Visiting the Wagah Border from Amritsar, India


I was in Amritsar in January 2018 with my cousin, and while researching the many activities that we wanted to undertake, visiting the Wagah Border and witnessing the flag ceremony between India and Pakistan was something she definitely wanted to do, and I thought, ‘Well why not?’. While hunting around for the best way to get there, I found Jugaadus. When I first mentioned this name to my cousin, she broke out into peals of laughter. So, the word ‘jugaad‘ means, very roughly, doing something very cleverly, or just thinking out-of-the-box. And the person who does this jugaad, is a jugaadu. I think.

Anyway, we booked the tour through Jugaadus, which is a hostel, and this is just one of the many tours it organises for its guests as well as for the general public.

When we got to the hostel, we waited in the clean central living room and then six of us piled into a vehicle with the driver (Vicky) to head towards the border. Once we arrived as far as we are allowed to go with a vehicle (it takes about an hour to drive), we left the car at the parking area, and off we went on foot. That took about 20-30 minutes max – of course this depends on how fast you walk. Once we arrived at the gate, there’s a massive sign that proclaimed “INDIA”. OK, got it. Then it was time for the security checkpoints. My advice: do not carry your bag with you. They won’t let it through especially if it has things like portable battery packs and so on. I had my phone and wallet in my hand and that was it. There’s a separate line to get through for Indians and non-Indians – the latter will have to carry your passport to make it in. I hadn’t carried mine but as Vicky said to me, “your face is your passport”. Haha.

Inside, the division continued. I found – through my own experience and then watching people who followed – that once you walk in, guards will usher you to the dustier, crowded side of the arena if you’re Indian. If you’re not, you get sent to the “VIP” section. Or if you’re Indian and rich/important/kick up a fuss, we saw those get through to the ‘fancy’ section too.

Once you find a seat, be prepared to wait for a bit. Hopefully you’ll have company, like I did, because you can get bored.

Before the actual drill, people are invited to come down to the arena and take part in a few interactive sessions like passing the flag along, and there’s a bit of dancing to the tune of Bollywood numbers, a lot chosen carefully to incite a sense of patriotism amongst the crowd I imagine. On that note, there’s a man with a megaphone screaming out chants and trying to get everyone to join in, and it feels like a competition with the other side on who’s cheering the loudest.

The arena filled up eventually, and then the soldiers came out. The military drill was dance-like with exaggerated movements, stomping and so on, with both the Indian and Pakistani soldiers on either side of the now-open gate mirroring movements. There’s a quick handshake at the crescendo, before the gates slam shut.

I had, in the run-up to researching this visit, read a few accounts where authors had slightly unpleasant experiences but I, luckily, didn’t encounter any.

Would I recommend it? Sure, only in that I don’t know of many borders that have such elaborate shows, and it’s one of those things you should check out if you can.

To book the Wagah Border tour with Jugaadus, click here.


What I’m reading #3

Book: One & A Half Wife
Author: Meghna Pant

“It was as if immigrants transported the soul of their culture to the skeleton of another culture, and then plastered the former so it couldn’t come in contact with the host culture.”


There was something else I identified with, and laughed at a bit. There’s a line in this book where the protagonist, newly arrived in the USA, addresses her teacher by prefixing “Mrs” to her last name. The teacher then tells Amara (the main character) she can call her by her first name, and Amara is shocked.

We (I guess I mean desis) have always been taught to give due deference to our teachers by calling them Ms XYZ, Mrs ABC and so on. The thought of using first names of someone older than we are, and in a position of respect, does not even come to mind. Such a cultural difference, isn’t it? When I was studying for my Bachelors degree, the teachers were happy with the usual Mr and Mrs method (I was based in Dubai), but when I went for my Masters in the UK, I had to get used to the idea of referring to my lecturers by their first name. Since I was 23 though, I felt less guilty than I would have 10 years younger!

Even when it comes to friends’ parents, for example: my instinct would be to automatically call then “Uncle” or “Aunty”. But in Western culture, those titles are only reserved for family and they would be, to say it casually, weirded out, if we started doing that. I suppose having a system like “Chaacha”, “Fui”, “Mama” and so on denoting each uncle’s and aunt’s relation to us make “uncle” and “aunty” useless to us in a familial setting, making it a way for us to show respect to non-relations. Ah, culture. I once met a friend’s parents and faced with the prospect of calling them by their first names or referring to them as Mrs XYZ and Mr XYZ… I chose neither. I honestly felt I was being disrespectful whatever method I chose, so I stuck with making sure I had eye contact with either the mother or father before talking to them! I do realise there is no way they would think I was being disrespectful but I guess the (desi) concepts of what is respectful and what is not were deeply ingrained in my mind.

Adjusting to “desi” mode and “international” mode is a bit of a struggle for some. Some just get swept away in refusing to change with the world, while some go all the way and forget where they’re from.

Anyway, I’m enjoying this book because of the ability to identify with all the little things. Will keep updating as I read!

I was with her when she died…

I kissed her cold, clammy cheek as tears rolled down mine. The room was filled with deathly silence interspersed with bursts of noisy tears from some. As the calming music played on softly, my grandmother lay cold and lifeless on the floor. And I was with her when she died.

Going without sleep for almost 44 hours was not how I envisaged the start to my holiday after a gruelling dissertation. I had booked my tickets to return home to Dubai 5 months in advance. An eerie coincidence, that my Dadi (father’s mother) had been put on life support just a day or two before and my presence was required immediately.

After over 24 hours of flights, food and packing, I landed in Bombay. Whisked off straight to the hospital, the guards wouldn’t let me inside the visiting area.
“It’s full,” they said.
“But I’ve come from Dubai!” I wailed, before my Fui’s (father’s sister) friend saved me from their clutches and pulled me inside without so much as backward glance at the protesting guards.

I saw the guards’ point when I arrived in the waiting area. It wasn’t very big and apart from 3-4 people I did not recognize, the entire place was crammed with my relatives. It was as if we’d taken over the place.

They took me to see her. She was hooked up to machines, her body unmoving, eyes closed…it was painful to see her the way she was. I could not stop crying.

Hours passed. It seems like days in retrospect.

When I arrived at the hospital at 9am, her heartbeat was – although helped along by the machine – around 60. By 3pm, it had gone down to perhaps 20. It was a matter of time.

I went to see her around 3.45pm. Holding her hand, I kept talking…telling her about anything I thought she might like to know. Her heart rate was steadily dropping. I called my Fui urgently. I held her left hand, my Fui her right. We kept talking to her and holding her…and at 4pm, she slipped away.

She was…my Sunday morning phone call, my only reason to revert to Gujarati (one of my mother tongues) and the maker of the best puranpolis in the world. She was my grandmother.I don’t get my Sunday calls anymore. Neither do I speak in Gujarati anymore. And I certainly won’t get puranpolis anymore.

She was my Dadi. And I was with her when she died.

The women’s gangs of India. – By Amana Fontanella-Khan – Slate Magazine

Sampat Pal Devi. Click image to expand.

Sampat Pal Devi of the gulabi In March, the Indian upper parliament passed a historic affirmative-action bill. If approved by the lower house, the law would reserve 33 percent of all parliamentary seats for women. You might think this would be well-received by rural women in India. But they long ago gave up on the government and have taken things into their own hands. India is witnessing a rise of vigilante groups, the most sensational of which is the gulabi, or pink gang, operating in the Bundelkhand district of the Uttar Pradesh state, one of the poorest districts of India. Some gangs have started what Indian journalists describe as a “mini-revolution” on behalf of women.

The founder of the gulabis is the fearless Sampat Pal Devi, 40, who was married off at the age of 12 to an ice-cream vendor and had the first of her five children at 15. The gulabis, whose members say they are a “gang for justice,” started in 2006 as a sisterhood of sorts that looked out for victims of domestic abuse, a problem the United Nations estimates affects two in three married Indian women. Named after their hot-pink sari uniforms, the gang paid visits to abusive husbands and demanded they stop the beatings. When obstinate men refused to listen, the gulabis would return with large bamboo sticks called laathis and “persuade” them to change their ways. “When I go around with a stick, it’s to make men fear me. I don’t always use it, but it helps change the mind of men who think they are more powerful than me” says Pal. She has assumed the rank of commander in chief and has appointed district commanders across seven districts in Bundelkhand to help coordinate the gang’s efforts.

Pal’s group now has more than 20,000 members, and the number is growing. Making her way from one far-flung village to another on an old rusty bicycle, she holds daily gatherings under shady banyan trees, near makeshift tea-stalls selling the sweet Indian drink chai and other popular village hangouts to discuss local problems and attract new recruits.

Pal has a long list of criminal charges against her, including unlawful assembly, rioting, attacking a government employee, and obstructing an officer in the discharge of duty, and she even had to go into hiding. Her feistiness has secured notable victories for the community, however. In 2008, the group ambushed the local electricity office, which was withholding electricity until members received bribes or sexual favors in return for flicking the switch back on. The stick-wielding gulabi stormed the company grounds and proceeded to rough up the staff inside the building. An hour later, the power was back on in the village.

While the gulabi use a mild level of force, more violent strains of vigilantism have been reported elsewhere in India among dispossessed women. In 2004, a mob of hundreds of women hacked to death the serial rapist and murderer Akku Yadav, after the courts failed to convict him over a period of 10 years. After the deed was done, the women collectively declared their guilt in the murder, frustrating police efforts to charge anyone with the crime. This kind of violence has generated concern among some Indian commentators, who say that while many vigilantes have noble intentions, too many of them are brutally violent.

What’s the context for this phenomenon? The Indian press often points to a host of ills plaguing modern India, such as honor killings, dowries, child marriages, and female feticide. These account for female despondency but not for the gangs as an outlet for it. In the past, many Indian women would have taken these pressures out on themselves, through self-immolation or hanging, for example. As women have gained political power, through initiatives like the affirmative-action bill, dispossessed rural women have realized that they can instead respond boldly and collectively to abuse. Why aren’t they turning to political activism as opposed to vigilantism? To begin with, the gangs offer more immediate benefits than politics does. Another reason is that female politicians rising to power from the lower castes have been dismal role models. These politicians have the potential to inspire poor women more than dynastic leaders like Sonia Gandhi, but they have disappointed the women they claim to represent by being as corrupt and criminal as the male politicians they despise.

Take Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and the first female dalit—the group at the lowest rung of the caste system—to have attained such a high office. As the leader of a dalit party, Mayawati, who is considered prime-minister material, is criticized for focusing only on dalit issues while ignoring the concerns of women more broadly. Mayawati is also conspicuously corrupt—she has appeared at public events with garlands of real money around her neck and has spent millions erecting statues of herself across Lucknow, the state’s capital.

When Mayawati first heard of the rise of the pink gang, her first concern was not what she could do to help but whether it might pose a political threat. She tried to quash the group, then finally offered Pal the opportunity to run for local elections under her party’s banner. Pal refused this offer, as well as others she received from major national parties. As long as corrupt practices persist among both male and female politicians in India, many vigilantes will feel they have more to gain by staying out of politics than entering the fray.

The silver lining here is that while Indian democracy is too weak to deliver on the gender equality that is inscribed in its constitution, it is strong enough not to crush movements like the pink gang. This is also thanks to the free media, which has boomed since the ’90s and which glorifies the work of the gulabis. There is now a chapter of the pink gang in France. Cécile Romane, the head of the Paris gulabi, says that she has worn her sari in the city’s streets but has not yet needed to discipline men with her bamboo stick.

Even in the badlands of Bundelkhand, the gulabis are reaching for the bamboo stick less frequently these days, but for different reasons. “My real strength is not in the stick, it is in numbers,” Pal told the Hindustan Times. “And one day, we will be big enough to shake up Delhi, too.” She might just be right.

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Amana Fontanella-Khan is a Mumbai-based writer. She is a contributor for the Christian Science Monitor, the Hindustan Times, and, a CNN travel Web site.

Photograph of Sampat Pal Devi by Manpreet Romana/AFP/Getty Images.

A really interesting piece on the “female gangs of India”. It’s quite sad that even after 63 years of independence, with education, laws and progress, women have to resort to violence to protect themselves. Better than being victims I say, but sad nonetheless.

Problems such as female foeticide/infanticide, dowry deaths, honour killings and so much more plague the women of India; who can blame them for picking up the lathi (stick) to defend themselves?

It’s paradoxical, as the author mentions, that the very government that cannot protect women cannot even crush what is a violent movement – justified or not.

Looking forward to the day when any group of people don’t have the need to use sticks and stones…

Yet another bane: Child Marriage

I know people who got married when they were 18 or 19 years old. And I considered that too young. But getting married at 18 or 19 is absolutely nothing comparison to children as young as 10 or 11 being thrust into a state of wedlock.

When I read this article in the Global Post a while ago, it just brought back to the forefront that child marriage is still very much a problem in Indian society.

“I thought marriage was a game,” Hasina says as she sits in a bamboo home in her husband’s village. She fidgets with her orange, black and green sari that covers her head and falls over her breasts, unusually big for her tiny frame. Hasina is now 15 and five months pregnant.

Whilre you’re at it, watch this report from NDTV on India being a hub of child marriage. 

UNICEF has a piece on their website on the same issue:

Married at 13, Shanti got pregnant immediately afterwards and subsequently lost her underweight, prematurely delivered baby. She is pregnant again. “This time, we hope she pulls it off,” says her mother-in-law.

Apart from this practice being morally wrong and unhealthy for the girls in question, it also imposes the problem of maternal mortality. Young girls are simply more susceptible to problems with birthing, and contribute to the higher rates of mortality during childbirth.

Again, this problem is inherently tied to – in my opinion – illiteracy, customs deemed to be religious in nature, and the patriarchal nature of society, more so in rural areas of the vast country. Despite the presence of  the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 and The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, this problem has survived. Can educating these people work when they’re sunk in so deep into the misleading and false mores of society?

It does seem a vicious cycle, doesn’t it? The uneducated think it’s best for children to get married. Perhaps a girl as young as 12 is married to a boy either her age or even older. Obviously sex is expected. Pregnancy is inevitable; who uses condoms? The girls gives birth at a young age and might or might not survive. If she survives, it’s the only kind of life she knows and believes that that is how it is meant to be. And she teaches that to her children. And so it goes on.

I paint a bleak picture. Perhaps that is because I can see no discerning change in the practice. But does that mean we should stop trying to change this status quo? No.

Pandora gave us Hope. And so I succumb to it, as many of us do.

The Freedom Express

Search for ‘Voltaire’ on my blog. Go on. It will now show up in three posts. I really must stop quoting him. Well, not him exactly. The quote which actually comes from The Friends of Voltaire (1906), written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre is so apt, how can I not use it when the concept of free press or freedom of expression comes up?

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

According to the Press Freedom Index 2009 list released by Reporters Without Borders, India ranks 105th out of 175 countries (Read this detailed report on the country).

In celebration of World Press Freedom Day, the project India Unheard was launched on May 3 2010, according to Times of India. This video gives us a brief introduction to the citizen journalists who have been trained in using technology like mobile phone video cameras to bring stories to the mainstream media.

Currently the website looks a bit bare, but if the correspondents keep at it, this concept does look promising. On one hand, a handful of people try to report on lesser known stories of the country. On the other, reporters get attacked by mobs because something they printed didn’t sit down too well among certain factions. A certain level of self-censorship does reek through the ranks of the press of the world’s largest democracy. This article in the Telegraph outlines the rife religious undercurrents in the country that can erupt at the slightest provocation or what seems to be one. A line from this article that hit me:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for press freedom. But when you know the possible outcome, it’s best to be practical and avoid these situations.

Practicality vs Truth. Safety vs Physical harm. What would the rest of us do? What would I do? I refuse to be a hypocrite and say I’d print whatever I want without thinking of the ramifications – I would definitely think of the outcome and work accordingly. But if that’s the case – if journalists everywhere have some semblance of self-censorship, then how can ANY country claim to be truly free?

I may want to defend the right of people to speak freely; that doesn’t guarantee I’ll speak freely myself. Will World Press Freedom Day ever see the press completely free? Should it even be completely free? Playing devil’s advocate – if the media published anything that caught their fancy, then what’s to stop hate speeches or incitement-of-hatred articles to get out there?

But who decides what is okay to publish and what’s not?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or to put it in the words from a 2009 movie, “Who will watch the watchmen?”

Soaps of our Indian lives

Many years ago, the mailboxes of a television network crashed. Newspapers were writing of the tragedy of someone’s death. People were in tears. Why? Because a character on a television soap died (eventually the makers of the series had to bring the character ‘back to life’ under immense public pressure). The power of television in India was paramount (I say “was” because I no longer believe Indian television arouses mass hysteria as it used to. I may be wrong though; I gave up watching most Indian serials a few years ago).

I read an interesting story on research on the positive aspects of soap operas a while ago and I was a bit aghast. While the article mentioned that soap operas helped in furthering education and development in their respective countries of origin, I sat stymied.

The Indian soap opera boom started in the late 90s-early 00s when the typical saas-bahu (mother-in-law — daughter-in-law) serials were born. In the story I’ve linked to in the previous paragraph, here are the excerpts about Indian soap operas:

Others have found that in India — where soaps dominate the airwaves — villages where people watch more TV give more responsibilities and rights to women and girls.

Researchers have found a similar effect on the other side of the world, in rural India. Two economists, Emily Oster at the University of Chicago and Robert Jensen at UCLA, looked at surveys on a range of social attitudes in five Indian states from 2001 to 2003, a time of rapid expansion in access to cable TV. As with Brazil’s Rede Globo, Oster and Jensen found that the spread of cable brought down the fertility rate, but they found other changes as well: Women with cable access were less approving of the idea that a husband could justifiably beat his wife, and reported having more autonomy and more of a role in household financial matters. Their daughters were more likely to be enrolled in school.

I read this and scoffed. Pardon me for doing so, but the mindless contraptions that dominated the Indian airwaves during this period were nothing short of regressive (in my opinion anyway!). I found this blog post on Reuters that I agreed with on the state of television serials in India.

The mindlessness of some of these serials suck people into a vortex of impossible mind-numbing plotlines and never lets them go. For some insight into a handful of preposterous plots, think of characters who have died a gazillion times, yet always come back; think of the innumerable shows where, in order to prolong the series, they kill off the main characters and re-incarnate them. How can I not assume India soap operas are insanely hyped and wrongly held in esteem when I read news like this?

Of course, articles such as these give a voice to the proponents of these serials who believe that they are truly trying to do good. That their serials are contributing to the development of the nation. A line from this article:

…the show is among a growing number that use their influence as an occasional platform to educate viewers, most of them middle-class women and housewives, about a variety of social causes, from treating diarrhea to the rights of women and the importance of donating to tsunami victims.

Yes, I agree that Indian soaps do manage to seep in causes that need to be highlighted in the country. This article highlights how some TV serials can do that.

But not always.

Most of the serials are based in metropolitan cities of India, which have become westernized in their own way. So ‘traditionalists’ viewing these serials become infuriated by the “independence” shown by women going to offices and divorcing their husbands and goodness knows what else. Perhaps it is because of this reason that serials introduced elements to their shows that did not contribute to the improvement of social situations in the country but worsened them.

Thanks to these serials, this is what the people of India absorb: cheating husbands are constantly forgiven for their behaviour by self-sacrificing wives, mother-in-law’s are invariably conniving evil souls (if it’s not the MIL case in the evil role, it’s the sister-in-law), women who wear western clothes are loose/uncaring/cold/adultresses/the Kraken (Okay, I kid about the Kraken. Or not.), women who marry those their parents oppose eventually turn out to be cads, and so much more.

Or am I just a victim of media imperialism where I  find locally produced shows inadequate? No. Because really, how can anyone take television seriously as a medium of developmental journalism if it perpetuates social inequalities and damages your brain cells?

  • Read this article about how India is influencing Brazilian soaps – Sepia Mutiny

Honour (?) in the modern world

As is my wont to ask random questions, I once put forth this query to someone I knew: “What is your take on honour killings?

He replied: “I think it’s acceptable under some circumstances.”

I was – and still am – aghast that an educated person could think that a ritual as barbaric as honour killings was not wrong.

Sadly, this is the case in India – honour killings are common and practised by rural and urban people alike. In a case that’s been in the news over the last few days, a man killed his sister’s husband because their family did not approve of their marriage. Another case: a female journalist was found dead and her mother has been arrested on the charge of murdering her. What was the motive? Apparently, Nirupama Pathak (the 23-year-old journalist) made the mistake of falling in love with a boy from another caste. That was enough to have the family in an uproar. It also seemed a good enough reason to kill her rather than have the “shame” of the daughter of the house marrying someone from a different caste (Coverage in TimesOnline).

The crime shows yet again how ‘honour killings’ cannot be considered the curse of rural India where panchayats often order the execution of young couples who dare to cross caste borders.  Nirupama’s father worked at a bank, her brothers were PhDs, the family had helped Nirupama to move far from home to follow her dreams.

Read about similar cases:

At this point, I digress towards the critiques of the modernization paradigm of developmental journalism. According to Servaes (1999: 17), the modernization paradigm…supported the transfer of technology and the sociopolitical culture of developed societies to “traditional” or “underdeveloped” societies. The problem many found with this paradigm is that Western ideologies were imposed on an undeveloped nation or developing nation without taking into account the socio-political and cultural situation of the country that needed to be “modernized”. Also, the way of “modernizing” the indigenous population employed a top-down approach rather than involving them in the development process.

In my last post, I discussed the concept of digital divide as it applied in India as well as the aspect of how the modernization paradigm doesn’t always work as technology and development should be adapted to the needs of the country in question. However, there is another way to look at it.

On one hand, it can be argued that countries resent a Western ideology being imposed on them and the Western way of thinking is definitely not the be-all and end-all goal to reach. However, if practices such as honour killings and dowry have seeped into the “culture” of a country, then do we keep quiet? Does it mean that those who oppose the modernization paradigm stand back and sit quiet because hey, let us not foist our ideas on the indigenous population? Do we tell the people who think it’s alright to kill someone for the protection of their inflated and false sense of “honour” to keep thinking the way they do? Do we not even try to change their minds? It’s sad because those who practice this kind of behaviour will turn around and tell those who want to change their minds: “Don’t try and talk to us about how what we’re doing is wrong. This is how we do it in our culture. Keep your Western ideas out of it.”

While Western ideas are NOT all there are…there are some concepts that transcend the East and West. The concept that killing people because they married someone you didn’t like is wrong. The concept that dowry is not acceptable in any circumstance whatsoever. The concept that murdering female babies/children is barbaric. These concepts are not Western. They’re humanitarian.

What is scary – to me anyway – with regard to honour killings is that when even educated people (cases in point: the family of Nirupama Pathak and the person who made the comment at the beginning of this post) think that this is a sanctioned way of behaving, what hope do the proponents of the modernization paradigm have in bringing light to these misguided souls?

Bridging the Digital Divide

Every morning, I’m on my Chrome 4.1 browser checking my many email accounts (of which I have 7. Or 8. I can never remember), looking at my Twitter feed on Seesmic and Skype-ing away simultaneously. All this before my breakfast, mind you. Yet some people haven’t even seen a computer, forget knowing what a ‘trending topic’ is.

Globalization and the digital divide are such paradoxical concepts but manage to exist side-by-side in many parts of the world. On one hand the reach of the internet breaks down geographical barriers, while on the other there are a vast number of people who don’t even know what the internet is.

In this map of Internet users worldwide, you can see the internet penetration in India  as of February 2008 is only between 4.9-13%. Many schemes have been in the pipeline to bridge the digital divide between the urban and rural areas and I think a trend is emerging where mobile phones have been shown to be more useful to the people than laptops and computers. Here’s a look at some of the efforts:

This article by the BBC highlights the methods by which SMS activism is used by villagers in India to talk about issues that are most important to them.

CGnet Swara (Chhattisgarh Net Voice) is an attempt to cater to people who are on the wrong side of the digital divide, says Shubhranshu Choudhary, a former BBC journalist-turned-activist and the brain behind CGnet Swara. “We are providing a new platform which the villagers can use to talk to each other and the outside world about issues that are important to them,” he says.

Another point: would the internet even be useful to people who cannot read? There are, in India, a large number of illiterate people. According to the India Literacy Project, the literacy rate in India as per the 2001 census was 65.38%. Male literacy rate stood at 75.85%, while the female literacy rate was a measly 54.16%. It will be interesting to see what the next census results will reveal. This article on India Today shares news that a PhD researcher is trying to make mobile phones text-free – the idea is to make them visual not textual. Definitely an interesting development to look at in the future.

Statistics showing India‘s education level on tells us that as of 2007, only 7 out of every 100 Indians were Internet users while 20 out of every 100 had phones – another point in favour of using mobile phones. With this regard, read an interview with Gurudath Banavar, the Director of IBM India Research Lab on the promise of the “Spoken Web” in bridging existing gaps. He said:

This is compelling for people who don’t have access to the Internet, or are not able to read or write. Anyone with access to a phone–mobile or landline–will be able to access the Spoken Web.

Perhaps in an effort to encourage further innovation and development with regard to reducing the gap between the haves and have-nots of the digital world, the Manthan Awards ceremony was set up 7 years ago to recognize strides in the South Asian world that have contributed towards lessening this gap.

Even in 2002, covered this phenomenon where people carrying mobile phones travel the villages of India in order to connect the villagers to the rest of the country.

This does imply, to me, that the modernization paradigm of developmental journalism doesn’t work – what the western world thinks of as ‘modern’ isn’t necessarily so. Luis Ramiro Beltrán pointed out that the definition of modernity…was one elaborated by the USA and implemented by experts trained in the USA (Sparks, 2007: 41). Internet users all over the world, where penetration levels are at its highest, cannot imagine their life without it. I certainly can’t. But is the internet the be-all and end-all for everyone? Not in the least. Do villagers need the internet? Or do they simply need better connectivity? If mobile phones give them that, with more ease than the internet does, then who are we to argue?

As I’d like to say … whatever floats your boat.

Of Pink Pants and Eve-Teasing

July 2003: I was 16 and for the most part, ungainly and awkward. I had volunteered to assist the school librarian during the summer vacation to re-organize stacks of books in the library. My trade-off was getting books to read. One day, I took a shortcut on my walk home which meant passing through a sports club. That day a huge group of young boys, kicking their footballs around, was in the area. As I soldiered through, a few of them deliberately walked in my path, heckled, laughed and started blurting out obscenities aimed at me. I kept my eyes down and continued to walk steadily, completely flushed. What did I do when I got home? Tell my mother how I felt? Talk to her about what I should have done instead? Wrong. I did absolutely nothing and told no one. Instead I felt dirty and ashamed. Currently however, what can women do if this – or worse forms of eve-teasing – happens to them? Apart from legal action of any kind, they can just go online. Confused? Keep reading.

Hand-in-hand with the reality of the Internet exists the concept of globalization. According to Sparks (2007: 126), there is no single theory of globalization that commands common assent. As Held and his collaborators put it … : “no single coherent theory of globalization exsits’ (Held et al., 1999:436). Apart from a consensus that globalization implies being more connected with people and areas at a distance, various theories differ in ‘fundamental ways’. The Internet has played a huge role in increasing that sense of inter-connectedness, lending further credence to the concept of ‘global village‘ as put forward by Marshall McLuhan.

When the internet was invented, could the founders have envisaged that it would become, not just a way to share information, but a tool for social change? Sparks mentions (2007: 198) that the Internet provides ‘an important tool which is usable by radical movements as part of their drive towards self-organization.’ But even as a way of bringing about change, how effective is it? When I try to think of movements in India that were propelled further because of the power of the internet, only two come to mind: Blank Noise and the Pink Chaddi Campaign (to those readers who have no idea what ‘chaddi’ means, it means ‘pants’ if you’re in the UK and ‘underwear’ if elsewhere!).

Pink Chaddi Campaign

Members of a right-wing Hindu group called Sri Ram Sena stormed into a pub in Mangalore on 24 January 2009 and attacked a group of people, mostly women, justifying it with their warped belief that the women were destroying all traditional Hindu values by sitting in a pub and therefore deserved to be humiliated. They dragged the women out into the street, hit them, kicked them and revelled in it.

The attack, which was widely publicized on news channels andclippings of which could be found on YouTube, was denounced by many. A group of women, led by Nisha Susan, decided to use the internet to call for shaming the leader of the Sri Ram Sena, Pramod Muthalik. Using a blog and Facebook (they formed a Facebook group called “Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women”) they rallied to send pink chaddis (pants/underwear/whatever you call them) to Pramod Muthalik and send messages of love and peace to him on February 14, Valentine’s Day (Note: right-wing Hindu groups in India, like the SRS believe that celebrating Valentine’s Day is a defacement of Hindu values and often resort of hooliganism to stop any sign of celebrations of the same).

The movement was a success in that people (men included) sent thousands of pink chaddis to Muthalik on Valentine’s Day and in so doing, garnered a lot of attention in the media, further highlighting their cause.

However, after Valentine’s Day, their Facebook group was hacked into and insulting messages posted all over it. Facebook had to take the group down and the founders have decided to not use that social networking site again.

In addition, after the furore the pink chaddi campaign caused, as with most well-meaning campaigns, it slowly ebbed out of the news and hasn’t been repeated again.

  • View the current blog of Pink Chaddi founder, Nisha Susan
  • Read the article ‘Why we said pants to India’s bigots‘ in The Observer
  • View the official blog of the Pink Chaddi Campaign
  • View the TV news coverage of the Pink Chaddi Campaign

Blank Noise

Being eve-teased is a form of sexual harrassment. Tired of women being told ‘they asked for it’ because of the clothes they were wearing, Blank Noise was launched in 2003 by Jasmeen Patheja to strike back. In 2009, they joined with other organizations and individuals to form the Fearless Karnataka/Nirbhaya Karnataka coalition in order to respond to instances of street violence against women. The movement holds public events and interventions in different parts of the country to raise awareness on the issue.

This campaign, unlike the previous example, is still operational and regularly posts updates on its blog.

  • View the official blog for the movement Blank Noise
  • View the official Facebook profile for Blank Noise and official fan page.
  • Read an article in the Telegraph about the beginnings of Blank Noise
  • Read an article in The Christian Science Monitor about Blank Noise

How effective are these two campaigns, both of which used the internet and social media resources to get their messages across? The Pink Chaddi campaign was, in my opinion, a flash-in-the-pan – it came, it dominated for a week or two, it went. If the campaign had held steady and kept updating its blog, interacting with its followers (of which it had amassed many), perhaps the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women would have still been around today. As for Blank Noise, its growth may have been less flashy but more effective.

However it might be said that even with increased accessiblity to the Internet and the World Wide Web in recent times, there is a ‘digital divide’, or the ‘haves and have-nots’ when it comes to technology. Would these movements garner support in areas that have limited connectivity to the WWW? Probably not. The internet is a tool to push ideas further, but until the digital divide is breached, social change has a chance only in the case of the ‘haves’.

Nevertheless, this is a start – if there are more avenues where women can get help, a lesser number will remain quiet the way I did.