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by Radha Rao last modified Apr 04, 2011 06:53 AM
A nationwide initiative is imploring that you look closely at the greyed-out areas on your GPS maps, says Jaideep Sen in an article in the Time Out Bengaluru Magazine, November 13-26 2009 [Vol 2 Issue 9]

Call up a map of Bangalore city on Google, key in the letters “HAL”, and hit the return key. When the squiggly lines demarcating the area show up, put down the end of your forefinger at the Marathahalli end of the Old Airport Road stretch, and begin tracing your way all the way up to MG Road. It’s an easy route to follow, if you’re merely looking to head from one end of the city to the other, but that isn’t the purpose of this particular exercise, which could well be tried out along all major roadways in any city across India.

As the two Bangalore-based groups Centre for Internet and Society, and Tactical Technology Collective describe it, the attempt of that lingering fingertip is to ascertain the possibilities of creating “maps from the margins and of margins”. While that wouldn’t make immediate sense to most GPS-impelled drivers, what they’re implying is that you look around that route to try and locate and identify the numerous slums, unauthorised settlements and illegal waterways that remain greyed-out along those delineated main roads and prominent residential areas. As co-hosts of a two-month-long nationwide project titled “Maps for Social Change”, the groups are also wagering that you most likely won’t find such expanses on a map. Although, if you were to explore the neighbourhoods of say, HAL, Indira Nagar and Ulsoor, you’d find at least 30 unmarked shanties along that stretch of Old Airport Road alone.

Official figures peg the city’s slum-dwelling population at roughly 10 per cent of an estimated total 5.3 million people, in a little over 200 slums as declared by the Karnataka Slum Clearance Board. While that figure would appear minor in comparison to that of a city like Mumbai, where 60 per cent of approximately 19 million people are said to live in slums, it’s precisely that kind of disparity that this project aims to pin down against latitudinal and longitudinal positions. The purpose, said a note from the groups, is to use “geographical mapping techniques to support struggles for social justice in India”. The end result, it added, could make maps as “tools to fight injustice in society”. To understand that intention, the activists and technology specialists of the two host groups are urging people, and groups involved in social projects especially, to revisit maps and identify possibilities relevant to local campaigns and movements.

“In other countries, there’s a lot of talk about social movements using technology, even in subversive ways, but in India, this hasn’t really taken off,” said Anja (pronounced Anya) Kovacs, a Belgian who has lived in India for eight years, is a member of various campaigns in New Delhi, and is a CIS member spearheading this project. While there are many reasons for Indians to be desisting from technological means, there are many practical applications where mapping techniques can benefit social causes, she insisted.

“One example is to do with people who face displacement caused due to upcoming Special Economic Zones,” explained Kovacs. “The media, at times, portrays people against such models of development as a minority. But if you count the number of people involved in these movements, you’d come up with a mad number, and there are a mad number of struggles going on.” The project, she added, could help place such information on a map, “so that different classes of people could see what the truth actually is”.

The application inviting proposals from groups, individuals and students, begins with an exhortation for people to rethink the concept of maps. “Most of us think of maps as representations of territory,” it states. “But have you wondered why poor people are rarely given prominence, or at times are absent altogether?”

The graphic representation of a map also presents a handy educational medium, added Kovacs. “People working on concerns of sexual harassment, or state repression, public health, water management issues… the possibilities are immense.” Allan Stanley, another CIS member working on the project’s technical aspects, said the aim was to facilitate training, and extend their expertise. “It’s easily doable even for people with little internet experience,” said Stanley. “Where you create mash-ups, with [online photo and video hosting services] Flickr and You Tube, and some overlaid locative work.” At advanced levels, Stanley said that open-map projects could serve to track things like education, and density of schools in areas. Kovacs also spoke of the recent “pink chaddi” campaign, against instances of violence inflicted upon women, where a simple Google map was used to mark locations that attacks were reported from, to highlight the possibility of indicating potentially unsafe urban regions.

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ASPI-CIS Partnership


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