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With Technology Ruling Our Lives, Are Hackers The New Agents Of Change?

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By Saurabh Das:

Protesters from the online activist group "Anonymous" wearing Guy Fawkes masks march in downtown Guatemala, November 5, 2015. The group claims to be mobilizing protests in more than 600 cities worldwide as part of what they call the "Million Mask March" held on Guy Fawkes day. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez - RTX1UZ08
Image credit: Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez.

Power structures are ubiquitous. It’s nuanced and it can be experienced in a day to day scenario either in a public place or in a private one. Power structures are created through our defined roles and through voices, opinions, views, skill sets and even at times the ideology which we abide by. However, sometimes there is also a role reversal among the actors present in that power structure. In our day to day life, we find an interaction between technology and society which defines the power structure. The power structure is observed when we depend on technology to mobilise the available resources and when, in turn, technology depends us to interact with it. In the current milieu, hacking has redefined this power structure.

Hacking has led to the construction of communities where each hacker develops skill sets of computing in computers and networks. It is not only a philosophy of business but also a radical movement opening manifold opportunities and expressing creativity, freedom, care, openness, and social worth. In the post-Karl Marx era, hackers are the new revolutionary class of the 21st century as in McKenzie Wark’s words,

“To hack is to differ….Hackers create the possibility of new things entering the world. Not always great things, or even good things, but new things. In art, in science, in philosophy and culture, in any production of knowledge where data can be gathered, where information can be extracted from it, and where in that information new possibilities for the world produced, there are hackers hacking the new out of the old.”

McKenzie Wark is one of the leading critical scholars whose voluminous contributions in media and critical theory is amazing. His book titled ‘A Hacker Manifesto’ is one of the seminal works on hacking. It is observed that scholarly works have majorly identified that hackers are attracted to illicit acts. These acts are performed either by individuals when transgressing a law or social convention or in collective moments like when they set up alternative technical infrastructures. Another set of scholarly works have observed that hackers are deeply careful about their own individuality based on their quality of hacks which could be understood well through the lens of a technical language. So, a layman like you and I are unaware about the nuanced versions of hacking.

Hacking can be understood as a material practice connected to computers and networks and is divided into two core groups: 1) Cracking and 2) Free software and open source (FOSS) based on their expertise.

Cracking is the interaction between acts and community. Acts can be further explained through different types of cracks.

1. Day zero exploit – in this method of cracking, technology is altered to produce an unanticipated change in authority over a computer or network. Do you remember, the film the ‘The Social Network’, a biographical film based on one of the successful social media founders? In one of the scenes, he breaks into the university database which can be considered as a day zero exploit.

2. Day zero plus one – this process of cracking is done through the deployment of an existing technique and is not so innovative as compared to day zero, but quite unique. In most of the films pertaining to hacking, the script writer while working on the mode of hacking to be shown takes refuge in day zero plus one. For example, in the Die Hard franchise, the film titled ‘Live Free or Die Hard’, the protagonist John McClane is a young hacker who joins forces and uses the existing technique to fight against cyber-terrorist Thomas Gabriel.

3. Social engineering – Almost all of us using computers and network have been victims of this type of cracking. In this case, a window pops up carrying a message that our computers are prone to virus. No matter how much we try to get rid of that window, a new graphic comes up showing a virus scan being run on the computer. This is deceptive as it persuades us to install a software to get rid of the virus found through the scan. The program itself is a virus and further installation will affect our unaffected computer.

4. Script kidding – this is an automated process where accessing one particular program may lead to the automatic installation of deadly virus like Trojan which totally paralyses the network and computer.

The process of cracking among communities is quite popular as it leads to a plethora of knowledge acquisition and dissemination activities. The community of crackers are strongly bonded and the persistent methods of peer education and peer reviewing among them leads to a dynamic environment on the internet.

FOSS is a kind of hacking where the intervention of experts making programs are more. The programmers here use a source code which carries a set of instructions enabling one to understand the functioning of the software. If you have watched the film ‘Source Code’, it has very little to do with source codes and more to do with time travel. However, if you have gone through the documentary Revolution OS, it is interesting to find out the trajectory of open source code and the quintessential role played by collaborative software writing projects like Linux and Apache in developing programs like OpenOffice which are readily available on websites free of charge! Thus, the three main components which make FOSS influential are property, community, and politics.

If on one hand, considering the path the hackers use, viz., Cracking and FOSS are propagating material practices, then, on the other, there are another set of political activists known as the ‘Hacktivists’ who create changes in the current socio-political and economic milieu through political campaigns. Tim Jordon and Paul A. Taylor aid our understanding when they connote hacktivism as an activism which has gone electronic. They further consider it as grassroots political protest along with computer hacking. There are many hacktivists who had or are in the process of leaving a significant mark of their protest and trying to make a better society. For example, a young hacktivist like Aaron Swartz founded watchdog.net in 2008 through which one could track certain information like politicians’ involvement in illicit acts of receiving money from various sources. He says, “It’s up to you to change the system… Let me know if I can help.”

Another hacktivist group ‘Anonymous‘ whose activism in the recent days has taken the internet by storm has been involved with many political operations. One of the operations which left me awestruck was their protest against ISIS being involved in the Paris terror attack through bringing down thousands of pro-ISIS social media accounts.

So, it’s quite clear that through different types of hacking, the power structure is becoming more nuanced. But what is more important here is to not only understand the nuanced way of hacking, but also decoding the power structure through the social lens. In this nuanced power structure, the hackers don’t restrict themselves to alter technology to disrupt or create an unanticipated change, rather what they bring here are the diverse approaches to look out for the answers to philosophical questions embedded within the interaction between technology and society. Their actions are often responses to changing trends. You may ask or argue what kind of changing trend a hacker might find in my computer, but if you spare a moment of thought, you are a part of that change the hacker might be interested in.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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