Media and Culture

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bhimrao

By Abir Misra:

bhimrao
Still from ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’. Source: YouTube.

One fine day, a Dalit colony wakes up to the site of their revered leader’s statue garlanded with shoes. Dalits come out in outrage, only to face bullets from an aggressive team of policemen who later claim to have retaliated in response to the burning of a truck by the public, the Dalits. The video submitted as evidence in the court does not reveal anything conclusive. Meanwhile, a revolutionary folk singer from the community visits the colony only to commit suicide a few days later, adding to the sorrow and anger. The accused policeman is eventually sentenced, only to be taken to the hospital immediately after coming out of the court. He is defended on the grounds of being made a scapegoat as it is not him alone but the ‘system’ itself that is flawed. The system, to put it more explicitly, is casteist.

Anand Patwardhan’s film is an exercise in the breaking of an extended silence. A silence that exists not because there is no sound, but because our ears are accustomed to not listening. The sound is that of caste, of rape, of exploitation, of humiliation, of frustration, of suppression and of retaliation. Juxtaposed with this silence is another evil which, ironically, is voiced a bit too often and a bit too loudly than people are ready to digest. This evil is communalism, of the religious kind.

Jai Bhim Comrade (hereafter JBC) while tracing the two evils shows how the two lethally converge.

Untouchability as an issue had gained national importance by the third decade of the 20th century after the rise of Gandhi on the national stage. The Congress had officially recognised it as a problem to be eradicated. However, its policies were not found to be radical enough by sections within the Dalits who were now looking for a respectable place in a free nation that was to be born. To them, the Congress policy was of a charitable nature and they wanted to gain respect and dignity not as a favour, but as a right.

Thus rose Bhim Rao Ambedkar, a Mahar from Maharashtra, a barrister and a scholar of great merit, who led Dalits to first a temple entry movement and then the famous Mahad Satyagraha only to end up in disgust over the violent reactions from the ‘savarnas’ (upper castes) in the region. The attitudes of the savarnas led Bhimrao to become more and more suspicious of Congress’ efforts to mobilise Dalits for the nationalist movement.

His frequent criticisms and refusal to go along with the official boycott of the 1932 Simon Commission by the Congress brought him eventually in direct confrontation with Gandhi who sat on a fast in opposition to his demands for separate electorates. Eventually, a compromise was reached via the Poona Pact with untouchables getting reservation in the Assembly as well as in educational and government institutions, but not separate electorates. Ambedkar later established the Republican Party of India (RPI) to mobilise Dalits towards political consolidation.

Incidentally, it was around the third decade of the 20th century that there was the a rise of nationalist Hindu organisations. It was felt by some that Hinduism was in a crisis due to decreasing numbers and frequent conversions. Muslims and Christians were accused of being the villains here. The rise of these Hindu nationalist parties was also in part a response to the disillusionment with Gandhi and Congress who refused to make cow protection a national issue and were seen as giving too much importance to the Khilafat movement. The Hindu nationalist parties too were interested in mobilising Dalits to stop them from converting to Islam or Christianity. Hence, they too tackled untouchability and tagged it as something alien to Hinduism.

Keeping this history in mind is important as one watches JBC for it exposes how the two contradictory forces emerging in response to the Congress, the RPI and the Hindu nationalist parties, eventually converge in today’s political scenario in Maharashtra.

And yet, JBC is a much more complex film than it seems. It sheds light on a range of issues without losing its main focus. While breaking the silence around caste oppression and mixing it with communalism, it also sheds light although only hintingly, to something that is very seldom discussed – the problems within the Dalit movement today. The garlanding of Ambedkar’s statue with shoes by unknown agents comes across as a planned conspiracy to invite a predictable reaction from the Dalits which then creates conditions suitable for their slaughter. The Dalit community, in this case, seems to have failed in deciphering seemingly obvious conspiracies. They literally played into the hands of their upper caste oppressors. It is precisely here that the problem lies.

The filmmaker deserves applause for highlighting the plight of the Dalits while resisting the tendency to romanticise them as noble souls subject to oppression. Dalits come across as a community neck deep in hero worship. A major part of the film precisely showcases community gatherings as spaces for critiquing the state and caste system as well as singing praises of Babasaheb and recalling instances from his life, some factual others mythical yet significant. Bhimrao Ambedkar for them is not just a reformer but a saint in whose praise folk songs are to be composed and plays are to be directed and staged. He is a ‘bodhisattva’, showing Dalits the Buddha’s path to emancipation.

For a community forever subject to appeasement by savarna dominated political parties for votes, a community forever caught in a tug of war between leaders post the Gandhi-Ambedkar clash, for a community so political yet without a political party that can exclusively and genuinely represent it, for a community which has decided to reject every political figure of every other caste except those from its own, for a community filled with extreme and sometimes even exaggerated but not unjustified distrust and even hatred towards other higher castes, Bhim Rao comes across as a balm on their collective wounds, a ray of hope which promises a lot but unfortunately provides very little. The community is exposed to the lure of anyone who promises to erect a statue of Babasaheb or simply garlands him to appease the community.

Bound up with the issue of caste is the issue of labour. Dalits are shown working in unsafe and unhealthy environments with no safeguards that should generally be provided to them. Dealing with stench and humiliation on a daily basis, Dalits are still barely able to provide the basic necessities of life to their families. Due to their unclean and undesirable living conditions, they are not allowed to travel back home in buses due to their dirty clothes and smell. Again, for a community so eager to politically mobilise itself into a block, it seems to get very little opportunity to do so for sheer lack of free time away from family and labour. Growing frustration throughout the day is vented out at night in the form of songs and poems against caste and for Babasaheb.

While JBC is a story of lower caste humiliation and liberal upper caste hypocrisy, it is also the story of growing contradictions. Communities like that of Chitpavan Brahmins who claim to possess Parashuram’s genes, make the hypocrisy of the liberal savarnas appear saintly. Dalits are killed for leaving their traditional jobs and exploring new avenues. Refusal to work for savarnas brings death too. All this and several other instances point out to the inadequacy of the Dalit movement in bringing about a change in the attitude of the savarnas. The sheer numbers and might of the savarnas makes it impossible for Dalits to radically retaliate without suffering severely.

With the example of Babasaheb, Dalits have learnt the ways of critique but are yet to learn the ways of shrewd political practice. Young men and women with a lot of creative energy, like those who are part of the Lalit Kala Manch and now Rohit Vemula, tend to plunge into the field without fully deciphering its rules. They end up as radicals with very little political influence and run the risk of being victimised through conspiracy. For unlike critique, practice requires cooperation and negotiation with the other – the savarnas, who in retaliation to the radical critiques of the Dalits have either turned even more hypocritical or overly violent suppressors.

Jai Bhim Comrade, thus, is an insightful documentation of the Dalit discourse, its problems and as well as dilemmas. It encourages one to think about Ambedkar and also inspires you to seek possibilities beyond him. With the recent suicide of Rohit Vemula, the film deserves a definite revisit, to re-explore the complexity of the problem that we face today.

main kuch bhi

By Biraj Swain:

Year-ender television programming has a set format of look-backs on the year gone by, TV programmes gone by, the best and the worst. Sometimes these look-backs extend into the first quarter of the new year as well. In fact, doing year-end wraps in the new year is now the new normal. For someone addicted to news, soaps are not exactly my forte but the need to fit in during holidays and family get-togethers (yes, I have such relatives too, who do watch soaps!) also means brushing up on TV soaps and plot-lines.

So, when I was researching with this very desperate and superficial agenda, I came across some very interesting articles on the serials in the general entertainment categories that seem to have caught the media critics’ fancy. One was a Times of India piece by Mani Mahesh Arora very grandly head-lined, 5 TV serials that broke stereotypes and educated India. It is important to mention here that it was not a year-ender wrap but a mid-year stock-take. It listed Gangaa, Uttran, Balika Vadhu, Udaan and Service Wali Bahu. I do think the piece was over-celebrating, but hey, when Ekta Kapoor has brought benchmarks to the basement level, these serials did stand out!

Then there was a long research on The Alternative by Nalanda Tambe and Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere on the missing working women on Indian TV soaps. They lamented the over-presence of kitchen politics and domestication of women. Again, a mid-year review article. While the first was a celebration, the second was a rant, but both listed soaps of private TV channels only.

That’s when I completely abandoned the original agenda of my search for soaps to binge-watch on YouTube to blend in with vacuous family get-togethers and started wondering what happened to the Doordarshan (DD) soaps. Where are the review articles on DD soaps? Or has DD completely abandoned soaps as a programming genre? This question became even more pertinent given that the BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) ratings have started including small town viewers and rural viewers also. DD has been the undisputed topper there. In fact, so surprising was its lead that once the audience counts were rationalised, none less than All India Bakchod gave a shout out to them on their second episode of On Air with AIB.

Voila, persistence pays and I finally found a DD serials’ review article on the world wide web! And it was on the India Today platform no less! Well, not exactly a review, it was more of a nostalgia piece by Shruti Kapoor on 15 Doordarshan serials that we would love to watch again. It excludes Tamas but includes Dekh Bhai Dekh! Well, credit where credit is due, the author does say that her bias might have been apparent in the list even though she tried to be neutral. Fair point! And this piece is dated August.

Seriously, where are the media commentaries, reviews of DD serials? The Media Foundation did a study in 2015, When The Dish Knocked Down The Antenna, where they examined the changing viewership patterns amongst the low-income populations in five states when digitisation started. Their study did not praise DD or public broadcasters (the opinion is divided whether the DD group of channels can be called public broadcasters in the strict sense of the term like the BBC since it is not exactly independent, it reports to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). A very well circulated study but even this study has not triggered media articles on DD programming!

main kuch bhi
Still from ‘Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon’. Source: YouTube

The Media Foundation’s study does talk about the unmet information needs of DD viewers. That brings me to a serial which really seems to address this particular shortcoming of DD programming with really powerful content. Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon, into its second season, broadcast on DD every weekend, is power-packed with information but it is done through some very interesting and relatable storytelling.

It is the journey of Dr. Sneha Mathur, a Mumbai-based doctor who has personal and professional commitments and a strong conscience. The serial shows her navigating through work and life, family and society, ideals and reality and in the process encountering deep-rooted societal problems, from female foeticide, dowry, gender discrimination to compromised medical practitioners, villages caught in a time warp and patriarchy in all its forms. And since it has some engaging story-telling, everyday relatable characters and is full of fact-checked content, it is high on practical information too. It takes on the issue of planned families in the most aesthetic way! Highly recommended!

I also recommend it because it spares us the absurdities of most TV soaps from the Ekta Kapoor factory of TV soap making, such as:

1. Irrational, untimely, mostly pointless, generation leaps
2. Garish make-up and over-the-top costumes that make acting a weight-lifting exercise
3. Probability (rather certainty!) of the story line moving less than a single column inch in one whole episode
4. Pointless new characters to prolong the end of the serial
5. Ear shattering background scores at over 85 decibels
6. The not-so-fine art of loud acting

I could go on and on, but you get the drift! Suffice it to say, watching Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon would be a break from regressive, predictable ‘Saas-Bahu’ soaps that Indian TV is brimming with! That it has the very amiable Farhan Akhtar as the Sutradhaar/narrator, could be a bonus (or not!). The very talented Feroz Abbas Khan, of Tumhari Amrita fame, as its director and creator may help you gauge how far it would be from the run-of-the-mill ‘Saas Bahu’ sagas.

As for the audience, Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon had 58 million viewers and 6,00,000 people engaged as direct audience as per the beta site Indian Television in the first season itself. Now those are numbers that should definitely get the Indian media critics writing more on the serial, and more on programming in Doordarshan generally. For that, we need to start watching DD programmes. Seems like the ‘aam janta’ is watching. It’s about time media commentators did too! And who knows, we might just come across pleasant surprises like Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon!

Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon is broadcast on Doordarshan every Saturday and Sunday at 7.30pm.

LGBTQI

By YKA Staff

As of February 2, The Supreme Court of India has agreed to review its December 2013 judgement on Section 377 that criminalised homosexuality in India. It has said that a 5-judge bench will be hearing the case over the next few months. Under Section 377, even consenting adults in India can get up to 10 years in prison for any form of non-penile-vaginal sex. Deemed as ‘unnatural sex’ in the law, it has been the vehicle of prejudice and discrimination against the LGBT+ community in India for over 150 years!

The SC’s latest decision comes after a curative petition was filed by sexual health NGO Naz Foundation against its previous verdict. The 2013 judgement came as a shock as the apex court of India reversed a Delhi High Court that had read down Section 377, calling the LGBT+ community in India a ‘minuscule minority’. This was heavily argued upon as regardless of the community being a ‘minority’ or not, the rights of even a single individual in the world’s largest democracy should matter as much as any majority’s.

A ray of hope can be seen in India today as citizens rejoice amongst chants of ‘No going back!’ and ‘Down with 377!’. Some of the country’s most powerful voices have spoken up about the issue and with more people joining the fight, we can only hope that the coming few months see the end of this archaic, discriminatory law in India.

Here’s how people around the country are feeling today!

Image source: Jon S/Flickr

रवि कुमार गुप्ता:

newspapers29 जनवरी 2005 को भारतीय पत्रकार सोसाईटी ने इस दिन को भारतीय अखबार दिवस के रूप में मनाने का निर्णय लिया और 11 साल से हम इसे मनाते आ रहे हैं। लेकिन अफसोस कि अभी तक इस दिवस को अखबारों ने जगह नहीं दी और ना ही पूरी तरह से हम ही जान पाए हैं।

इसे हम इन्कार तो नहीं कह सकतें हैं पर नज़रअंदाज़ करने से कम भी नहीं आँक सकतें। अँग्रेजी नूतन वर्ष से लेकर वेलेंटाइन डे तक को हम अपने अखबारों में कई सप्ताह से पहले से जगह देते हैं लेकिन अखबार अपने ही देश में नाम के लिए मोहताज है या यूं कहें कि अपने ही घर में अजनबी हैं। हाँ! यह कङवा सच है। लेकिन इस विचारणीय एेतिहासिक दिवस पर समाचार पत्र के मुख्य योगदान पर बात करना जरूरी है क्योंकि सिर्फ शिकायत करने से हासिल कुछ नहीं होता है।

1780 में जब अंग्रेज़ जेम्स ऑगस्टस हिकी ने ‘बंगाल गैजेट्स’ नामक अखबार को पहली बार कलकत्ता में प्रकाशित कर हमें अखबार से अवगत कराया। हालांकि ऑगस्टस हिकी ने खबर से ज्यादा अफवाहों को स्थान दिया जिसके कारण उन्हें काफी दिक्कत व आलोचना का सामना करना पड़ा, लेकिन जो राह उन्होंने दिखाई वह सराहनीय से भी सर्वोपरि है क्योंकि वहीं तो हमारे अखबारों के जनक हैं। किसी भी कार्य को करने के लिए जिम्मेदार कदम उठाने की जरूरत होती हैं तभी तो आज हम लगभग 70 हजार अखबारों से घिरे हैं और सुबह की चाय से लेकर शाम के सोने तक अखबारी बने रहते हैं। आज के समय के समाचार पत्र को सूक्ष्म दुनिया ही कहना बेहतर होगा।

समय के साथ अखबार का बदलाव

‘हिक्की गैजेट्स’ पहला भारतीय अखबार सिर्फ अफवाहों से भरा हुआ था तो वहीं दूसरी ओर राजा राममोहन राय ने कुछ वर्षों बाद इसका उपयोग भारतीय कुप्रथाओं जैसे सती प्रथा को खत्म करने के लिए किया और इसके बढ़ते सुप्रभाव के वजह से ही 1950 तक अखबारों की संख्या लगभग 200 तक पहुंच गई। आजादी की लड़ाई में महात्मा गाँधी (यंग इंडिया), लाला लाजपत (केशरी व मराठा) राय इत्यादि क्रांतिकारियों ने भी समाचार पत्रों का भरपूर सहयोग लिया तो इस आधार पर अखबार के क्रांतिकारी अदा को भी नकारा नहीं जा सकता है।

इतना ही नहीं भारतीय संविधान के पिता भीम राव अम्बेडकर ने भी जात – पात व छुआछूत – भेदभाव को मिटाने के लिए समाचार पत्रों के सहारे आंदोलन किए। लेकिन जब देश आज़ाद हो गया तो अखबारों ने क्रांति का काम छोड़कर आर्थिक विकास में भी काफी अच्छी भूमिका अदा की। परन्तु हमारे आलोचकों ने कहना शुरू किया कि अखबार अब व्यवसाय का केंद्र बन गया है क्योंकि अब ज्यादा-से-ज्यादा विज्ञापन ही प्रकाशित हो रहें हैं। हाँ! यह बात सही है लेकिन हम यह क्यों भूल जाते हैं कि अखबार को चलाने के लिए पैसे की जरूरत कल भी थी और आज भी है। कल तक के समाचार पत्र राजा-महाराजा के भरोसे थे और आज लोकतांत्रिक दौर में लोगों के भरोसे चल रहे हैं बल्कि कल की तुलना में आज के अख़बारों में ज्यादा से ज्यादा खबर – जानकारी है और सक्रियता हैं। दुसरी तरफ अखबारों ने अर्थव्यवस्था को मजबूत करने के लिए खास योगदान दिया है जिसको साधारण तौर पर हम विज्ञापन के रूप में देखते हैं। यह बात तो हम भलीभांति जानते हैं कि पत्रकारिता में पत्रकारों व अन्य काम करने वाले लोगों को अर्थात अखबार को सुचारू रूप से चलाने के लिए आर्थिक सहायता की जरूरत होती हैं जो कि विज्ञापन के माध्यम से मिलता है फिर भी ना जाने क्यों हम बेवजह ही अखबार को बाजारीकरण से जोड़ कर निंदा करते हैं जबकि दुसरा सच तो यह भी है कि विज्ञापन देने वाले भी हम ही लोग हैं।

अखबार का वास्तविक रूप

हजारों साल पहले जब चीन ने पेपर की खोज की तब जाकर के यह सपना साकार हुआ और आखिरकार हमनें पशुओं के चमङे, पत्थरों इत्यादि पर लिखना बंद कर कागज को अपनाया। जबकि कुछ विशेषज्ञों का कहना है कि इसके पीछे प्लूटो व अरस्तू जैसे दार्शनिकों के विचारों का यह प्रयास है। खैर दोनों ही बात काफी हद तक सही है लेकिन साधारण तौर पर हम कह सकतें हैं कि जैसे – जैसे मानव सभ्यता विकास की दिशा में आगे बढ़ने लगी और हम आधुनिक होने लगे हमने अपने जीवन को सुगम-सहज बनाने के लिए खोज किया और इन्हीं अविष्कारो में से एक अखबार भी है। हमारी अखबारी यात्रा लगभग आज से 400 साल पहले भारत में अखबार व्यापारीकरण के मकसद से ही कोलकाता में आया क्योंकि कोलकाता उस दौरान भी व्यापार का मुख्य केंद्र था और आज भी है। लेकिन धीरे-धीरे हम इसकी उपयोगिता को देखे व समझे तो इसका प्रयोग जनता को जागरूक करने के लिए या यूं कहें कि आजादी की लड़ाई में हथियार के रूप में इस्तेमाल किए और बात अगर आज के मिडिया काल या सूचना काल की करें तो देखेंगे कि केवल भारत में लगभग 70 हजार अखबार कम्पनियां हैं और यह संख्या बढती जा रही हैं।

जिस तरह से अखबार समय के साथ बदलता व बढ़ता जा रहा है तो हमें इसे नजरअंदाज नहीं करना चाहिए। अखबार ने क्रांतिकारी अदा के साथ – साथ देश को सूचना व आर्थिक क्षेत्रों में विस्फोटक गति दी है जो कि अविस्मरणीय है। हम सब भी बहुत अच्छी तरह से जानते हैं कि इतनी मँहगाई के जमाने में भी अखबार ही एकमात्र हैं जो कि आसानी से व दो-चार रूपये में मिलता है और मनोरंजन के साथ-साथ समाचार और जानकारी विस्तृत रूप से देता है, जिसको हम अपने समय के अनुसार शांति से पढ़ कर संग्रह कर सकते हैं। सारे खबरों का खबर रखने वाला अखबार ही आज अपने दिवस में अपने ही पन्ने से गायब हैं पर पाठकों के दिल में जिंदा है और जिंदा रहेगा, बस यही शुभकामनाएं हैं “भारतीय अखबार दिवस” पर।

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By Arunima Singh:

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Still from the video ‘Hymn for the Weekend’. Source: YouTube

With the whole Internet going crazy about the new Coldplay video, curiosity got the better of me as the first thing I did this morning (right after checking my phone) was watch that video.

Some people are hurt, even angry. I fail to understand why. Unlike most other videos, Coldplay isn’t making foreigners wear bindi and dance in sarees (although, how problematic that is, remains debatable), or hurting religious sentiments or making a sequel to India’s Daughter.

We have Queen B as the Rani in videos being played everywhere, and a 2-second long cameo by Sonam Kapoor, and the rest of the video is one big Holi celebration in a city that looks, sometimes like Jodhpur, and sometimes like Varanasi, and sometimes too colourful to be true to me.

Now, Beyonce on the screen is not even something I considered people could find problematic, considering how obsessed we are with foreigners in movies (Giselli Monteiro played a ‘Punjaban’ in Love Aaj Kal, as for the blonde hair, Ali Larter got a part in Marigold, granted she was playing a foreigner). A non-issue, basically.

While I agree that Coldplay has exoticised India, making it look like all we do here is chill and play Holi or pray, it’s a music video for God’s sake. Are we expecting them to stand and film the cyber city in Gurgaon? Or some fancy hotels or highways? Or do we want it to discuss Digital India campaign or India’s foreign policy? Art is a personal expression, and if what they found interesting is that we play Holi or how the uncountable sadhus in our countries dress and live and pray, they are going to put that in their video. While we live inside buildings and work from our offices, there are actually taxis and half-naked children running around the roads. It is not something they made up.

They are not making a documentary about Indian lives. They are artists and in a video that they made, they have all the right to portray things that they wish to, as long as they are not untrue. And it is not. We do play Holi. Cities like Varanasi are a tourist destination across the world because of our traditions and rituals.

If you feel uncomfortable looking at all the naked children running around, I doubt you live in this country. They are everywhere. In every city. Every region. Maybe we should be uncomfortable enough to change that. Artistic freedom is something that should be respected, especially when the artists aren’t spreading lies or depicting us in a way that is harmful to our country.

We are a beautiful country. And a colourful one. And like every other country in the world, there are some things about us that people find more interesting than others. A great part of our nation is still very much about those godmen and the half-naked children and narrow lanes and just too many festivals to count.

While we are developing, competing with the rest of the world in business, technology and science, why is it so shocking if people are intrigued by things that are unique to us? I am sorry, but I refuse to be offended.

Also read: ‘The New Coldplay Video With Beyonce And Sonam Kapoor, Just Made Me Go ‘Why’!

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By Shambhavi Saxena

I’ve had my social media accounts hacked into once or twice before. The first time it was a friend with a poor sense of humour. The second, it was the real deal. And the recovery process was very, very angsty. But I’ve never had my account suspended by Facebook before. Until this Saturday.

First, I thought it was a hack. Bad things come in threes, right? Then I got this:

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“Oh,” I thought. “Oh no, they didn’t.”

A few days ago, this painting by graphic artist and designer Orijit Sen was reported for violating Facebook’s community standards. In a request-via-status-message, Sen asked Facebook users to defy the ridiculous rule and upload the image across multiple accounts. When I posted it to my own, it got reported within a day.

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And why? To me, it looked like an absolutely ordinary still from an absolutely ordinary day in somebody’s life – because well, we all tend to shower now and then, and we also all possess bodies. I was let off with a warning, but the second time I uploaded Sen’s painting, Facebook literally threw me out of the class room to think about what I’d done! What’s more, even with my account un-blocked now, I have been disallowed from posting a status message, adding friends, message anyone or comment on any posts.

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Now I don’t have anything against having some solid community standards in place. Hell, we were all glad when Facebook updated its policy last year to protect users from hate-speech and sexual harassment, and restricted content that showed in graphic detail any form of violence or sexual attack. The updated policy meant that a lot of women could report the creepy, borderline abusive messages from dudebros that flood their inboxes. It even includes a clause on self-harm, indicating the social network’s interest in the well-being of its user base. Sounds good.

Yet I don’t feel particularly good when an impersonal algorithm gets to decide that a non-offensive, non-abusive, mostly aesthetic image on my timeline means I should get blocked for 24 hours.

This despite the fact that Facebook Community Standards basically opens with this disclaimer: “Because of the diversity of our global community, please bear in mind that something that may be disagreeable or disturbing to you may not violate our Community Standards.”

Sen’s painting is in no way different from the kind of ‘nudity’ that Facebook does allow – which includes breastfeeding (women have fought long and hard for this one), images of post-mastectomy surgery scars, and nude sculptures. And funnily enough, the website knows this to be true. Because the same image was uploaded to my mother’s account, anonymously reported, and then:

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According to the Community Standards, even well-intentioned images may be removed “because some audiences within [Facebook’s] global community may be sensitive to this type of content – particularly because of their cultural background or age.” But does that mean each post is individually evaluated? For the sake of uniform application, the answer is no, and the company itself has admitted that “our policies can sometimes be more blunt than we would like and restrict content shared for legitimate purposes.”

If I re-upload Sen’s painting now, I risk losing the profile I’ve been maintaining since 2008, losing all my contacts and all my content. I am being punished for nothing and I do not think that is fair.

The social network needs to further update its policy or its algorithm to take into consideration these “legitimate purposes.” Otherwise, what’s the point of having this online community that indiscriminately censors conversation?

sunny leone bhupendra choubey

By Atiya Anis:

sunny leone bhupendra choubeyLast week Sunny Leone’s interview on CNN-IBN became the centre of a debate, with the interviewer bombarding the Bollywood actress with misogynistic and inappropriate questions. After hearing about the hashtags supporting Sunny, I watched the interview. I failed to understand whether the interview was about her upcoming movie or a personal bullying session. Whatever it was, it was not at all professional. In the 20-something minute conversation, Mr. Bhupendra Chaubey proved that he has taken over the responsibility of the new guardian of morality. And I do not need to look too far back to see where the inspiration comes from. After all, it hasn’t been long since the recent intolerance debate.

Well, to begin with, I must clarify that I do not support gratuitous skin show in movies, nor am I a fan of sex comedies. But my having a different choice doesn’t give me a licence to demean others who make or watch any other form of art. Movies are a money making business where the film-makers’ task is to entertain the various audiences. The CNN-IBN interview trying to portray Sunny Leone as immoral and corrupt demonstrates our skewed ideals. We enjoy the Kareena Kapoor song with sleazy lyrics “main hoon tandoori murgi…chipka le saiyaan Fevicol se,” but raise slogans of maryada and sanskriti against a sex comedy. At least sex comedies have been released with an ‘A’ Certificate whereas the others, with an ‘Unrestricted’ tag have some of the sleaziest songs and scenes. I’m astounded by with this hypocrisy. We love to persecute the poor, the vulnerable, the honest, but would not dare to comment on someone who is rich and successful. We are soft on liars and persecute those who either honestly accept their mistakes or are unapologetic about the choices they have made. I am sure Sunny would have had a better conversation if she would have denied of her past and had said that all the porn was “conspiracy” against her!

In the interview, Mr. Chaubey of CNN-IBN insisted that Sunny share her regrets and admit that her “past will continue to haunt [her].” I was astounded by the confident answer Sunny gave that she has no regrets and every action is a stepping stone to something bigger, better. Amongst other bizarre, highly unethical questions, Mr. Chaubey went ahead to hold Sunny responsible for corrupting Indian minds and morality and of claiming that Indian ‘housewives’ (immediately corrected to ‘Indian married women’) consider Sunny Leone as a threat to them vis-à-vis their husbands. I really doubt any Indian woman, married or unmarried would be so dumb to say this. It doesn’t even require common sense to know that relationships depend on compatibility between those in that relationship, not on Shakira making great moves in Waka Waka. Even 1st-grade kids would be smart enough to see that. I really wonder who is doing the hiring at IBN.

Mr. Chaubey did ask one intelligent question when he wanted to know, “if [she gets] upset by…the negative comments?” Oh well, yeah, the rest of the world throws a theme party whenever they get any negative comments? Come on!

While talking about the accusation of Sunny having lowered the fine art of cinema, Mr. Chaubey forgot the history of cinema and that good, bad, intelligent and sleazy films have been made since the inception of movie making. It is not a new phenomenon. I could give a long list of Bollywood movies sleazier and cheaper in content, none starring Sunny. Only if he had done better research, that lame question would not have come up.

I was surprised at the implied connection between Sunny’s coming to Bollywood and an increase in the consumption of porn in India, making India the world’s largest consumer of porn. First of all, I think Mr. Chaubey was talking about his own porn consumption! Moreover, I would really like to know the research institute which conducted this study. Talking about the inhibitions of big stars about being cast with Sunny, I believe Mr. Chaubey spoke only to Aamir Khan and nothing more needs to be said about this.

To me, the worst moment was when he said, “I am wondering if I’m being morally corrupted because I’m interviewing you.” To this, I can’t respond. This one went too low. But I’m really proud of Sunny for the way she responded. I doubt anyone, be it a politician or a movie star, would have the ability to tolerate such questions. Who would not remember the interview, where even Mr. Modi, one of the best orators of our time, walked out within a few minutes after some uncomfortable questions were asked? Sunny took all questions, one after the other, like a real hero. Only an honest person close to God would have the capacity to do so. I have no second thoughts when I say that she has become my role model due to the way she conducted herself.

This CNN-IBN interview just reconfirmed the low standards of the Indian media and the sorry state in which it has been for long a time now. Not that India wasn’t already deeply patriarchal, but it’s another thing to see a journalist become a vehicle for misogyny. The channel should apologise for stooping so low, not only in terms of media ethics but decency as well. In case CNN-IBN is not aware, they have now joined the ranks of other sleazy news channels. It’s high time that we reiterated that media ethics and morality, a less talked about issue, are slowly evaporating from the universe. This is not about a Bollywood actress. It’s our issue. It’s your business and mine. It’s our universal right to make choices, have opinions and be unapologetic about them. Or we can continue speaking in hushed tones for fear of being overheard, criticized and shamed. I feel proud to see so many people breaking the shackles of tradition, patriarchy, and religion. I would like more and more people to be fearless, be different, make mistakes and be the change they want to see.

indhist

By Neha Karnik:

The overused adage – “History is written by the winners,” is extremely valid in the Indian context. Unfortunately, despite winning our independence, we still suffer nationally from ‘the Stockholm Syndrome’. To this day, we accept the erstwhile conquerors’ narrative of us to be the truth. This video is an attempt to open our eyes to our civilizational greatness and invaluable contributions to humanity.

As a land, India has been through several phases, issues that this generation is unaware of. And with Republic Day 2016 still fresh in our minds, Groot Films in association with SpoonFeed has initiated a web video series. It is our endeavour to try and create a cogent story of our India while taking into consideration the latest insights and discoveries brought to light by technology and modern research. We’ll follow this up with more interesting videos in order to keep the effort going.

Watch the video here and let us know what you think of it in the comments below!

Video courtesy Groot Films.

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By Yukti Agarwal:

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Nimrat Kaur and Akshay Kumar in ‘Airlift’. Source: YouTube

“Yeh sub news main mein dekhta tha, par aisa kabhi nahi laga ki ek din hum bhi news material bun jaate (I used to see all this in the news, but I never thought that one day we would ourselves become news),” said Poonawala (played by Kaizaad Kotwal) in the recently released movie Airlift, starring Akshay Kumar, as Ranjit Katyal, the protagonist, and Nimrat Kaur, as Amrita Katyal.

I will not waste any time in describing the movie because the true description of this marvelous piece of art can be done justice only when witnessed by one oneself. To me, this is a movie that is a portrayal of a plethora of character traits like pride, dignity, respect, courage, intrepidity, love and sympathy for those around you, trust and a burning want to live another day, to survive and be rescued, saved, airlifted.

This movie has truly succeeded in creating a conflict in my mind. On one hand,  I am proud of being an Indian. Because we Indians executed the world’s largest evacuation. Because we saved 1,70,000 people of our country. Because we cared so much for our people. And mostly, because we Indians stood by each other when we really, desperately needed that moral support and help. On the other hand, I am appalled by the moral slackness showed by people, where one human doesn’t stand for a fellow human, where one human will readily shoot another with a gun, rape another with their hands and bodies, run over the other with tanks, steal another’s food, where one human will forget their humanity and only see the futile aspects of life which, sadly, do include even nationality.

A common government ‘babu’, Sanjeev Kohli without having known any of those people, fought with the Indian government, persuaded pilots, woke up in the middle of the night, and worked relentlessly, just to save those people, even when all the credit would be taken by a useless, good-for-nothing politician. In this movie, a businessman, a man who could have escaped from the terrors of that war, the Iraqi soldiers and the cheap, contemptible, immoral politics, and the entire conflict itself, stayed behind and stood alongside humanity. And I am not saying he took the side of Indians. No, I am saying humanity. Not just because he helped save a Kuwaiti, but because he didn’t see her as Kuwaiti even when the people around him did. He saw or rather perceived her to be, more than that, to be a mother, a woman, a person who was suffering just like he was, and most importantly, a human. He saw beyond the confines of seeing people by their nationality. He saw beyond and above futile labels and names given to people on the basis of their place of birth, skin colour or mother tongue. And he could have sent her away, he could have easily given her into the hands of the Iraqi soldiers at the checkpoint when her identity was revealed, where she would have been raped and stripped off her dignity, her pride, and her humanity. But he did not; he courageously fought for her life, indirectly fighting for humanity.

There are some movies that actually make me want to respect and honour the story and the way it is portrayed, and this was definitely one of those.

It had me in tears, because the country whose government I believed to be redundant and slack, today in my eyes did more than any other government.

Although this movie does revolve around Indians, it also gives a wide vision of the utter plight and predicament that any country would go through during war. This was the story of Kuwait, what happened when the vile, inhumane, president of Iraq, the ‘Great’ Saddam Hussein, launched a surprise attack on Kuwait, killing civilians and damaging property, and life. It may be local in its setting, but it is global in its reach. Kuwaiti’s are not Palestinians, but they know how it feels when one’s land is stolen from them. So do Syrians, Yemenis, and Afghanis.

I write this to honour each person who was affected physically, mentally or emotionally during this invasion. Rather, this story is for humanity, so I write this in honour of all those affected by the game of monopoly in political, geographic, or economic interests, and all those affected by war.

My heart goes out to the girls who are groped by soldiers like Poonawala’s daughter was when the Iraqi soldiers came to loot the Indian camp, or when the soldier said, “let my boys have some fun” when the Kuwaiti woman was taken away from the protagonist Ranjit Katyal. My heart goes out to those children who have to listen to the noise of bombs exploding, or guns shots echoing instead of lullabies, and play with bullets instead of toys. My heart goes out to each man who has to act like the man of the family and always keep a strong façade for his family, to prevent them from loosing hope. My heart goes out to those who grieve for their lost ones, and mostly my heart goes out for humanity because this is what we have been reduced to.

This movie is a must see because it makes you feel like a proud Indian, albeit a useless human being and also utterly fortunate for not having to experience the events depicted first hand.

Featured Image - Indian Train V3

By Lipi Mehta:

The Ministry of Indian Railways has a buzzing Twitter account. Right from complaints regarding safety, cleanliness and reservations, to concerns about staff behaviour and quality of food in the pantry are tweeted to @RailMinIndia. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu’s Twitter timeline is also chock-a-block with complaints, suggestions and praise alike. Not just this, all the divisional railway managers are on Twitter too and are constantly forwarded queries and grievances.

It’s great that the government is using technology to connect with citizens in a faster way, and this also makes them more responsible, transparent and accountable to citizens. To our utmost delight, the ministry has delivered results on various occasions, and addressed all kinds of concerns, whether big or small.

These are 8 incredibly hopeful moments when passengers were immediately helped by the Ministry of Railways, just after a tweet was sent to them. If you have any more such news to share or want to share your own experiences of interacting with the Ministry or its officials, do leave a comment below!

1. When a group of hungry school students were provided a meal at concession rates.

2. When security was deployed in a female passenger’s compartment after she was harassed by two men.

3. When a passenger’s phone was recovered.

4. When a passenger was provided a wheelchair for his father who was suffering from paralysis.

5. When a 19-year-old was saved from trafficking and her kidnappers were arrested.

Looking for some hope today? This is sure to give you plenty!

Posted by Youth Ki Awaaz on Thursday, 7 January 2016

6. When a crying 18-month-old baby on a train without a pantry car was specially given some milk.

Translation: The train is running late. My 18-month-old child needs milk.

Translation: We have got milk for our son. Thank you, Suresh Prabhu ji.

7. When a woman was promptly given a bedroll and blanket in winter.

8. When doctors attended to an ailing woman just half an hour after a tweet was sent.

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By Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah

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For representation only

Of late, I have almost stopped watching news channels. There was a time when for me the television was all about news, and news was the only element dearer to me on the so-called idiot box. But now following the principle of ‘Old is Gold’, the morning newspapers have resumed their roles like those loyal friends in college who would keep you privy to each and every information about the campus! If some information is needed at once, The Times of India or The Hindu apps come to the rescue. But what compelled me to take this stand?

It must be a general feeling of many amongst us that today television journalism is no longer the same as it used to be earlier. Except for the classic Doordarshan, everywhere it is not news- but all cacophony. Earlier we use to have news bulletins but slowly they are giving way to talk shows where every hour at night the anchor does all the talking and the poor panelists are made to listen – no matter whether their ears can bear the burden of the high decibel voice (read noise)! But to some extent, it is acceptable when we are sure that they are at least not compromising on their ethics and although tempted by revenue-driven goals are trying to bring a change at least through trending hashtags in Twitter.

The situation becomes totally unbearable when some others, without making any noise, stealthily and in a more subtle way try to inject partisan points of view into a viewer’s mind. Many anchors have turned out to be party stooges and often show their pro-party character, whereas being the 4th pillar of democracy they should have come out being pro-India. It is a pity that today we don’t actually get the news but rather some concocted views.

All these from the English media would not have stopped me from boycotting TV news had I not encountered another section of our media and mostly in our Hindi and regional languages that have shifted their focus from news to street entertainment. Before you are even able to read the headlines properly they will shock your senses with some horrific images of a haunted house, skeletons, and mysterious saints and of course, aliens! And as one of the leading journalists of India candidly confessed, it is not those discussions or news on global terrorism or gender equality that attract our rural, semi-urban or even urban audience but stories of snakes, goumatas and MMS scandals! Either you show a few ‘drunken girls’ from a local nightclub or a pseudo news item on a matinée idol’s love story and become the No.1, or soon shut down your channel with huge deficits.

But if you think this is the worst that could take place in the media – you are wrong. There is something more to the murkier side of our TV journalism. If you want to indulge in character assassination, then the channels are there for your aid. They will initiate campaigns and will find out several ‘startling’ about their personal life. If all these do not give them enough TRPs, the evening talk show aka media trial will feature some know-it-all panelists – having no connection with that person, who will offer their lofty suggestions which they expect the police or the government to follow. All this continues for a few days and suddenly that burning issue is nowhere in your television screens to be found. The reason: it completed its objective of vilifying the person’s character and fetched enough TRPs to remain ahead of other channels.

I feel astonished when the media without having even an iota of sympathy keeps on asking uncomfortable questions to a rape survivor’s family or the survivor herself. It was terrible when live media coverage of a 26/11 attack helped the terrorists to formulate plans.

But as soon as I turn to switch it off, my gaze shifts to media’s gallant role during the Jessica Lal case or Nirbhaya case. I feel proud at our media’s honesty in bringing scams after scams to light. I feel even happier when media reaches out to the flood victims of Jammu and Kashmir and helps them in connecting with their lost families. When stings remove the masks of our political bosses, media’s role is lauded beyond any doubt. So sometimes a few of these silver linings debar me from switching off the TV.

Media can and in fact must bring a change. But that lust for change should not be driven entirely by TRP motives. A famous saying rightly states that like harlots, the editors enjoy great power without much responsibility but it is also undeniable that there should not be any power without responsibility. The viewers are not fools. It may be possible to make an impact in the manner one views a story or news but ultimately it is his own insight which will help him to form an opinion. The channels by no means should bulldoze a particular point of view as the only valid one. The TRP driven circus has compelled many like us to boycott channels, but will it bring any change?

It is sad that today in India we don’t have a Christine Amanpour but the worst is that we don’t even have plenty of audience who could appreciate those kinds of sane and healthy talk shows and bring them ample no. of TRPs. Does it show any deterioration of our taste or that of our media houses? It is time to rethink our positions as viewers as well as journalists. Do we want to create a future India which would yell at one another in discussions? Or do we want to create a generation that would be able to appreciate news only when it would carry mindless bites about sex scandals? On the contrary don’t we want our youngsters to be socially sensitive, insightful, and assertive but at the same time respectful towards one’s undeniable right to express one’s opinion freely? It is time to break stereotypes than breaking news!

Motorists ride past a billboard displaying Facebook's Free Basics initiative in Mumbai, India, December 30, 2015. India has become a battleground over the right to unrestricted Internet access, with local tech start-ups joining the front line against Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg and his plan to roll out free Internet to the country's masses. The Indian government has ordered Facebook's Free Basics plan on hold while it decides what to do. Picture taken December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui - RTX20L66

By Guneet Narula

Motorists ride past a billboard displaying Facebook's Free Basics initiative in Mumbai, India, December 30, 2015. India has become a battleground over the right to unrestricted Internet access, with local tech start-ups joining the front line against Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg and his plan to roll out free Internet to the country's masses. The Indian government has ordered Facebook's Free Basics plan on hold while it decides what to do. Picture taken December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui - RTX20L66
Source: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Access to Internet ought to be a right for every human on this planet. There has been nothing like Internet in human history. It has the extraordinary power to connect everyone and disseminate information at lightning speed. It can influence thought, opinion, policy and governance at any level. But connecting more people to the Internet is a challenge full of problems – economic and otherwise.

Facebook launched Internet.org in 2013 with the aim to solve this challenge, or at least that’s what Mark Zuckerberg claims. Over the last three years it has launched in about thirty six countries including India, though the service is temporarily suspended. Facebook has faced criticism from all angles that Internet.org, renamed (re-branded) as Free Basics, violates principles of Network Neutrality. I agree with this criticism. But in this article I am not concerned with net neutrality. Rather, I am concerned with what Zuckerberg claims Free Basics does. But before that:

How Do We Bring More People online?

“Online” means the network. The network which we know as Internet, through which we access websites, applications, email, and so on. To get on to the network, a person needs a device, an accessible node of the network (think of your WiFi access point at home, or the LAN cable at office, or a cellular data connection on your phone), and money to afford both the device and the cost (service charges like data plans and rates) of connecting to the network.

The network has reached most cities, urban agglomerations and towns of the world through a mixture of different kinds of cable networks (under the sea, under the ground, above ground) and also through wireless networks created by radio waves between cellular towers and even satellites. Wireless networks work in different bands (2G, 3G, 4G) each with increasing connection strength and speed.

People with a certain level of purchasing power can afford both the device that can connect to the network and the service charges or rates of the provider (like Airtel, MTNL, Spectranet, Reliance and so on). Most of the people who are connected to the network, people like you and me, live in cities. We are part of the mainstream economy, so we have the purchasing power required. Ten – fifteen years ago, both the device and the data rates were costly. But as infrastructure came up, business models became clear, investments flowed in, the costs came down, more people connected to the network generating revenue for device manufacturers, service providers and governments.

Some say that the reach of the network has increased steadily, and that more and more people have joined the network. That is true, but in developing countries like ours, this reach and these people are still limited to urban centres. Cost of devices have come down significantly over the years and 2G services are also available in many regions outside urban areas, but today’s websites and applications are heavy – they consume more bytes – which means that on 2G they don’t work smoothly. And of course, many parts of the country have no network.

To sum up, the challenges we are facing to make Internet accessible to more people can be solved in the following ways:

1. Reduce cost of smart phones, laptops, desktops and any other devices capable of connecting to the network.

2. Create more access points to the network, that is, increase telecommunication infrastructure.

3. Reduce cost of data plans, broadband plans and internet packs.

Facebook’s Free Basics (or Internet.org as it was earlier called) unfortunately does NOT at all work on any of the issues. It does not work on costs of devices, and neither does it increase the network reach – in fact it only depends on the currently existing infrastructure to run! This recent article talks about the service as just one part of a host of solutions that can increase access. This is based on the understanding that Free Basics is about service charges and data rate.

Well for one, Free Basics does reduce the amount of data required to access a selected service, and it does provide it for free. But Zuckerberg’s premise behind this is, and I quote: “By introducing people to the benefits of the internet through these websites, we hope to bring more people online and help improve their lives.” Or in other words, Facebook thinks that people who are not connected to the network just do not know the benefits of the world wide web, so once they get a taste of a small part of it they will surely get online. Facebook even uses evidence that does not yet exist (such as this article that only refers to other articles, press releases and no data reports or surveys) to establish that once people see the benefits they immediately opt for a data plan and access the whole Internet.

NO.

I am sorry but that is not the problem. Getting online is EXPENSIVE. People cannot afford it and that is the reason they are not online. Once they get a taste of a small selected slice of the Internet, they will still not connect to the Internet because it is expensive. If they had the money they would have already. A recent Twitter conversation with an American Free Basics supporter who works in Internet policy also brought us to the same point: “people given half a loaf will buy the whole loaf in the future if they like it. Common sense” he tweeted at me. Such grounded views I must say.

And the assumption that they just don’t know the benefits of the internet is foolish and point blank elitist. First, the very existence of e-Panchayats, State run apps for farmers (Digital Mandi, mKisan) and so on tells us that there are indeed people in rural districts, gram panchayats, villages connected to the Internet. There are thousands of non-profits and non-government organizations in this country taking Internet-based services to villages. Second, people living in these regions are smart enough (smarter than us I’d say) to know about Internet and its benefits. The recent Khabar Lahariya video proves the same. The women are asking for Google and YouTube for Internet to be beneficial to them. The reason they and most people outside urban areas are not online is simply because it is EXPENSIVE and not because they don’t know the benefits of being online. And Free Basics does nothing about this, and neither does it want to.

User Acquisition Is Profitable

mark zuckerberg free basicsBut I seriously doubt that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg do not know this reality of affordability. And yet they (the company and the individual) are marketing Free Basics as a solution to increase access to Internet. From the way it is all put, it seems that this is a noble cause.

But unlike other noble causes intended for social good, Mark Zuckerberg’s response to all the criticism was a) “open” the platform to other developers and still reserve the right to approve or reject submissions, b) re-brand the name of the cause and c) spend a whole lot of money on advertising. From billboards, full page newspapers ad in big dailies, SMS campaigns, to Facebook notifications and generating fake emails to TRAI; he has literally tried to shove this ‘good cause’ down our throats. Why? All this money could have gone to actually increasing telecommunication infrastructure, or even given/donated to non-government or government bodies working on these problems. Unless of course, this money was (or is) an investment.

There are many people and organizations that have great ideas intended to make people’s lives better. But I do not recall any one of them shoving it down someone else’s throat. If your idea is criticized, you don’t give up on your intentions of course, but rather you refine your idea or even abandon it and take up a different one. Unless.. there is profit to be made from your idea.

Internet today is vastly different from what it was meant to be. The global economic system that we, the upper classes, consent to initially could not make sense of this phenomenon (hence the dot-com bubble that later burst) and has only come up with one major ‘viable’ financial model. Which is based one the number of users visiting your website (or using your application or platform). The more the number of users using your website, app or platform the more financially viable you are. Facebook and Google are winning this game.

Growth for both these giants is dependent on constantly expanding their user base. For Facebook, it’s the user generated content and their profiles that matters. Imagine if tomorrow you, your friends and their friends stopped posting updates on Facebook. The company could easily crash because the ads they run that bring in the revenue, depend on your content. It makes perfect business sense to buy-out smaller Internet technology companies (Instagram, Whatsapp). Controlling news feeds of users also helps, because then you control what content reaches whom, making ad delivery more efficient and targeted. Facebook has also repeatedly stabbed open and free software in the back (free as in ‘freedom’ and not free of charge). Their platform is not open like they claim, and just as a reminder: much of their internal infrastructure was or is based on open source software. And too many social networks is also a problem, no wonder they never supported ideas like OpenSocial, an open standard to run social networks (if this had thrived by the way, social networking would have been much more enjoyable. One could have just picked up their profile and all their content and moved to a different network whenever desired!)

To sum up, user acquisition online is important for business today, and that explains Facebook’s Free Basics campaign.

Finally…

To solve the problem of Internet access we have to solve an economic problem. We have to increase infrastructure and make the data rates affordable. Facebook obviously does not want to step into all this. Facebook is not a charity and there is no profit in it and the whole field/sector is under regulation. Either way, a host of solutions can be thought of, invested in and worked on. The Global North did not achieve high Internet penetration through things like Free Basics.

We also have to realize and acknowledge that Internet is a mess today. Global Capitalism has punctured holes into its heart. Some fellow engineers, information technology professionals and experts may disagree with me but some don’t. Revolutionary peer-to-peer network models have been pushed out by private and state capital and the inefficient top-down (server-client) models are booming, just because it is easier put a monetary exchange value to information in the latter case.

For problems like Internet access, solutions coming from Google and Facebook cannot and should not be accepted without thorough scrutiny, because the very economic system within which these companies flourish, and these ideas exist, is unsustainable, divisive and pro-rich. They are not providing solutions anyway, these are just strategies for business expansion. Issues of surveillance and privacy surround all this as well and we have not even touched them in this particular debate yet.

Nonetheless it is important that more and more people connect to the network. Because Internet is the only global tool that can be powerful enough to revolutionize social, economic and political systems. I say ‘can be’ because in its current state it is not the tool that can do so. Its inherent power has been taken over by large private corporations and authoritarian governments.

That said – pragmatically speaking – we ought to recognize what Free Basics really is. Or what it is not: a solution to bring more people online.

Also read: Why I Think Free Basics Should Not Be Banned In India

free basics facebook

By Amitabh Kumar

free basics facebookEveryone should have free and easy access to the Internet. Yes, we should! But we don’t. As per internetlivestats.com, at this moment India has over 344 million Internet users. That number will probably be a couple of hundreds more by the time you read this article as the ticker is moving fast. With a click of a button, over 344 million people in India can connect with the world. That seems impressive. But is it really?

India’s current population is 1,293,241,856 people (that will also have gone up by a few thousands on IndiaOnlinePages.com by the time this blog is published). That simply means that about 949,107,897 people are still unconnected to Digital India. An overwhelming number of this ‘unconnected’ population is made up of women and senior citizens. So according to the math, it has been 20 years since the Internet was first introduced by VSNL in 1995, and still 85% of the Indian population is unable to use one of the greatest technological and communicational innovation in modern history.

Let me put this in perspective, back in 1995, Virat Kohli was 7 years old. DDLJ was the coolest new movie in theatres. P.V. Narasimha Rao was our prime minister, and Windows 95 ran on our giant PC’s. Yup, since then so much has changed for a ‘few’ of us. Be it in the field of education, health, housing, transportation. Sadly, due to reasons that persist, a majority of Indians were never fully included in this rapid change.

These inequalities continue to grow. Most of India cannot keep up with the modern innovations of the privileged minority of India because they are either unable to afford these changes over other basic necessities, or they are not even aware of the choices available. When it comes to the Internet #FreeBasics is an experiment which might be able to jump across these barriers.

I know you just rolled your eyes when you read the last line, and why won’t you, some of the loudest self-proclaimed ‘protectors’ of the Internet have told you exactly the opposite in the most creative and entertaining manner possible.

But, here are some questions for the critics, the sceptics, and those who believe that Armageddon is just a click away (they were around during the Y2K bug as well, somehow the digital world as we know it did not end on 1st Jan 2000)

1. Have you used Free Basics? It can be used on any mobile phone, just type in www.freebasics.com on your browser.

2. Do you have access to the Internet? As all the opinions, comments, for and against this one are coming from people for whom access to the Internet is a normality.

3. Is there any research available on how Free Basics will affect the Indian population? Or do you possess a crystal ball which helps you see the future of the most dynamic technology and its exact effects on the smartest youngest largest democratic population in the world?

4. How long should a common Indian wait before they can have access to a little bit of the Internet? Another 20 years may be? 10? Because “some” Internet , better than “no” Internet if nobody is willing to guarantee the exact time the voiceless, internet-less population must wait to get free full Internet.

Here are a few reasons why I don’t think we should get TRAI to ban Free Basics:

To start with, if this solution works to provide even .0000000000000000000000001% of the Internet to the 85% of the unconnected people in my country it is worth it. At the very least, it will familiarise them with the Internet and help them form an opinion about this technology. Presently, Internet access is not high on the list of demands of large sections of the Indian population, mainly because they don’t know what they’re missing! If they did, free and full access would be an election issue. Perhaps contrary to predictions, Free Basics could be a nudge in this direction.

Also, efforts are being made to digitalize governance. This can never be successful if we fail to get the masses connected. If social security schemes of the government can be connected through this platform (and I am sure it can be done), it can create a swift, corruption free, hassle-less mechanism for the citizens (like we have done for our passport and pan card applications). Wouldn’t that bring about an unimaginable constructive change in India?

What I stated above is just one idea, but going by the fact that information is empowerment, how can we kill an experiment attempting to spread information for free?

I would like to close my thoughts by just registering my protest against the one-sidedness of this debate. No, I do not mean pro or contra, I mean the fact that all the opinions, editorials, comments are coming from one section of the society, which is super privileged with access to the Internet.

It is the height of hypocrisy, that the same individuals who are making millions today due to the Internet, would not allow others to even use it. Why should 85 % of India only serve as clients to these business owners? If there is an opportunity for 85% of the disconnected Indians today to be business leaders of tomorrow, then why are we acting like a roadblock?

The only reason why I and many like me make our living using the Internet is because back in the day our parents could afford it, our schools informed us about the importance of it, our teachers trained us in using it. Well, most Indian parents can’t afford the Internet, most of the Indian kids have no schools with teachers.

Plus, why are you so scared? We are Indian’s give us a bit and see how we make the most of it, give us a path and we will jump each and every hurdle.

Make the basics free! And see what India can be!

Also read: Facebook’s Free Basics Isn’t About Bringing More People Online, It’s About User Acquisition

wage gap

By Lipi Mehta

When Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau was asked why it was important to him that his cabinet was ‘gender balanced’, he smiled and replied, “Because it’s 2015!” Hell yeah, no further explanations needed. It’s ridiculous now that we think of it, that such a question even had to be asked. But let’s face it – it’s 2016 and such questions will be asked this year too. It’s 2016 and we still don’t have basic equal rights across the world and many more Trudeaus might need to make many more such statements before we can see change happening across the world. Yes, of course, there are a few things that make the optimist in us believe that this year will be better than the last, but we can’t ignore how much more still needs to be done.

A Twitter trend, #Its2016AndWeStillDon’t, revealed just that. While many (and I mean MANY) tweets were about also about how One Direction and its members can be ‘real’ (Pls Liam, stop now), and how many of us still haven’t received a hug from Justin Bieber (the pain is real), there were some others that specifically caught my attention. Read them here and you’ll know how it really, really sucks that we’re in 2016, but have a long way to go.

1. All of these things.

2. I never ask for it.

In India, a woman faces sexual violence every 20 minutes. And it’s utterly shameful that this is one of the reasons why women are hesitant to report it.

3. It’s abominable that this still happens.


A rapist causes rape. Not anyone’s clothes or appearance or the time of day or anything else. Take a look at some of the horrifying things victim-blamers have said. Still need more reason to believe that we need to stop this now?

4. Dammit, yes.

According to WHO, 1 out of 4 people in the world are likely to be affected by a mental health issue at some point of time in their lives. Despite this, we still need someone to be affected with a physical disease for them to be taken seriously. (Read: I Wish I Had A Physical Illness Instead, So People Would Believe I Was Unwell)

5. Let’s not be dismissive of this, please.

Globally, an estimated 350 million people suffer from depression. Let’s not brush it away as ‘just a phase’ or ‘a bad day’. It’s important that we know what it is and how it can affect us or someone we care about. Here’s a 5-minute guide to understanding depression and how to deal with it.

6. Body shaming is real.

Accepting people for who they are as people, and not based on how they look – of course, that’s how it should be, but really not how it is. Societal norms and stigma too, force an individual to try and ‘be’ or ‘look’ a certain way and that’s just… no. (Read: I Will Use The Word ‘Fat’ Without Feeling Sorry, But Will Society Let Me?)

7. Really heartbreaking.

We still live in a world where kids are forced to adhere to gender norms when it’s really the time they should be free to explore their sexuality, and embrace who they are. Take for instance the story of trans teen Shivy, who was forced to be a ‘proper girl’ by his parents. And the worst part? This has even forced many young people to commit suicide.

8. You’ll need a minute to take this in.

In India, actors like Anushka Sharma and Priyanka Chopra have recently spoken out against this but it’s thoroughly upsetting how we don’t have a clear answer to when women and girls across the world will have equal opportunities. To begin with, should we first embrace ‘feminism‘ instead of thinking it’s a bad word?

9. Sometimes we don’t even realise that this still happens.

Apart from sanitary pads still being taxed, let’s take a step back and acknowledge the pervasive stigma that still exists when it comes to menstruation. However, with people across genders taking it upon themselves to smash the taboos and challenge patriarchy, hope is definitely alive.

10. And to encapsulate, that’s that.

How long till we realise that those who are ‘different’ are actually just who they are? And acceptance is just so much better than putting people in boxes, isn’t it? (Read:‘I May Be Female, Asian, Homosexual, But I’m Also Things Stereotypes Can’t Capture’)

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

By Shambhavi Saxena for Cake

Over the last few years, Mark Zuckerberg has become a household name. For some, he was just one of many IT guys. For many he’s probably just Jesse Eisenberg with a new haircut. For everybody in the know, he’s the creator of the biggest social media platform ever. Facebook isn’t just one section of the internet. To one in seven people on the planet, it is the internet. Early science fiction must be crying its eyes out in admiration, or terror. Or both.

Achievements aside, Zuckerberg is a complicated figure for our generation. Facebook has been a crucial tool for innumerable social justice efforts and networking between them. It’s also one of the companies, along with Netflix and Tesla Motors, to offer gender-reassignment surgery as an employee benefit. At the same time, the man and his ‘Free Basics’ service have come under fire because it could potentially violate the principle of net-neutrality, or an ‘open Internet’. There’s a whole lot of things a whole lot of people wish the Facebook CEO hadn’t gone and done, but there are times when the guy hits the mark (pun intended).

On Sunday , Zuckerberg had the best response to this woman’s comment:

zucky

In the face of what must look like an innocuous wish, Zuckerberg points out to her that women are not meant to simply hang off the arms of rich and successful men. His response seems basic enough – I mean, we should all know this right? – but too many of us don’t, and it really does mean something when a public figure of his stature feels the need to counter obsolete attitudes about women.

There has been a long tradition in American pop culture to place the ‘nerd’ at the bottom of the food chain. Remember Brian Johnson from The Breakfast Club? That tradition was slowly changing by the time Lizzie McGuire’s Gordo, or NBC’s Chuck rolled around, and then BBC’s Sherlock came and made “brainy the new sexy“. Nerds are getting a whole lot of love, these days. But what hasn’t changed so far is that nerd culture and ‘nerds’ themselves are predominantly male.

This links up beautifully and disappointingly with the widely held belief that STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are male fields. Why? Because of that other belief that nature (and not us) is sexist, and made women incapable of ‘nerdery’. The history of science – that part which is most easily accessible to people, plus the part which makes it to our textbooks – has done a great job masking the contributions of women in STEM, since physician Merit-Ptah began practicing 5,000 years ago in Egypt!

Even though women have been a huge part of science, there isn’t much to show for it. The ‘gendering’ of even professions has built an attitude against women in science. This is supported by casual remarks and so-called jokes by the many Tim Hunts of the world. So even if material conditions appear to be conducive for women’s larger entry into STEM, social codes of conduct control not only what women wear and eat, but what they study as well. The Huffington Post reported that “less than 20 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women.”

But does getting an early start make it any easier? Nope. The American Association of University Women published a comprehensive study of the gender gap in these fields, showing that while girls consistently outdid their male peers in these fields in school, there was a sudden dip in the number of women in STEM higher education or jobs. Part of the reason for this is, as USA News has shown, the way sexism affects “hiring decisions for lab positions, selection for mathematical tasks, evaluation of research abstracts for conferences, research citations, invitations to speak at symposia, postdoctoral employment and tenure decisions.”

With all of this weighing against women, Loretto’s remark is not just a cute thing grandmas say to embarrass their grandkids. It’s part of a larger and unquestioned system that doesn’t think women are good enough.

We’re all free to question Zuckerberg’s politics where it errs – but credit where it’s due. We need more of his “be the nerd” advice, and less of Tim Hunt’s sexism. So ladies, don’t date the nerd. Be the nerd!

This article was originally published here on Cake.

media

By Sakshi Jain

Mid-way through my course in Journalism this month, I was wondering about the ‘one lesson’ which intrigued my thought process in this journey so far. Indeed, as I was digging down my memory of the multiple books and lessons, the lesson of ‘subjectivity’ kept swirling on my mind. It was neither a proposed topic in my curriculum nor was it a part of an exclusive lecture so far. Yet, it seems the ultimate lesson of all the other lessons learnt in the course.

mediaSubjectivity, in general, is a philosophical concept that in the broadest sense of its term means interpretation of truth or reality governed by individual’s influence. Often in contrast to objectivity, it has a slightly negative connotation. However, the purpose here is not to distinguish between the good and the bad, negative and the positive, subjective and the objective. The purpose is to express how the milieu of media, its representation of the world and the ethics pertaining to it provide us a lens of subjective interpretation.

In the name of subjectivity, I do not intend to justify the actual malpractices or the careless mistakes in the communication process of media and others but to express the general trend of the rifeness of subjectivity.

The Lesson Of Subjectivity

The very existence of media is not objectively defined in our Constitution. The distinct provision of ‘Freedom of Press’ doesn’t find a mention in our Constitution even though it was the most sought-after fundamental right, evident in the history of India’s freedom struggle. The Freedom of Speech and Expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(A) is however seen as a provision encompassing ‘Freedom of Press’. However, the freedom isn’t absolute; it is subject to the reasonable restrictions mentioned in Article 19(2) of our Constitution. These restrictions are imposed in protection of ‘public order’, ‘decency’, and ‘morality’ or in relation to ‘contempt of court’, ‘defamation’ or ‘incitement to an offence’ that consequently limit the scope of freedom of speech and expression.

A simple analysis of these provisions acquaints us with subjectivity in and around media and the larger world. The definition of a ‘decent’ or a ‘moral’ act is subjective to an individual’s interpretation. The question then is, who decides the line of distinction between moral and immoral, decent and indecent? Is there a universal acceptance of such categorization? If not, then what meaning do these terms hold and to what extent are these restrictions reasonable?

Media is known to be the fourth estate of democracy by the virtue of its role in maintaining the cycle of dialogue between the people and its government. However, in addition, there is also a continuous cycle of subjectivity established in the society. The media presents the story which is naturally tainted by the subjective interpretation of the presenter, the audience’s grasp of the story is bound to be subjective, and the characters involved in the story will interpret it based on their own experiences. One story is subjected to numerous interpretations implying that there will also be dissension or disapproval with the perspective of the media.

In those circumstances, the interpretation of the constitutional provisions like those in Article 19(2) seems to challenge media’s representation. The government or the authority, also the characters of the story in most instances act as the arbitrator in serious issues of contention and clash of opinions. For instance, a person feels that media’s representation was an act of defamation and depends on the judicial body for the final decision of justice. It is important here to understand that the authority has no rule book for objective decision making based on every instance, the decision taken by the judicial authority is coloured by its own subjective interpretation, often in the name of ‘public interest’ which is again a contextual term. Thus, continues the cycle of subjectivity between the audience, media and government (who act as the audience too).

It is ironical how the professional ethics of objectivity in media is often overpowered by the subjective nuances. Media claims to justify its freedom of expression in the ‘public interest’. But, the quandary regarding the definition of public interest poses a reason for battle between objectivity and subjectivity. It is difficult to ascertain what really is in the interest of public, whether everything that the media deems fit for its audience, is really so. The question of where should a borderline be drawn and whether there should be one is debatable. Hence, there lies the subjectivity in deciding the kind of information that we as part of the public sphere need. The professional ethics of objectivity seems to be too utopian an idea to be actually practiced. It is easier to pen down these points of professional ethics but when it comes to actual practices, the web of subjectivity is too dense to escape.

There has always been a tussle between the laws that restrict the freedom of media and practices of media. It is common to see media practitioners being charged with ‘sedition’, ‘defamation’ and ‘contempt of court’ etc by the authorities or person aggrieved. However, the imposition of such charges is subjective to the interpretation of authority and/or the person aggrieved. On the other hand, the media practitioners justify their actions in the name of freedom of speech and expression and the very nature of the profession.

Is Subjectivity A Pervasive Maze?

When all these nuances are narrowed down to the level of inter-personal relations, it seems like the same maze of subjectivity has entrapped us everywhere. It feels like everybody has his/her own interpretation and that there is always ‘the other side’, or so to say the multiple sides. If each interpretation is the result of the social interaction and experiences then who should be blamed in case of a clash of two divergent perspectives? What determines a right or a wrong interpretation? Is there an actual distinction between the two? It is generally told that the intention must be right, to not harm somebody, but what is the indicator of those right intentions? On what grounds can someone’s intention be judged and justified?

Such questions have blurred the lines between a right and wrong expression; there is no universally appealing criterion to determine an individual’s expression as right or wrong. Just like there is a constant tussle in the realm of media, the same is replicated at every level of communication, be it inter- personal, intra- personal. As I am writing this, I have come to learn that this piece of work is open to as many interpretations as its readers, yet there will be no absolute interpretation of this. Such is the battle of communication, laden with the pervasive maze of subjectivity.

If there were only hardcore facts that shaped the communication processes in this world, there wouldn’t have been such a battle between objectivity and subjectivity. Each attempt towards objective communication entails a tinge of subjectivity.

priyanka chopra barkha dutt townhall

By Lipi Mehta

Priyanka Chopra just embraced the word feminist. Oh yes, she did. In an interview about her show Quantico in September 2015, she had said it isn’t a “bra-burning feminist show where you’re like, we hate men.” However, on Barkha Dutt’s ‘Townhall’ series last night, she said she is a proud feminist and doesn’t equate feminism to man-hating. That was quite a U-turn, PC and good on you for finally saying it like it is at a time when ‘feminism’ has become a bad word for many in the film industry.

After two Bollywood hits (‘Dil Dhadakne Do’ and ‘Bajirao Mastani‘) and a People’s Choice Award nomination for Quantico, 2015 has been a great year for Priyanka Chopra and boy, did she end it on a high note in this interview. Priyanka boldly admitted that she regrets endorsing fairness creams and openly spoke about how she was teased as a child and called ‘kaali‘ (‘dark’), because of her dusky complexion.

She also expressed solidarity with the LGBT community and spoke about wage inequality in the film business. It’s extremely important that at a time when ‘intolerance‘ seems to be the word of the year, one of India’s leading actors and globally recognised figures took a strong stance for feminism and equal rights. I do wish she had made a stronger statement on censorship in India instead of pointing a finger at the audience, but regardless, this interview is worth a watch and worth sharing!

Let us know what you thought of it – leave a comment below or tweet to me @lipi_meh.

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Please share this video extensively. I try to explain, in Hindi, why #FreeBasics is a sham, and is in fact, against #NetNeutrality.I think it's crucial that this discussion go beyond just the English-speaking internet-world. We need huge numbers to combat this , so get to savetheinternet.in NOW, and register your objection.

Posted by Vishal Dadlani on Friday, December 25, 2015

“Facebook humein ulloo bana raha hai.” 

“Facebook is making fools of us,” says music director and singer Vishal Dadlani on a video he uploaded on his Facebook page. Dadlani, known to be vocal about issues like corruption and gender imbalance, stands up for net neutrality in this video as he tries to tell you what Facebook won’t about its ‘Free Basics’, previously known as internet.org (Dadlani mentions this as Savetheinternet.org by mistake, something he has corrected in the comments). He explains the hollowness of Free Basics’s claim regarding a free and fair internet and in just 1 minute 40 seconds, urges citizens to not become “victims of this scam”. (Read this post about how Facebook is getting people to mistakenly sign their petition)

Watch the video and know more. Read these 10 points  to understand what Facebook isn’t telling you about Free Basics. To show your support for net neutrality,  head to savetheinternet.in and send a letter to TRAI. You can also change your cover photo on Facebook, like we have, to publicly make your opinion heard.

Screen Shot 2015-12-25 at 14.56.08

By Lipi Mehta:

“Santa ji, why is my name not on your list?” asks a 30-year-old frustrated employee but gets silence as a response.

It’s Christmas and his day is stuck on Excel sheets, the occasional firing from his boss and the ensuing sniggering from his colleagues. In what feels like a dreary work environment, the only sounds he is used to listening is the click of the mouse and the hacking away at the keyboards by everyone around him. But a day after Christmas, something changes with a new employee’s arrival. In a space filled with pie charts and numbers, she brings in flowers, posters of her idols and most importantly, a new sound – one that shows how a change in attitude and perspective can actually bring beauty to the banal.

The actors Namit Das (you might have seen him as Ranbir Kapoor’s friend in ‘Wake Up Sid’ or Atul Kumar’s brilliant play ‘Piya Behrupiya’) and Monali Thakur (singer of ‘Sawaar Loon’, ‘ Moh Moh Ke Dhaage’ and other Bollywood favourites) light up the screen with their presence. They are separated by a small partition but united by something else that brings some much-needed light to the otherwise dark and dreary space.

This sweet 15-minute film could be the Christmas cheer you need today!

Leave a comment to tell us what you thought of it or tweet to me @lipi_meh.

Kajol V2

By Lipi Mehta:

Earlier today, Twitter user Imaan Sheikh took up a very important job. She started fixing patriarchal and sexist lyrics and sentiments in Bollywood songs with witty, powerful feminist messaging. Because honestly, we’ve had enough of Kajol from DDLJ being harassed in her dreams (‘Mere khwaabon mein jo aaye, aake mujhe chhed jaaye‘) and Kiran not having a say with anything to do with her own identity (‘Tu haan kar ya na kar, tu hai meri Kiran!‘).

It’s 2015 and apart from these Bollywood ‘classic’ songs, there are many even today that objectify and commodify women and in such a situation, #FeministBollySongs, the Twitter trend that’s been my favourite today, is aiming to get users together to smash the patriarchy!

Check out some witty, important tweets below and don’t hesitate to join in. There are many songs that need fixing!

A homeless man, wrapped in a quilt, sits in an open space on a cold winter morning in the old quarters of Delhi January 3, 2013. Heavy fog and a cold wave in Northern India have disrupted life in a number of cities, killing scores of homeless in the state of Uttar Pradesh, as the temperature dipped to around 4 degrees Celsius (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit). REUTERS/Ahmad Masood (INDIA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY POVERTY) - RTR3C2D6

By Prashant Ghabak

narayan-pargaein (1)The image (left) of journalist Narayan Pargaien was taken during the Uttarakhand Floods in 2013. To recall, the Uttarakhand floods resulted in a loss of close to 5700 lives, which is the official government estimate (locals put this figure around 15000). To put this in perspective, this number is bigger than the total deaths caused by terrorism in India during the last 15 years. What intrigued me most was that the media coverage didn’t reflect the gravity and impact of the calamity. One can question Narayan Pargaien’s ethics and professionalism, but I am afraid to say that he may have done a public service with his ‘insensitive’ act. His act caused a lot of outrage among the Indian media and the Indian elite. The floods started receiving more media coverage. It was ironical and unfortunate to see that a stupid act of a journalist achieved what the death of thousands could not.

This incident raised a lot of questions for me. Is it the media which sets the popular discourse of our country? Or is the media just feeding the people with what they want? For people to dictate terms, they should at least, learn about the event through the media, right?

In his brilliant book, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow,’ Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman talks about ‘availability cascade’ which explains how incidents become sticky and dominate the media coverage for sustained periods of time and how that can reshape Government priorities:

“An availability cascade is a self-sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action. On some occasions, a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. This emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. The cycle is sometimes sped along deliberately by ‘availability entrepreneurs,’ individuals or organizations who work to ensure a continuous flow of worrying news. The danger is increasingly exaggerated as the media compete for attention-grabbing headlines. Scientists and others who try to dampen the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it hostile; anyone who claims that the danger is overstated is suspected of association with a ‘heinous cover-up.’ The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone’s mind, and the response of the political system is guided by the intensity of public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. Other risks, and other ways that resources could be applied for the public good, all have faded into the background.”

This explains why a lynching in Dadri becomes national news but similar cases in other parts are ignored. Why a rape of a youth in Delhi causes nationwide protests but the rape of two backward caste minors in a remote village in Bihar few days after that is ignored completely. The biggest problem with the “availability cascade” is that a lot of times it succeeds in reshaping the priorities of the government to issues which might be of less public importance and can sometimes lead to disastrous effect. The Arushi Talwar case or the Sheena Bora case are the best example of this. The bigger impact is however on the issues which get ignored because of it.

A homeless man, wrapped in a quilt, sits in an open space on a cold winter morning in the old quarters of Delhi January 3, 2013. Heavy fog and a cold wave in Northern India have disrupted life in a number of cities, killing scores of homeless in the state of Uttar Pradesh, as the temperature dipped to around 4 degrees Celsius (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit). REUTERS/Ahmad Masood (INDIA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY POVERTY) - RTR3C2D6
Image source: REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

India is home to the world’s largest poor population according to world bank estimates. While we are sending rockets to mars, we have one of the worst health care systems in the world. In India every year, 1.34 million children die before completing five years, of which 7,48,000 die within the first month of their life. Which basically means more than 2,000 newborn die each day in India. This damage is much more than any terrorist attack or mob lynching can cause even if it happens every day. Yet there is very little media coverage on this.

Our education system is not doing any better either. According to the ASER 2015 report, only 48% of class 5 students can read a class 2 text. That figure was 47% last year. That shows how little improvement, we have made. When school children can’t do basic arithmetic and construct simple sentences, all the talk of “Acche Din” is too premature even if we clock a high GDP growth rate.

And the media is just a part of the problem. There is an urgent need to change the way we consume news. Social Media has shown that citizens can drive the media agenda and become vigilant participants in the democratic process. The first step in doing that is figuring out what is important and asking the right questions. Both the Jan Lokpal movement and the Nirbhaya protests demonstrated the power media has in shaping government policies. They were unique in a sense because citizens having a say in public policy is a kind of a rarity in India. It taught us that politicians do respond to incentives if we are persistent enough to create them. We can do that by showing that education, healthcare, and a lawful society matter more to us than opinions of movie actors or fringe politicians. We have to stop outraging about every statement politicians make and hold them accountable for what they do.

morocco street sexual harassment

By Lipi Mehta

A man pinched a woman’s bottom on a street in Morocco and oh, she so did not take it lying down. She turned around and in one clean punch, knocked the harasser out for 2 hours. I saw this 38-second video a few times and each time I did, I realised with greater depth how symbolic this punch is. It wasn’t about this one harasser only; it was more about the rage that comes with how hundreds of women are harassed in various ways every day, something that is evident in how the woman reacts after the man is flat on the ground.

I live in Mumbai, I travel in the local trains, I walk across busy streets, I try and go running on some evenings, I like to sometimes travel across the city to meet a friend – but at all of these times, I am conscious of what my surroundings look like, who I’m with, what I’m wearing, who’s looking at me… because street sexual harassment is a reality that thousands of women in India deal with every day.

While violence is not the best or adequate response to harassment, this Moroccan’s woman instinctive response might ensure that the man doesn’t harass another woman again, just because he ‘can’.

I’d love to know what you thought of this brave woman’s punch! Leave a comment below or tweet to me @lipi_meh.

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