5 Things You Should Know About India’s New Prime Minister Narendra Modi

This article originally appeared in Global Voices.

Narendra Modi expressing his happiness to voters and the media. Photo by Aviral Mediratta. Copyright Demotix (17/5/2014)

Indians have chosen Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a historic landslide victory that unseated the ruling Indian National Congress party and signifies the return of a single-party majority.

Modi will soon be at the helm of the world’s largest democracy and an economic powerhouse. He has received criticism from many people, including writer Salman Rushdie and Harvard University professor Homi Bhabha, among others, in a joint statement against his candidacy.

But who is this charismatic but polemic leader? What does he stand for? There are things that are important to know, and not all of them bad.

1. He is controversial for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots

Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat in 2002 when riots broke out in the city of Godhra after a train carrying Hindus was burnt down as it was coming from the holy city of Ayodhya in North India. In the ensuring Hindi-Muslim violence, between 900 and 2,000 people were killed, predominantly Muslim.

Modi, a Hindu nationalist, reportedly expressed satisfaction after the dismal events of 2002. His only regret was that he did not handle the news media better, according to the New York Times.

Though he has been cleared by the courts of India, some still believe he allowed the Gujarat riots to rage on. Senior police officer in the Gujarat intelligence bureau Sanjiv Bhatt alleges that Modi told officials that the Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson.

2. He may prove to have a positive impact on the economy

Modi’s win is expected to improve trade with the United States and boost the Indian economy. After interviewing 68,500 voters before and after the elections, a group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Endowment and India’s Lok Foundation reported that 57 percent of interviewees mentioned economic issues as “most important.”

As chief minister of Gujarat, he oversaw the rapid industrialization of once sleepy areas, a feat he says he wants to replicate elsewhere in India. Modi has used his successes in Gujarat as election leverage, holding up the “Gujarat model” to differentiate himself, as news site Live Mint reported.

If the 2002 riots hurt his campaign, the economic angle helped boost him back up. As Rajeev Malik, a Singapore-based economist, said in a Financial Times column:

It is not as if the 2002 [Gujarat riots] blot has been wiped out; it is just that the broader current urgency of economic well-being has overtaken a dated tragedy.

3. His track record on women’s issues may be lacking

Will the role of women improve under a Modi lead government? In an article for the Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Hardeep Dhillon criticized both candidates for seeing women through the lens of safety, security and education. She argued Modi specifically sees women as passive:

women are imagined to behave, think, and perform in uniformity and their politics are established prior to their emergence on the political landscape. As a result, Indian women are stripped of the very political agency Mr. Modi claims to advocate for, rendering them as passive – rather than active – political actors.

The author also raised concerns about the contrast between Modi’s vocal condemnations of the “rape culture” that led to the 2012 Delhi gang rape and his silence on the treatment of Muslim and minority women in his state. His “secret wife” – Modi had presented himself as a bachelor until this election cycle – has also caused some to question his treatment of women.

4. He maintains an anti-immigrant stance

significant number of Bangladeshis have migrated to India in the past decade to reunite with family members, for job opportunities, and to escape environmental crises, among other reasons. The wave of people has prompted India to step up security along its border with Bangladesh, including installing barbed-wire fences.

If Modi has his way, he would send all the undocumented Bangaldeshi immigrants back. In a speech on April 28, 2014, Modi threatened:

I want to warn from here, brothers and sisters write down, that after May 16, will send these Bangladeshis beyond the border with their bags and baggages.

The reaction to Modi’s speech on social media showed people are listening. Posts under the #deportbangladeshis hashtag made it to at the top of Twitter’s trend list in India.

5. His past religious fervor sets a questionable example for a secular India 

Modi was a youth member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing, volunteer Hindu nationalist group, and describes himself as a Hindu nationalist. In contrast to his youth as an RSS member, Modi has recently said he does not believe in dividing voters along religious lines.

Yet some still worry his election doesn’t bode well for religious tolerance. AsSunny Hundal wrote in an opinion piece for CNN:

The broader context is that India is seeing a rising tide of intolerance whipped up by Hindu nationalist groups that have forced books to be bannedintimidated journalists and threatened people for criticizing their leaders.

French Political Scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, in an interview with Scroll.in, alleged:

Plan A for Modi is to succeed on the economic front, and if that does not work then emphasising on Hindutva politics may be an important Plan B.

Indian author Pankaj Mishra painted a particularly dark picture in The Guardian, saying Modi’s election means “a new turbulent phase for the country – arguably, the most sinister since its independence from British rule in 1947.

For his part, Modi has maintained he speaks to all of India, regardless of religion:

For the nation my mantra is 125 crore Indians. Hindu, Muslim, Christians… The country had enough of all these terminologies. The new terminologies will be youth, poor, farmer, village, city, education.

Time will tell if he means that.

India: Mapping Street Harassment and Promoting Safe Cities

It may be a challenge to find an Indian girl who has managed to avoid being harassed on the street. Elsa Marie D’Silva is one of the founding members of Safecity, a crowdbased mapping service to “pin the creeps.” When asked if she’d ever experienced street harassment, D’Silva responded, “I haven’t met a single Indian girl who hasn’t faced street harassment.” Most women are trained to walk off quietly without creating a scene.

Safecity strongly believes all women We strongly believes that 'all women have the right to live safely"

Street harassment is pervasive in India and around the world, prompting many organizations to take action in order to combat this problem. In India, some of these include Freeze the Tease, andHollaback India. Safecity takes a different approach, the focus is not just to ask for people to respond to the harasser, but to “pin” the location of the incident on a map.

Part of a Safecity Bystander Campaign, courtesy of Safecity's Facebook page

Safecity (also on Twitter and Facebook), inspired by a similar project in Egypt calledHarassmap, began as a response to the massive protests after the now infamous Delhi gangrape in December 2012. The creators aimed to establish a platform and forum to address harassment on a long term basis. Safecity is an information aggregation platform to help identify hotspots in a city where abuse has been reported. To create a safe space for all people, Safecity asks users to “Pin the creeps!” sharing stories, photographs and/or videos and, most importantly, the location of where the event happened.

Thus far, there have been over 2700 reported incidents. While the focus is on larger trends, rather than individual cases, Safecity has been working with police in two states to see how this information might be used in coordination with law enforcement.

A poster for schools available on the Safecity website

Safecity may also be a prevention tool. In one case, referred to as the “Shakti Mills Case” the accused confessed that they had raped four women at the same spot. According to the organizers this means other attempts could have been made, as D’Silva and Saloni said, “If a few people had reported the spot as a harassment prone area, different action could have been taken.”

The founders of Safecity are a small group of like-minded citizens who believe in the right to live in a safe society. “We also believe that a woman should be able to move around without fear or distress; without having to calculate which road she has to travel on so that she will be safe; without having to worry about the clothes she wears or the people she is with.”

As D’Silva and fellow founder Saloni Malhotra wrote via email, “People who harass do so in their own comfort zones. Silence on the part of victims and bystanders makes them more confident and the harassment only grows.” Instead of feeling hopeless, the organizers ask, “What can we do as ordinary citizens to change the situation? Isn’t it the society that created this problem in the first place? What can we do to make change?”

Screenshot of the Safecity map

With this in mind, Safecity is working on a series of videos discussing the importance of women knowing how to keep themselves safe. Some of the suggestions Safecity has compiled include: avoid traveling alone, never accept food or drinks from a person you don’t know, and always get your own drink at a party, among others. Let’s hope it won’t be long before these lists are no longer needed.

Training Videos by Farmers, for Farmers

Some days, community agricultural extension workers in India have to travel many miles between several villages in one day. Would it be possible to make these jobs easier through technology, to tap into existing organizational structures?

What started as a research project in Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Marketsteam in 2006 evolved into an independent nonprofit just two years later. Digital Green by linking technology to field workers (also known as extension workers)  they can transform the lives of the poor around the world. How? With videos made by and for community members and screened locally with a mediator. Digital Green works with partners to “communicate good practices to the community using locally produced videos and mediated dissemination.” Here is one of their videos: Sugari Bai.

Since 2010, Digital Green has reached over 3,100 villages and engaged 234,360 unique viewers. In August 2012, they began scaling up their efforts, hoping to reach 10,000 villages and one million farmers in India in the next three years. They have produced over 2,600 videos in 20 different languages.

Lakshmi Iyer is the Deputy Director of Strategy and Innovation at Digital Green. Through a Skype interiview, Iyer described Digital Green a “learning organization”, meaning that the organization itself learns and adapts as they analyze data. She says the power lies with the community. The program is..

…80% about community and 20% about technology. It is really more about layering technology to amplify the effectiveness of what is already in place.

Iyer describes the technology as an extra layer to the groups, mediators and the video production teams which make Digital Green effective on the ground. The video production training for community memebers involves storyboarding, camera work, and editing, with three to four people in every district being trained – usually those who are already literate.

Founder Rikin Gandhi said in the Hindu of the participants,

As they learn video production, they also develop greater self-confidence. They are seen as professionals in their communities.

While other organizations such as Farm Radio International and AgroInsight may be doing similar things, Iyer says doesn’t think any other organisations are engaging with video to the same extent – a commitment resulting from an extensive study published in the journal Information Technologies for International Development.

Digital Green pays constant attention to monitoring and analytics, gathering data on how videos are being shared and adopted – and then responding to that data. If there are consistent, similar questions, a new video may be made or revised to ensure clear delivery.

Graph - Distribution

Here is an example of their extensive analytics. In this example, 81% of the viewers in the past year in India were female, and 19% male, in part due to a project working to leverage pre-existing women’s community groups.

While the initial focus was on agriculture, the organization is now expanding into nutrition and health. Iyer says:

We realized that in order to improve the livelihoods and lives of individuals we work with, it would be necessary to include nutrition and health as converging topics to agriculture.

Digital Green has received a learning grant from DFID India to test the effectiveness of the approach within new geographies (Ethiopia and Ghana) and expanding the approach to other domains of health and nutrition. Focusing on enhancing the capacities of government health workers, the idea is to “leverage the strength of local service providers”. Currently, the health program is aimed at maternal and infant child health.

In November, Digital Green was included in the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 as an example of an organisation “using tech to accelerate social change.” Iyer says one of their main strengths has been on data analysis and response “We have stayed open and a learning organization. It is not a cookie cutter, by any means.”

With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Government of India, as well as local partners on the ground, Digital Green is poised to scale up without losing its grassroots focus.

Taking Back the Tech: Using Wikipedia to Counter Violence Against Women

This article originally appeared in Rising Voices, December 13, 2013.

On Saturday and Sunday, December 7th and 8th 2013, Breakthrough and
Hacks/Hackers New Delhi hosted the first Hack4Change in India. The event included a Wikipedia edit-a-thon for creating and expanding articles focusing on violence against women as well as an opportunity to collaborate on digital media projects using data sets related to women’s rights in India.

Hack4Change

The event called on journalists, developers, researchers, storytellers, activists and other members of civil society to join together. Hack4Change also encouraged “remote participation as a mark of solidarity and an effort to expand the movement.”

Multiple errors in Wikipedia articles about incidences of sexual violence in India triggered the event. In some cases, articles do not articulate the politics of writing about sexual violence, or do not use vocabulary that represents rape survivors without victimizing them.

Noopur Raval, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi is actively involved in supporting free knowledge and women’s participation in technology in the Indian context. The idea was conceived with Satabdi Das, a fellow supporter and active member of Calcutta-based support group Womoz and Women in Free Software (WFS – India).

Raval believes we are,

Living in a world where all activism and the pace of legal and political changes are being directly influenced by information. At such a juncture, it is crucial not only to populate resources like Wikipedia with more information but also diverse information.”

Raval also says that there is a lack of information available; as a researcher, she is consistently unable to find information online around women, domestic issues, cultural traditions, and so on, from developing countries.

She also noted that when it comes to online content creation, local misconception can be a problem. While she was working on the WIkipedia article about the Guwahati Molestation Case in 2012, she felt that well-meaning editors saw this article as the publication of a shameful incident and a misrepresentation of the Indian people. She says,

To write responsibly and acknowledge women’s expression — is not a universally obvious and accepted notion and runs into obstacles given the stakes of people involved in women’s projects.

Raval also believes that there are other examples in which Wikipedia’s rules need to be negotiated and discussed when writing about these types of incidents. For example, in the case of Asaram Bapu, in which there was alleged sexual harassment leading to discussion around whether to use the word “rape” or not as well as whether or not to mention explicit details.

While the Wikipedia edit-a-thon is just part of a bigger event, Raval would like to see 2 or 3 comprehensive articles written on topics pertaining to gender issues.

Shobha SV works for Breakthrough, an organization that uses media, pop culture and technology alongside community mobilization to raise awareness and inspire action. She says:

The Internet is just like any other public space. Women face the same discrimination and harassment that they end up facing on the street. Virtual harassment will only lead to marginalising of women and we need to reclaim the space. Reclamation of virtual space can only happen if more women use the internet and by populating all mediums with more women’s voices.

Shobha believes that the beginning of democratization of data in India with new and emerging digital tools allows for the opportunity to tell stories in a creative way.

Approaching almost one-year since the Delhi rape case, Raval says:

Generally, the feeling is that people have woken up to the fact that rapes don’t only happen in slums or dimly lit areas, they can happen anywhere. I also read that the numbers on rape only reflect reported rapes. But, it’s heartening to see everyone at least talk about an issue that is brushed away otherwise.

Hack4Change was organized as part of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. During the 2-day event, teams edited articles on the Mathura Rape Case, the Vishaka GuidelinesMuzaffarnagar Riots in 2013 and Violence against Dalit women. In addition, participants worked on different types of data including statistics, audio files, video files, and tweets, working on creative visualisations. The organisers plan is to share the final products of the event under a creative commons license.

Event information and photographs are available on Facebook.

Becoming a Community Photographer: A Window Into the “Real India”

This article originally appeared in Global Voices

 

“Until I came to Ranchi in 2012 for the first workshop, I had never held a camera in my life. My hand shook, and I really wasn’t sure I could do it.”

Deena Ganwer, from Chhattisgarh (quoted online at the workshop’s blog), was one of the participants in a recent series of photography workshops organised by Video Volunteers in partnership with Magnum Foundation.

Video Volunteers – based in Goa, India – aims to train and empower grassroots media producers to express their own stories about their local communities. Video Volunteers helps people to advocate for concerns which might otherwise never make it into the media. Magnum Foundation focuses on production and distribution of in-depth documentary projects; it is the charity arm of the acclaimed photography cooperative Magnum Photos founded by Robert Capa and Henri Cartier Bresson in 1947.

 

Usha Patel photographs milk cooperatives run by women in Uttar Pradesh.

Usha Patel photographs milk cooperatives run by women in Uttar Pradesh.

 

The “Storytelling Through Photography” workshops were comprised of a selected group of 20 community correspondents, all of whom had participated in earlier training with Video Volunteers, and who have been consistently producing videos about their communities. This network of community reporters is a Video Volunteers program called IndiaUnheard, training community correspondents to explore unreported stories – and in turn feeding this community-produced content to national and international outlets, whether mainstream television channels or social networking sites.

From the Video Volunteers website:

These Community Correspondents represent India’s most marginalized perspectives, including Dalits and tribal people, as well as religious, lingual and sexual minorities… Through IndiaUnheard, Video Volunteers offers the global audience a clear window into the real India. Every day, video reports on key issues such as caste, conflict, identity and education are gathered from across the country.

 

Sunita Kasera photographs a family in Gadiyanwal who lives out of a cart.

Sunita Kasera photographs a family of the Gadiyanwal tribe who lives out of a cart.

 

Building on the IndiaUnheard project participants, the workshops were taught by trainers from Magnum, photographers Olivia Arthur and Sohrab Hura.

Attendees were primarily female, said Kayonaaz Kalyanwala, Program Coordinator for Video Volunteers:

We wanted mostly women candidates and selected those who we felt would have the most potential to take up photography and also those for whom this would be an incentive to make more videos… Our CCs [Community Correspondents] are strong at activism but sometimes less skilled at visuals, and we knew photography was a great way for them to develop a better eye.

From these workshops, each participant created a mini-series, documenting their community. The photo stories feature a range of topics, including alcohol abuse, local superstition, disability, and environmental concerns.

 

Babita Maurya photographs local schools.

Babita Maurya photographs local schools.

 

The community correspondents attending the class worked with subjects in their communities, documenting local stories and lives. For some reporters, their subjects were merely acquaintances, while others knew their subjects well – allowing for a close insight into their daily lives. One photographer, Saroj Paraste, chose a disabled girl as her subject, getting to know her by staying with her family for a week, earning trust before even taking out her camera. Saroj was quoted on the Video Volunteers websiteas saying, “Since the girl was at first not keen to be photographed, I spent a lot of time making her feel comfortable. In the end she grew very fond of me and was happy to be a part of the project.”

 

Xavier Hamsay photographs a blind girl in his community.

Xavier Hamsay photographs a blind girl in his community.

 

Kayonaaz noted that the workshops are a way to introduce the correspondents to another medium through which they can tell their stories. Equipped with simple cameras, they are required to send a set of photographs back to Video Volunteers every few months. As she said in an email interview,

We want to make sure that once trained, they continue to use photography as a tool. At the same time VV is trying to get their work out there through exhibitions and other media platforms.

You can see more photographs are available on the projects’ blog, and Video Volunteers will present on the work of the Community Correspondents during theDelhi Photo Festival in October of 2013.

 

Nirmala Ekka photographs waste collectors' daily lives.

Nirmala Ekka photographs waste collectors’ daily lives.

 

All photographs are used with permission from the Magnum Foundation.

Are Female Vigilantes The Answer To Stop Rapes In India?

This article originally appeared in Global Voices

A 22-year-old intern working as a photojournalist at a magazine was gang-raped in Mumbai, India while on assignment on August 22, 2013.

The injured victim underwent surgery and is now recuperating. One man out of five suspects has been arrested so far. Like the Delhi gang-rape case (see Global Voices report) in December 2012, yesterday’s incident has also evoked nationwide outrage and a renewed search for solutions.

The mainstream and social media are buzzing with discussions on how to stop these rapes.

Neha Sanghvi (@nehasanghvi) was outraged:

Avinash Iyer (@IyerAvin) tweeted:

Script writer and blogger Constant Rambler (@ajitjagtap) thinks that impunity is inspiring more crimes:

Rabia sheikh (@Rabiasheikh7) was pessimistic about a solution:

But why this frustration? According to Catholic Online, reports of rape, dowry deaths, molestation, sexual harassment and other crimes against women in India rose by 6.4 percent in 2012 from the previous year. Statistics showed that 244,270 crimes against women were reported to the Indian police in 2012 compared with 228,650 in 2011, according to the National Crimes Records Bureau. India’s rape problem has been reported as “bad enough to jump out of a window” by The Atlantic magazine, referring to the case of a British tourist who jumped out the window in March 2013 to escape the unwanted advances of the owner of the hotel she was staying in.

Vishal Bheeroo identified the problem:

The main problem is the lack of effective laws to protect women and the sexist comments in parliament is such a shame.

Since the Delhi gang rape, the Justice Verma Report has been submitted, (though not without criticisms), and the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill has been made into a law. However, violence against women persists. Representatives of women’s groups, democratic and human rights groups and activists are alarmed about major ommissions in current legislative protectionto women which can leave women even more vulnerable than they already are.

So, what is the best means of response to what seems to be continuous rape cases in India?

To many, it is clear that rape is a problem in India, but the responses have been varied. There have been campaigns to arm women with pepper and knivesgender sensitivity training and changing laws.

Members of the the Red Brigade from a small village in Lucknow, the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, are taking matters into their own hands by taking direct action against sexual harassment. Led by 25-year-old teacher Usha Vishwakarma, the Red Brigade began in 2010, about four years after the similar Gulabi Gang.

Gulabi Gang. Image from Flickr by Lecerle.

Gulabi Gang. Image from Flickr by Lecerle. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Gulabi Gang served as the subject for a 2010 movie called Pink Sari’s. However, the Red Brigade is a younger version comprised of girls ages 11 to 25 years old. As the Guardian reported, members of The Red Brigade take:

Direct action against their tormentors and now when a local man steps out of line, he can expect a visit from the group.

The Red Brigade girls. Screenshot from Red Brigades Blog

The Red Brigade girls. Screenshot from Red Brigades Blog

Dressed in red and black salwaar kameez (traditional Indian-style dress) many of the girls were victims of violence in the past. They now take martial arts classes and participate in protests.

If a man has been found to be harassing a girl, he is ordered to stop. The consequences may escalate from there and if he does not stop, he may be punished by public mocking or violence. Though they have only resorted to violence on one occasion.

When asked where her courage comes from the leader of the group, Usha Vishwakarma said:

When you suffer, you get that courage. When you are victimized, you get that courage.

Not only fighting, the red brigade members are continuing their education to make a career:

As of August 23, activists and journalists gathered at Hutatama Chowk in south Mumbai in a silent protest. The opposition parties took up the issue in parliament and organizations took out rallies in different cities. What they missing are perhaps more pro-active people like vigilantes.

Update: By Sunday 25 August, 2013, the Mumbai police have arrested all the five men wanted in connection with the gang-rape of the photojournalist. The eldest one is 25 years old and the youngest of them is suspected to be 16.

Thumbnail image courtesy Red Brigade’s Facebook page. With additional inputs by Rezwan.

Educator & Writer

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.