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Hazare 'clicks' with city techies

by Prasad Krishna last modified Aug 19, 2011 06:48 AM
These days revolutionaries, crusaders and even rioters use social networking to further their cause. After the Arab Spring and the London riots, social networking is now playing a key role in Anna Hazare's ongoing anti-corruption campaign. Bangalore techies are in demand to run the show.
Hazare 'clicks' with city techies

A demonstartion in suppot of Anna Hazare in Bangalore.

Amid a demonstration on Wednesday in support of Anna at Bangalore's Freedom Park - a jail converted into a public space - a bunch of techies were seen busy working.

They were giving a blow-by-blow account of the local show online. India Against Corruption (IAC), the citizen's movement of Anna Hazare has one of its hubs in this city. Five techies with corporate jobs are the local contact points. They belong to a group of "like-minded people", who in December 2010 started 'Saaku' (meaning 'enough' in Kannada), a state-wide campaign against corruption.

True to Bangalore style, a main activity of Saaku is a website - one that exposes acts of corruption. "We wanted to do something in the face of mounting corruption," said Anand Yadwad, 38, a member of the core team.

Now it is part of IAC. It is a California-based NRI who handles the main IAC web page, activists said.

Their main Facebook page has been 'liked' by over 320,000 people. A Google email group, pages in local languages - including in Kannada - and a Twitter feed are slowly gaining ground too. Bangalore is a hub for similar initiatives that are not necessarily part of the Anna Hazare bandwagon. A website launched by the NGO Janaagraha - ipaidabribe. com aims to "uncover the market price of corruption". People post stories about their close encounters with the corrupt kind - paying GBP 50 for customs clearance, Rs 900 to a broker for getting a learners' driving licence and so on.

There is yet another website that actually deals with issues concerning far-away Chhattisgarh.

CGNet Swara is dubbed as a mobile community radio. Adivasis and landless labourers of Chattisgarh can dial in their stories onto a server based in Bangalore. The users can dial and listen to them in local dialects - health workers demanding bribe, labour contractors withholding part of the minimum wages and so on. Though it is not envisaged as an anti-corruption platform, stories of anomalies, including in the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act feature frequently on Swara. "We get such complaints maybe once in two days," said Shubhranshu Choudhary, a former BBC journalist based in Delhi who runs the show.

In effect, these three initiatives take three distinct approaches.

"Saaku takes an approach of incremental engagement in a campaign," said Sunil Abraham, the head of the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bangalorebased research group. First you can 'like' them on their Facebook page, then give a missed call, engage in local meetings and become a volunteer. "It means using the technology selectively, but driven by the people's needs and limitations," Abraham said.

Meanwhile ipaidabribe. com takes a more quantitative approach to understand the extent of bribery. CGNet Swara involves definite political risks as the complaints tend to be specific and sometimes connected with human rights issues - especially in a state like Chhattisgarh, Abraham said.

Meanwhile Bangaloreans who designed earlier campaigns call for a mix of media. "With India's infrastructure divide, unless we combine spaces like community radio with social network, campaigns cannot be successful," said Ashish Sen, president of AMARC Asia Pacific, a community broadcast forum. Namma Dhwani, a community radio project in Bangalore's neighbouring district Kolar, has gone live on local protests against corruption five years ago - with good impact. "Now with the spread of mobile telephony, the use of radio and audio becomes more meaningful," Sen said.

Maybe Delhites can look forward to listening to Anna FM!

Watch out! Private security is is the new booming industry

Watch out! Private security is is the new booming industry

The new sunrise industry in Bangalore is private security. Morning trains bring thousands of athletic men, including former defence personnel, from nearby towns like Kolar Gold Fields for security duty.

And they are not just involved in watch-and-ward. These days the police teach them basics of disaster management and some of them moonlight (or sunlight after a night job) as receptionists for a while.

And they are not just involved in watch-and-ward. These days the police teach them basics of disaster management and some of them moonlight (or sunlight after a night job) as receptionists for a while.

To celebrate their work, Karnataka Security Services Association (KSSA) plans to celebrate August 21 as ' Security Day'. There will be a procession by 1500 security guards and awards will be given for outstanding service. Central Association of Private Security Industry will follow up with a national day from next year, said Flight Lieutenant (retired) K P Nagesh, the president of KSSA. According to KSSA figures there are seven million private security guards in India with five lakh in Karnataka, mostly in Bangalore.

And the industry is growing at 35 to 40 per cent annually. Still there are issues, such as ensuring minimum wages, job security and insurance, according to the association.

The late-running Bangalore Metro rail project has recently displayed a notice outside one of its stations: "Press and Photography not allowed." A local reporter was stopped by the security guard last week and promptly shown the notice.

While photography might be prohibited at sensitive installations, even defence and space establishments never specifically stop reporters. They stop everybody! They say it is just a way to keep media glare away while the metro work is running late.

Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda has assured the aggrieved local media personnel that he would look into the matter. "Give me a week's time," he said on Monday.

Local chappals that are now travelling the world

Kolhapuri chappals, the ethnic footwear patronised by the erstwhile royalty of Kolhapur in Maharashtra are largely made in north Karnataka villages. In border villages like Athani in Belgaum district, many families are engaged in their production using traditional methods.

Tanned with vegetable dyes and handcrafted, the sandals have a certain macho appeal. The low-end models are affordable at Rs 250 a pair or even less. So apart from the royalty, the local wrestlers and farmers also wore them.

However, there is no record of them being used as a tool for political protests. (Don't get ideas now!) Recently a team of local women visited an international shoe fair in Dusseldorf, Germany. As local reports suggest, the chappals were a runaway hit. Toehold Artisan's Collaborative that organises local women's groups made $ 85,000 last fiscal from exports. The figure is set to rise - to a projected figure of $ 150,000.

Flying high indeed.

This article by Max Martin was published in India Today on August 18, 2011. The original story can be read here.
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