explained why gifting pink panties on the Valentine’s Day was the perfect symbol for the protest against Shri Ram Sena. But a great viral idea,in itself, isn’t enough. It also needs to be packaged into a compelling and easy to share message. That’s where the brilliantly designed Pink Chaddi Campaign Poster comes in.

Nisha had first designed the poster herself by photoshopping an image of an RSS chaddiwala —

The Original Pink Chaddi Poster

However, she realized that she didn’t want to specifically target the RSS and asked her designer friend to redesign the poster. The rest, as they say, is history.

I would argue that it was the poster that helped the Pink Chaddi campaign go viral, in India and internationally. It was simple both in its design and its symbolism. Take a retro Hindu calendar with an Om, replace the Om with a pink panty, add some retro fonts and you have the perfect poster that triggers Bollywood, Hindutva, and irrevenece at the same time. More than three-fourths of the posts that linked to the Pink Chaddi Campaign blog also displayed the poster.

The choice of Facebook, instead of Orkut, as the social networking platform was also symbolic of the self-conscious us versus them positioning. Almost two third of active internet users in India use Orkut, whereas Facebook is primarily used by a more metro-centered elite crowd, who are often introduced to it by friends in US universities. For highest reach, the campaign should have been present on both Orkut and Facebook (like its rival The Pink Condom Campaign), but it strengthened its us versus them positioning by exclusively focusing on Facebook.

Facebook is also the perfect viral platform, with its hyperactive news feed. Every time an user joined The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook, an announcement showed up in the news feeds of all their friends. Members could also actively invite their friends to join the group, and given that I got half a dozen invites myself, many members did use the invite feature.

The campaign also asked group members to share pictures of themselves with the pink panties they were gifting, and many did, both on the Facebook group and on their own blogs. This was an explicit viral element that also helped the campaign gain traction.

Assuming that the average group member has 200 friends (a conservative number), up to 10 million facebook users were exposed to the campaign. Even if we factor in a high degree of duplication in the friend lists of members, it will be safe to say that millions of Facebook users saw the campaign in their news feeds.

Lesson 3: Design your campaign to translate online engagement into offline action. Use modularity and granularity to make it easy to take collective action by breaking it down into smaller individual actions that can be taken independently.

The Pink Chaddi campaign was also designed to trigger offline action, gifting pink panties to Shri Ram Sena on Valentine’s Day. Finally, almost 2000 panties were sent to Shri Ram Sena, against a target of 5000.

I think that the campaign was able to drive offline action, because it made the action both modular and granular. It broke down the task of sending 5000 pink panties to Shri Ram Sena into smaller individual tasks and it made the individual tasks really small: send one panty to the Sena.

The address of Sena’s Hubli office was shared prominently on all campaign messaging and supporters were encouraged to directly mail panties to the address. Alternatively, panties could also be dropped at designated collection centers, but the collection centers were quickly overwhelmed with the demands put on them.

Compare this to the difficulties of organizing a protest march at a specific time and place, a traditional model of protest that doesn’t benefit from the possibility of organizing collective online actions that consist of aggregated modular and granular individual tasks.

Finally, Nisha Susan displayed great media savvy by holding a series of press conferences to publicize the campaign. Nisha is a journalist herself with Tehelka and realizes that “participatory media is most effective when it is able to push up important stories into the legacy news media.” Media attention is part of the reason why the Indian blogosphere’s protests in the 2005 TOI-Mediaah! and the 2009 NDTV-Kunte cases were limited to online chest-thumping while the 2005 anti-IIPM campaign and now the Pink Chaddi campaign resulted in successful offline action.

The three elements aren’t unique to the Pink Chaddi Campaign. For instance, the same three elements also led to the success of President Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign. The campaign tapped into the US citizens’ frustration with the Bush administration and their desire for real change. The campaign did a great job of creating a compelling message around the theme of change and Obama’s African American background itself acted as the viral tweak. The campaign also created MyBarackObama as a community for its supporters and enabled them to collaborate with each other to bring their shared vision to life. Finally, the campaign developed tools that made clever use of modulaity and granularity to agrregate small individual actions like giving a small donation, writing a blog post, organizing a local event, or making get-out-the-vote calls, into a well-coordinated campaign.

Conclusion: Questions in the aftermath of the Pink Chaddi Campaign.

There are many unanswered question at the end of the Pink Chaddi Campaign.

The first question is: was the campaign really successful?

The answer is the universally unsatisfactory “it depends”. The campaign was undoubtedly successful in terms of creating reach and engagement but it’s not sure if it brought about any real change.

Let’s talk about reach first. More than 50000 users joined the campaign group on Facebook. More than 300 blogs linked to the campaign blog. More than 150 news stories mentioned the campaign. These are unusually high numbers for a grassroots online campaign in India. At the same time, the media attention also helped Shri Ram Sena and brought its leader Pramod Mutalik into national limelight (Zubin Driver at IBN Live and D P Satish at IBNLive).

In terms of engagement, the campaign generated interest amongst both men and women both in India and internationally. It also started a serious debate in both mainstream and participatory media over who gets to define Indian culture. At the same time, we must remember that the debate was limited to a small minority of Indian elites. I don’t think that the campaign changed the views of the Indian mainstream and it might even have alienated them — and I’m talking about the educated, urban Indian mainstream here, not villagers in Eastern Uttar Pradesh (Sagarika Ghose at The Hindustan Times and Swapan Dasgupta at TOI).

Finally, in terms of impact, the campaign did mobilize significant offline action. Getting Indian women to send 2000 pink panties to Shri Ram Sena is no small achievement. The public debate around the campaign also forced Shri Ram Sena to back down on its threats of disrupting Valentine’s day celebrations. However, as many observers have pointed out, the campaign didn’t really change anything. Public opinion on Shri Ram Sena is still divided in India and most of its leaders are unlikely to be punished by law.

The second question is: what happens now that Valentine’s Day is over?

We have seen before that successful online citizen activism movements that are organized around an event often fail to keep the momentum going once the event is over. I have written before about Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement Facebook Group which floundered after its original purpose was served.

Nisha Susan is trying to maintain the momentum of the group by asking them to stake a claim for our shared culture by creating one minute videos about what Indian culture means to each one of us. It looks like a plan the might work, but only time will tell.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Feb 19 2009

The Valentines Day Pink Chaddi Campaign: Indian Pubgoing Women Vs. Shri Ram Sena

by at 1:11 am

The Pink Chaddi Campaign — organized on Valentines Day by The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women to protest against the right wing Hindu group Shri Ram Sena — has become one of the best Indian examples of how a grassroots community can come together, collaborate and take collective action using social media tools.

It all started on January 24th when a group of 40 activists of the Shri Ram Sena (also spelled as Sri Ram Sena, Shri Rama Sena, Sri Rama Sena, Sri Ram Sene, Shri Ram Sene and Sriram Sena) barged into a Mangalore pub and beat up a group of young women and men, claiming that the women were violating traditional Indian values by wearing Western clothes and drinking alcohol with men (Wikipedia). The video of the incident was repeatedly shown on Indian TV channels and widely shared online and became the focal point of a nationwide outrage against the incident (Global Voices) —

However, the incident evoked mixed reactions. Even as most people denounced the incident, and some even called it the “Talibanisation of India” and “Hindu Talibanism”, many prominent politicians suggested that condemning the incident isn’t the same as condoning “pub culture” and “the Westernization of Indian youth”. Some politicians, and even the National Commission for Women, condemned “the loosening of moral standards amongst young women” and called for controls on pub licenses and alcohol consumption in public (NYT, Reuters 1, Reuters 2, India Today).

Shri Ram Sena chief Pramod Mutalik was unrepentant and vowed, on May 4th, to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations in Karnataka, calling it an “international Christian conspiracy against Indian culture”. He also threatened to force unmarried couples found together on Valentine’s Day to get married unless they agreed to tie rakhis on their wrists signifying that they are brother and sister (IBNLive, India Today and The Telegraph). Another Sangh Parivar member Bajrang Dal also threatened similar actions (Indian Express). These Valentine’s Day disruptions, often led by Hindu nationalist parties like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have become common in India over the last decade (BBC).

One organization responded to these threats by calling for pepper-spray squads to protect couples on Valentine’s Day while another organization promised to deploy teams of taekwando experts to blacken the faces of miscreants with shoe polish (Times Online).

Nisha Susan, a journalist, set up The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook and mobilized the protests around the Pink Chaddi Campaign (chaddi is a Hindi word for underwear) —

The Pink Chaddi Campaign

The Pink Chaddi Campaign kicked off on February 5th with the objective of sending 5000 pink underwears to Shri Ram Sena in order to shame them. Using Facebook and feminist blogs, Nisha urged women to mail new or old pink underwear to Pramod Muthalik, or drop them at collection points. She also urged group members to share pictures of the pink underwear they were giving, in order to inspire other women. The group decided to use “chaddi” as the focal point because the khaki-shorts-wearing RSS cadres are often derisively called “chaddi wallahs” (chaddi wearers).

Soon, other Indian and international blogs picked up the story. More than 270 blogs have linked to the campaign blog as per Technorati and the “Pink Chaddi” search feed on Twitter is still active. The Facebook group has also been a runaway success. As of now, it has more than 48,000 members and a vibrant community with more than 350 discussion topics and more than 6750 wall posts.

The campaign also supported the Pub Bharo (fill the pubs) campaign proposed by the Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Renuka Choudhury, which encouraged women to visit a pub on Valentine’s Day to show support for the victims of the Mangalore pub violence (TOI and Mid-Day). The Facebook group run by her daughter Tejaswini Choudhury has 4200 members as of now.

Another Facebook group that wants to celebrate March 1st as World Kamastutra Day has 2300 members.

Yet another Facebook group that wants to “Send Pramod Muthalik a Valentine’s Day Card” has 1300 members (TOI).

There is also a Hug Karo campaign asking people to hug each other on Valentine’s Day (see DesiCritics), that is similar to the global Free Hugs campaign.

A group of “ordinary Hindus, who don’t bark on television channels to defend our faith, but definitely get hurt when some people bark against our faith”, started The Pink Condom Campaign to protest against the “sickular Pink Chaddi walas” (Indian Express and DNA). The group behind the campaign — “The Self-respecting Hindus’ Initiative for Equality and Liberty with Dignity” or SHIELD — has been less successful, with only 160 supporters on Facebook and 111 supporters on Orkut so far.

The Pink Condom Campaign

Priyanka Narain at LiveMint has a great roundup of all the pro-Valentine’s Day protests organized on social networking sites.

The Pink Chaddi campaign has resulted in serious embarrassment for the right wing Sangh Parivar, in general, and Pramod Mutalik, in particular. More than 2000 chaddis were sent to him and digs were taken at his single status (TOI and The Guardian).

Even Indian FMCG brand Amul joined in the protests with a characteristic billboard (see CSR Asia for a background on Amul’s socially conscious billboard campaigns) —

Amul Pink Chaddi Campaign

However, Pramod Mutalik responded by calling the Pink Chaddi campaign a “a base tactic to shy away from the core issue of Indian culture” (TOI). He also promised to give pink saris to the women gifting him pink underwear (TOI), with the help of a related women’s organization Durga Sena (TOI). In the end, fearing public backlash, the Shri Ram Sena called off the Valentine’s Day disruptions (TOI and India Today).

The campaign has attracted mixed reactions from the Indian blogosphere, with many observers praising its creativity and virality and others criticizing its frivolity and calling it undignified.

In a poll at Desipundit, 77% of the 459 respondents thought that the campaign was “clever and creative” while only 23% thought that it was a “waste of time”.

Snighdha Sen at BlogHer says that the campaign embodies the spirit of Gandhigiri, a contemporary reading of the tenets of Gandhism popularized by the the 2006 Hindi film, Lage Raho Munna Bhai.

Roshan Krishnan at Desicritics feels that the campaign is an indicator that “civil society is finally asserting itself in India”.

Samhita at Feministing asks us to “resist the urge to suggest that given the cultural climate of India these women shouldn’t have been in a bar.”

Poonam points out that this is not the first time panties have been used as a symbolic protest. In late 2007, Lanna Action for Burma group had launched a Panties for Peace campaign and urged women around the world to “post, deliver or fling your panties at the closest Burmese Embassy” to protest against the repressive junta leader General Than Shwe (The Register).

Anindita Sengupta at Ultraviolet thinks that the Pink Chaddi campaign is about shaming the right-wing conservatives.

Amit Varma at the India Uncut argues that the issue is not whether a lifestyle is right or wrong, but “the right to choose our own lifestyle, any lifestyle”.

The right-leaning blogger Offstumped is apparently offended by the references to “Hindu Taliban” and exhorts the women behind the Pink Chaddi campaign to send pink burqas to Al-Qaeda’s Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid instead.

Sakshi argues that the Pink Chaddi campaign doesn’t address any real issue about why Shri Ram Sena’s ultra-conservative stand resonates with most Indians.

The “GreatBong” Arnab writes a twisted Valentine’s Day morality tale, which seems to rubbish both parties.

The Pink Chaddi campaign has also resulted in several videos for and against it. Ruchika Muchhala at Global Voices points to some of these.

Here is a video showing the pile of pink underwear before they were sent to Pramod Mutalik —

Here is a video of Nisha Susan talking to Mid Day about the campaign —

Here’s a series of animated videos (1, 2) on the Pink Chaddi campaign —

Here’s a ridiculous right-wing video that tries to counter the Pink Chaddie campaign —

The campaign has also attracted the attention of mainstream news organizations, including international majors like NYT, BBC, Fox News, The Guardian, ABC, Times Online, LA Times, MSNBC and NPR.

The opinion in Indian mainstream media, however, is equally divided.

Dan Collins at LAist says that the Pink Chaddi movement is both inspiring and oddly exhilarating (also see the cute picture of the Pink Chaddi Payphone).

Kate Allen at The New Statesman is pleasantly surprised that the campaign is supported by both men and women, unlike “Britain and Europe (where) violence against women is generally seen as a ‘women’s issue’”.

Pradeep Nair at TOI compares the campaign to the feminist bra burning of the late 1960s and sees it as “a turning point for blogs and social networking sites” in India.

Anoothi Vishal at Business Standard sees the Pink Chaddi campaign as part of a larger trend where a handful of Indians are acting as catalysts, often with the help of new media, to bring about political and social change.

Neha Tara Mehta at India Today locates the Pink Chaddi campaign as part of a growing trend of online citizen activism in India.

Udaalak Mukerjee at The Telegraph says that he admires the women behind the Pink Chaddi campaign, because “at a time when we are busy building barriers to screen ourselves from disturbing actualities, they have managed to break a few in order to meet the enemy in the eye.”

Tavleen Singh at Indian Express says that the campaign should have sent pink chaddis to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani who has endorsed the Shri Ram Sena’s excesses by his silence.

Sagarika Ghose at The Hindustan Times calls the campaign undignified and warns against the elitism amongst the Westernized urban Indian youth who are choosing “lifestyles that are desi imitations of Sex And The City”.

Zubin Driver at IBN Live has a great post on how Pramod Mutalik has benefited from the media attention on the Pink Chaddi campaign. D P Satish at IBNLive also has an interesting post on how the media attention has made Mutalik’s political career.

Swapan Dasgupta at TOI argues that the Pink Chaddi campaign “is likely to reinforce Middle India’s existing prejudices and bolster the stereotype of un-Indian fast and loose women.”

Devangshu Datta in Business Standard, Jai Arjun Singh in Business Standard and Jug Suraiya in TOI choose to write about the campaign in a humorous (read: flippant) vein.

Now that Valentine’s Day is over, there are questions about what will happen to the Facebook group (TOI).

Nisha Susan doesn’t talk about the future in her reflective post at The Guardian looking back at the campaign, but on the Pink Chaddi Campaign blog, she suggests that their achievement lies in “staking a claim for our shared culture” —

So here is the idea. We each make a little video of ourselves. We make a video of ourselves doing something we love, something we think is definitely a part of Indian culture (and let no one dare disagree!). Speak into the camera. Say “This is Indian culture.” Imagine the possibilities, you, your best friend, your grandmother, your 7-year-old nephew, your grumpy boss… each doing what you think is part of you, part of Indian culture.

This promises to be fun!

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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Dec 12 2008

Exponential Times

by at 12:49 pm

Watch this video on how technology is affecting our world (thanks to Itzbeth for the link!):

Not that readers of this blog are unaware of this, but we live in exponential times where technology is pulling us kicking and screaming into a future that our cultural institutions are not equipped to deal with yet.

Be fast, be flexible, be adaptable.  The stats on labor (many of today’s top jobs did not exist a decade ago, and the number of jobs in one’s career is skyrocketing compared to past generations) are impressive within the context of a collapse in an American auto industry that guaranteed pensions to its retirees.

Also the massive growth within the BRIC countries will add new layers of complexity, ingenuity, and vectors for innovation that we can’t imagine right now. Perhaps through social networking sites will be the only way that we will be able to organize and visualize the enormous changes in ways that we can process. Old traditions and institutions will be tested, but we will have to rely on an underlying value system that those old institutions previously provided to keep some sort of semblance of stability and order.

That’s a lot of what this blog and our research is about.

One response so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,BRIC,Culture,Social Change,Theory

Nov 13 2008

Guest Lecture: Digital Divide 2.0, The Myth of Leapfrogging, and Grassroots Innovations

by at 1:34 pm

Here is a presentation I will use for my guest lecture tomorrow in the Information Technology (IT) in a Changing World course at Georgetown University.

You can download the presentation with notes in a PPTX format, or view it online in a PDF format.

SLIDE 1: Global Digital Divide 2.0: Always Off in an Always On World

We can talk about digital divide in many contexts: between countries and within countries, driven by differences in race, gender, education, income and location. In this presentation, I’ll focus on the global digital divide, or the digital divide between countries, but the same ideas are often applicable to digital divides within countries.

SLIDE 2: Introduction

My views on this topic are colored by my own biases. In terms of education and experience, I’m a marketer. In my present role as the GU-ISD Yahoo! Fellow, I’m a quasi-academic. In terms of inclination, I’m a social media enthusiast and my next avatar may be as a social entrepreneur. A lot of the work I’m doing is at the intersection of technology, culture and development and it is informed by my understanding of emerging markets and emerging technologies.

SLIDE 3: Global Digital Divide

Let’s start off by looking at some examples of global digital divide.

SLIDE 4: The Link Between ICTs & GDP

Access to communications technologies is directly linked to the country’s GDP, especially for newer technologies like broadband. The distribution of older technologies like internet and mobile is less skewed, but it’s often a moving target. For instance, high income countries as defined by the World Bank, contribute to 15.7% of the world’s population but 79.9% of the world’s GDP. They also contribute 38.7% of the world’s mobile phone users, 42.7% of the world’s fixed phone users, 55.7% of the world’s internet users and 74% of the world’s broadband users 1.

SLIDE 5: World Map of Computer Penetration

The skewed distribution of technology is true for computers…2

SLIDE 6: World Map of Internet Penetration

internet access…3

SLIDE 7: World Map: Optical Fiber

optical fiber networks…4

SLIDE 8: Cost of Broadband Access

and cost of broadband access5. For instance, the cost of broadband access in Japan is $0.06 per 100 kbps (0.002% of average monthly wage) whereas in Mozambique it’s $361.83 per 100 kbps (1400 times average monthly wage).

SLIDE 9: Cost of Broadband Access

The same disparity exists between high income and low income countries on the whole. The cost of broadband access as a percentage of average monthly per capita income is 2.1% for high-income countries, compared to 909% for low-income countries. 6

SLIDE 10: Cost of ICT Access

The cost of internet and mobile access are less skewed. The cost of internet access as a percentage of average monthly per capita income is 0.9% for high-income countries, compared to 172% for low-income countries. The cost of mobile access as a percentage of average monthly per capita income is 0.7% for high-income countries, compared to 54.9% for low-income countries 7. The relatively flat cost of mobile access is, in fact, one of the main reasons why mobile penetrations have increase so fast in developing countries.

SLIDE 11: Reasons for Differential Technological Achievement

At this stage, it is perhaps useful to step back from ICTs, look at technology in general, and enquire into the reasons for differential technological achievement between countries.

SLIDE 12: Three Types of Technology Transfers

Technology transfer can happen in three ways in developing countries: new-to-market technologies can be invented in the country, technologies invented elsewhere can be adapted by the country, and technologies adapted by parts of the country can diffuse to the rest of the country8.

SLIDE 13: Technology Adaption vs. Diffusion

The good news is that the rate at which technology is adapted by emerging countries has increased: on average, the time it takes before official statistics in a developing country record significant exploitation of a new technology has declined from almost 100 years for innovations discovered in the 1800s to about 20 years for innovations discovered in the late 1900s.

The bad news is that emerging countries fair poorly on both invention and diffusion: even for technologies discovered during 1975–2000, only one third of the developing countries that have achieved at least a 5% penetration level have gone on to reach the 25% threshold and less than 10% have reached a 50% penetration level9.

SLIDE 14: Technological Achievement Index

As a result, even though the rapid progress in developing countries has led to relative convergence, the gap between high income and low income countries remains large.

In general, the level of technological achievement observed in a country is positively correlated with income levels. However, considerable variation is apparent within income groups.

Interestingly, the penetration rates of newer technologies such as mobile phones, computers, and the Internet (many of which are provided by corporations operating in competitive markets) are more directly correlated with income than is the case for older technologies such as fixed-line telephones, electrical power, transportation, and health care services (many of which were originally provided by governments)10.

SLIDE 15: What is Digital Divide 2.0?

As we discussed before, the digital divide will exist as long as income inequities exist. Over time, however, the shape of the digital divide has shifted.

SLIDE 16: The 4 Cs of Digital Divide 2.0

The 4 Cs of Digital Divide 2.0 include computing devices, connectivity, content, and capabilities.

In academic discussions on digital divide, two broad groups can be identified. The Digital Binary group has focused on access (computing devices and connectivity) whereas the Digital Inequality group has looked a broader definition of the digital divide that includes applications (content and capabilities) apart from access11 12.

The difficulties in bridging the digital divide often increase as we move from computing devices and connectivity to content and capabilities.

SLIDE 17: Digital Divide 2.0

As we move from internet and mobile to broadband, 3G and next generation networks on the access side and from SMS and e-mail to web 2.0, mobile 2.0 and the semantic web on the application side, it is difficult to not notice that digital equality is a moving target. As the gap on older technologies narrows down, new gaps on new technologies open up. The global digital divide, in fact, is widening, instead of narrowing.

Specifically, even as the ubiquitous use of mobile phones bridges the digital divide between the developed and developed countries, another digital divide — digital divide 2.0 — is opening up between them. Digital divide 2.0 is not about access to communications devices; it’s about the ability to leverage the power of group-forming social communications technologies to collaborate with others, self-organize into grassroots communities and create crowd-sourced content that is relevant for these communities.

SLIDE 18: The Promise/ Myth of Leapfrogging

Leapfrogging is the idea that poor countries can skip over stages in technology adoption (especially large-scale, industrial, infrastructure-heavy technologies) and directly adopt newer, better technologies (especially light-weight, distributed, ecologically sustainable digital technologies).

SLIDE 19: The Promise of Leapfrogging

The classic example of leapfrogging is the ubiquitous adoption of mobile phones in the developing world. The idea that access to mobile phones will transform the world has become popular not only in the academic and development circles, but also in mass media and popular culture.

Consider this ad film from Indian mobile operator Idea Cellular that promises education for all through mobile phones13

SLIDE 20: The Economic Value of Mobile

This idea is widely supported by research.

In 2005, research conducted by Leonard Waverman of London Business School showed that a developing country which had an average of 10 more mobile phones per 100 population between 1996 and 2003 would have enjoyed per capita GDP growth that was 0.59% higher than an otherwise identical country14.

In 2006, McKinsey & Co. found that the mobile industry contributes as much as 8% to the GDP of some countries, after factoring in direct impact from operators, indirect impact from other industry participants and the surplus created for enterprise and retail users15.

In fact, the very nature of mobile technology makes it an especially good leapfrogger: it works using radio, so there is no need to rely on physical infrastructure such as roads and phone wires; base-stations can be powered using their own generators in places where there is no electrical grid; and you do not have to be literate to use a phone, which is handy if your country’s education system is in a mess. Unfortunately, the mobile phone turns out to be rather unusual and the widespread diffusion of most digital technologies is dependent on the existence of a solid social, economic and industrial infrastructure16.

SLIDE 21: The Myth of Leapfrogging

Unfortunately, the mobile phone turns out to be rather unusual and the widespread diffusion of most digital technologies is dependent on the existence of a solid social, economic and industrial infrastructure.

Broadly, two sets of obstacles stand in the way of technological progress in emerging economies. The first is their technological inheritance. Most advances are based on the labors of previous generations: you need electricity to run computers and mobile phone networks. The second is the country’s capacity to absorb technology: which is dependent on education, R&D, financial systems, rule of law, business climate and good governance.

SLIDE 22: Mobile Interface for Illiterate Users

Even in the case of mobile phones, owning one is not the same as knowing how to use one.

In a long term qualitative research led by Jan Chipchase, the Nokia Research team found that non-literate mobile phone users typically know how to turn on the phone, receive calls and make local calls, but often struggle with features that require text editing, such as making long distance calls (by using prefixes), creating a contact, saving a text message, and creating a text message. Based on the research, they concluded that bringing personal, convenient, synchronous and asynchronous communication within the reach of textually non-literate users will require design innovations at three levels: on the phone; in the communications eco-system; and on the carrier network17.

SLIDE 23: Telecom Usage at the BOP

Similarly, in a large-scale quantitative research conducted in 2006, LIRNEasia found that most mobile users at the bottom of the pyramid felt that the phone improved their ability to learn and earn.

Still, most users only knew how to perform the most basic tasks on their phones. For instance, only 35% of the respondents in India had used SMS, because of low literacy and the absence of any social need to use it. 72% of the respondents in India hadn’t even heard of the internet18.

SLIDE 24: Telecom Usage at the BOP

Let’s look at these two videos to get a flavor of telecom usage at the bottom of the pyramid 19 20

SLIDE 25: How to Bridge Digital Divide 2.0?

The big question, of course, is: how do we bridge digital divide 2.0?

The good news is that we do know what to do. The bad news is that there are are no shortcuts to bridge the digital divide.

SLIDE 26: Government Policy is Important

Government policy is important, both for building linkages with other countries for technology adaption and for building the country’s absorptive capacity for technology diffusion. Only when these two are in place will the spillover and multiplier effects of communications technologies kick in21.

SLIDE 27: Grassroots Innovations Are Equally Important

…but grassroots innovations are equally important in bridging the digital divide.

Here are a few of my favorite ICT4D grassroots innovations.

SLIDE 28: VNL MicroTelecom (India)

VNL’s WorldGSM MicroTelecom is a low cost, rugged, solar powered mobile network designed to serve rural populations profitably.

SLIDE 29: Grameen Village Phone (Bangladesh)

The Grameen Foundation gives microloans to help poor rural woman become public phone operators.

SLIDE 30: United Villages (India)

United Villages uses a van fitted with wifi to connect villages to the internet, with a time lag.

SLIDE 31: QuestionBox (India)

QuestionBox uses human mediation to connect illiterate users to the internet.

SLIDE 32: EkGaon CAMS Mobile Framework (India)

EkGaon’s CAMS Mobile Framework is a paper-mobile hybrid document management system for semi-literate users.

SLIDE 33: BabaJob/ Microsoft Research (India)

BabaJob and Microsoft Research have created a text free job search engine.

SLIDE 34: Ushahidi (Kenya)

Ushahidi uses a Google Maps mashup to map crisis information using text messages sent by users.

SLIDE 35: MobiChange (India)

MobiChange, a project I’m evangelizing, hopes to develop a lowest common denominator mobile social networking platform.

SLIDE 36: Discussion

Finally, I’ll leave you with three questions –

– Is the digital divide narrowing or widening?
– Is leapfrogging a myth or reality?
– Is government policy more important, or grassroots innovations?

References

1 ITU-UNCTAD World Information Society Report, 2007

2 United Nations Global Development Goals Indication

3 Emiel van Wegen based on World Internet Stats data

4 Tata Communications

5 Wired Magazine based on ITU data

6 ITU-UNCTAD World Information Society Report, 2007

7 ITU-UNCTAD World Information Society Report, 2007

8 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

9 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

10 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

11 Technology and Social Inclusion, Mark Warschauer, 2003

12 Eszter Hargittai et al, 2001

13 Idea Celluler Education-for-All Ad

14 McKinsey & Co, 2006

15 Leonard Waverman et al, 2005

16 The Economist, 2008

17 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

18 Jan Chipchase et al, Nokia Research, 2007

19 Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid, LIRNEasia, 2007

20 LIRNEasia Teleuse at the BOP Film, Part 1

21 LIRNEasia Teleuse at the BOP Film, Part 2

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Access,Brazil,BRIC,China,Gaurav Mishra,India,Language,Mobile,Russia,Social Change | Tags: , , , ,

Oct 29 2008

LIRNEasia Study on Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid

by at 2:42 pm

I recently came across an amazing study done by ICT4D research organization LIRNEasia on Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

Here are the key findings from the 2006 study amongst 8660 respondents (including 6605 SEC D and E respondents) in India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand —

– At the BOP, access to phones (more than 90%) is much higher than ownership of phones (20% to 50%) due to heavy used of shared, borrowed and public phones.

– At the BOP, males are heavier users of mobile phones while females are heavier users of household landline phones.

– BOP users make an average of one call per day, mostly local, mostly 2-3 minutes long, mostly to stay in touch with family and friends.

– At the BOP, convenience, in terms of anytime accessibility, is the biggest driver in the purchase of both fixed and mobile phones. The ability to afford the initial cost (up to $50) of getting connected is the biggest reason for not buying a phone even though monthly charges are low (as low as $5).

– Most BOP phone owners (up to 70% in India) feel that owning a phone has improved their ability to earn or save.

– Only 35% of the BOP mobile phone owners in India use SMS (compared to 100% in Philippines) primarily because they don’t know how to use SMS (party due to low local language support) and the cost of an outgoing voice call is almost the same as the cost of a SMS.

– BOP mobile phone users adopt various cost-cutting techniques including making missed calls, using the mobile phone exclusively for incoming calls, making only mobile-to-mobile calls and making calls at off-peak hours.

– More than 95% of the BOP mobile phone users have pre-paid connections to control costs and avoid documentation. Most of them do infrequent top-ups once in a month or even longer (>90% in India).

– More than half of the BOP non-owners want to buy a phone in the next 2 years. Almost a third of them (skewed towards female and rural users) want to buy a fixed connection. Most of the prospective BOP phone users have incomes of less than $150 per month.

– Finally, almost 70% of the BOP respondents in India hadn’t heard of the internet yet in 2006 (wow!).

Here is a three part presentation on the findings — 1, 2, 3 — and here is a two part video report on the study — 1, 2

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Access,Gaurav Mishra,India,Mobile,Social Change | Tags: , , , , ,

Oct 29 2008

Mobile for Development Innovations in Africa

by at 12:30 pm

The story on using mobile innovations for development in Africa has been unfolding for a while now, but it has become even more prominent since the Surprising Africa special at the Picnic 2008 conference in Amsterdam and the MobileActive 2008 conference in Johannesburg.

Here’s what some of the people who are writing the story on mobile-based social innovation in Africa have to say about it.

Ethan Zuckerman from Golbal Voices

If Africa is surprising, then you’re not paying enough attention.

Jonathan Gosier from AppAfrica (link) —

For social entrepreneurs and investors, the innovation occurring here is a huge sign of progress that could potentially change the continent’s world standing forever. The most exciting aspect for me, however, is the decreased reliance on developmental aid and foreign groups to provide these solutions. The number of African developers who are beginning to create applications that offer solutions for their own communities is increasing and that, more than anything else, will shape the future of Africa.

Eric Hersman from Ushahidi (link/ slides) —

Here’s one more compelling thought. The challenges brought about by bad governance, poverty, low bandwidth (all the negative things you associate with Africa) also provide an incredible opportunity. The developers who are coming up with solutions in the continent, the ones who are writing software or hacking hardware, are creating for some of the harshest environments and use-cases in the world. If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.

Lowest common denominator design is at the core of MobiChange — it doesn’t work if it doesn’t work for everybody, everywhere — and here is a list of African mobile for development innovations I often turn towards for inspiration —

– Mobile Payments: MPESA (kenya), Wizzit (South Africa), Celpay (Zambia)

– Citizen Journalism: Africa News, Ushahidi (Kenya and South Africa), Sokwanele (Zimbabwe), Afrigator, Mzalendo (Kenya).

– Consumer Activism: mPedigree (Ghana).

– Access: WinAfrique (Kenya), Feedelix (Ethiopia), EthioBlog (Ethiopia), mobile phones on bicycles and wheelchairs, mobile charging stations.

– Agriculture: TradeNet (West Africa), Manobi (Senegal).

– Health: TxtAlert, SocialTxt and Mobilisr by Praekelt Foundation (South Africa)

Also See: Jonathan Gosier (1, 2, 3), Jason Harris (1, 2), Ethan Zuckerman, Amy Smith, Paul Polak, Ben Turner.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,Mobile,Social Change | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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