Why Net Neutrality Is Essential: The Case Of Mumbai’s Famous Dabbawalas

Posted on August 3, 2015 in Business and Economy

By Ankita Ghosh:

Some 5000 odd gentlemen, in worn-out trousers and worn-in commitment, go around Mumbai city and adjoining areas delivering home-cooked food to medium-to-low income group office-goers for more than 120 years, with marginal to zero fail. Mumbai Dabbawalas (Marathi for lunchbox-bearers) have become a hot-topic in management research that applaud their sharp sense of business and meticulous sense of navigation, smoothly riding into the most obscure alleys in the city.

Image source: mumbaidabbawala.in
Image source: mumbaidabbawala.in

Last Tuesday, the 28th of July, to expand their already thriving conventional marketing-strategy into the cyber-space, the Dabbawalas went online. Popular e-commerce company, Flipkart, was prompted to collaborate with them to improve in the area of delivery. The spokesperson of the association of dabbawalas said, “Earlier, new customers had to face difficulties in contacting us. They had to wait at railway stations to contact us or seek the help of their building watchmen for the purpose. Now, a dabbawala will be at their doorstep once they contact us online.”

Use of mobile communication devices has seen a sudden growth in India over the last decade, although a modest 15% of the mainland population are registered internet users. The internet is singlehandedly mastering/ manoeuvring a high-level democratic process, letting unheard communities, caught in ethnic conflicts, communicate. The Arab Spring saw a prolific use of web-communications in its fight against an authoritarian regime. Activists made use of online platforms to promote democratic temperament initially and democracy soon after. Involvement of international non-governmental, civil-society and non-state actors and their smart use of communications-technology have facilitated political-arbitration, peace-process and democracy.

This invariably brings us to the question of neutral access of information, available over the internet that has been gathering a lot of debate in the services sector, as well as amid the monstrous body of consumers that benefit from said services. The heat around internet neutrality had escalated in India sometime last year, telecommunications service-providers have even proposed additional charges on web-access based on client, content, mode, application and nature of information. Such discrimination, endangers the very democratic tradition that the internet had originally resolved to promote. Gross violation of the principles of neutral admittance of e-resources, in turn, curtail the basic tenet of freedom of expression, inherent in our Westphalian system of democracy, and has raised questions both among the political leadership and public domain.

From a micro-business venture like the Dabbawala services, operating within a bound geography of a city, venturing into the digital to widely accessed services operating transnationally, will be tossed into cataclysmic jeopardy, if the laws governing net-neutrality are allowed to deny the public of what is contractually theirs.