Wednesday, 11 September 2013

India needs a pink revolution to help its women

Whatever may be the verdict on the Delhi gang-rape case, India needs an all out war  to end the social malaises that subjugates and oppresses its women.

Death penalty is justified

By any definition, the brutal manner in which the victim of 16 Delhi gang- rape was tortured and killed by the rapists is a rarest of rare crime. Whatever the court decides on the quantum of punishment either death penalty- which most people demand and is likely- or life imprisonment, it will send a strong signal in the society.

Let’s give the credit where it's due: the trail was carried out quite swiftly, laws have been amended to widen the definition of rape and there is growing public awareness and consensus that violence against women should be dealt with toughness and without mercy. This itself will act as deterrence to some extent.     

The huge outburst of protests following the Delhi rape was lead largely by India’s young and the middle class. The anger of this empowered section matters in India because of their growing influence and role in the society. It’s precisely because of the anger of the civic society, the activism of NGOS and the role of media that the government buckled, and this case was expeditiously carried out without any delay- dallying tactics.

So it's not a question of whether death penalty is going to serve as a deterrence. It is the continuous vigilance of the empowered that will matter. The death penalty is justified in a society like India, which is still evolving and is at crossroads. India cannot overnight arrive at the same notions of justice that developed world practices. India rarely sends people to gallows.  Violence against women is a deeply rooted social malaise that has gone out of control; so to deal with this, draconian measures are the need of time.     

India needs a pink revolution

The verdict in the Delhi gang- rape will be historical, if in the long term, it is seen as the moment that heralded the process to improve the lives of majority of Indian women after centuries of subjugation and oppression, and this is where the real battle lies.

Jason Burke in The Guardian quotes veteran journalist M. J Akbar. He says : “It is a few weeks of outrage against hundreds of years of tradition."

In a vast part of India, women are disadvantaged at birth.  The dowry concerns make them a liability for their parents and women are treated as commodities. This is  a reality that plays into a man’s psyche. Dowry is one of the root causes for much of the evils surrounding a woman’s position in the society.  Since woman is a commodity that is “bought”, it gives a license to a sex starved man to do what he wants to do with her.

 Despite anti-dowry laws, the greed for dowry is so huge even amongst the  ‘modern’,  ‘educated’ boys and their parents that the practice remains rampant.

India needs an all out war against this social malaise that has over the years encouraged child infanticide and feticides to an alarmingly levels in some northern Indian states.

If the government is serious and there are holistic polices aimed at empowering women, the evils of dowry can be eliminated in a generation.  It will require a strong leadership and huge social movement to ensure that every single girl is given education so that they can be financially independent and socially liberated. This will allow them to challenge the notions of patriarchy and male chauvinism in their societies. It is not going to be easy but if every family refuses to give out dowry, things will change.

 Sexuality and the new media

We spoke to school students in an upmarket locality to find out if they are given sex education at school. All of them said ‘no’, and said their the teachers and parents don’t think that it is an appropriate subject to be discussed. Everyone said they rely on the internet to find answers to matters related to sexuality and relationship.

 In India, modernity clashes with traditional values in an environment that is at best hypocritical.  India cinema and media is general is ultra-modern. Glorification of sex in songs and movies are normal, but society refuses to discuss sexuality openly.  

In rural India, the consumption of content that promotes debauchery and glorifies a woman as an object of sex is particularly high. India has what is called ‘B’ grade movies, where sex and extreme violence dominates the content. This plays into men fantasy in a culture where even courting a girl is considered a sin.  The internet and the mobile phones have made it easier to consume such content in privacy.

With lack of even basic education, heavy consumption of such content coupled with alcohol and drugs at the backdrop of strict social barriers, poverty and even abuse can have fallouts. The manner in which the Delhi gang rape victim was raped, mauled and then destroyed speaks volumes about their animalistic tendencies, which could have been influenced by a combination of above-mentioned factors.

Rape and violence against women happens across all sections of society and all over the world. But if girls are raped every twenty minutes, trafficked and sold for marriages and prostitution, killed at birth, exploited, burnt to death for not brining dowry, there is a serious problem in our society that requires immediate attention.

At the very basic level, there is one more thing that government needs to set right. It is to get the basic transport infrastructure and facilities in place. Creating a world -class transport system with trained staff can greatly reduce many sexual crimes in urban areas.



Monday, 2 September 2013

Mobile internet revolution in India

a long flyover at electronic city in Bangalore 

Cheap data internet mobile services and affordable smart phones are bridging the digital divide in India.

The way to Bangalore’s swanky electronic city tells the story of India. You have to go past massive potholed roads before you are suddenly transformed into a super-highway that leaps over what is described as India’s Silicon Valley.

The taxi driver jokingly tells me, “the potholes remind us that we are still in India!”

Whist everyone say that potholes are a result of India’s endemic corruption, which contributes to the country’s inequitable growth and development; in the digital sphere, however, the story is different.

Affordable smart phones and very cheap mobile internet packages are giving millions of Indians the first taste of the internet by simply bypassing the era of personal computers.

young people showing their smart phones
In the streets of Banglaore, we interview people from all walks of life.  Rajnath a auto rickshaw (tuk tuk) driver tells us, "personally for me the internet is of not much use, but my customers often use GPS maps to give me  directions. Sometimes, it helps me to discover routes I wouldn’t know about. ” Mohammad Sultan, a tomoato vendor, tells us that he uses Google to look out for jobs and keep in touch with friends on Facebook.

 We visit a low-income group market, where the shopkeepers are mostly middle aged. They tell us they don’t use the internet on phones, but say that their children own smart phones.  Salim, a street garment retailer, shows us his Indian made smart phone. He proudly shows us his music collection and tells us that he is very active on whatsapp and Facebook.

India’s mobile market is growing rapidly. There are more than billion mobile phones used by over 600 million people in a country where the average age is just 25. The smart phone market, which occupies 20 % of India’s mobile market share is expected to double by 2014.

Sudhir Hasija
We meet up with Sudhir Hasija, chairman of Karbonn mobile phones- an Indian start-up manufacturing affordable mobile phones. Karbonn has a market share of 4.5% in India.  It sold 35 million handsets in just over three and half years.

The smiling chairman shows us the range of his products. His high-end smartphone is priced at Rs 11,000 ($165) and boasts all the functions of any other popular smartphones. His low -end internet enabled feature phone cost Rs 3000 ($45). The tablets made by the company are just for Rs 6000($90) and  have been given out to rural school children in various government sponsored schemes aimed at educating the less -privileged rural children. 

Mr Hasija says: “our strength lies in anticipating what people want, we know where India is growing and we have different phones for different markets.”

He says: “In India 80% of the population use low -end phones but they want a good camera; they want the radio. The 3G services don’t even exist in rural India hence they need to be given a product that look big, but also has the basic functions and can run on 2G. In urban India the demand is different.  The young population is trendy, fashionable and Facebook savvy. They prefer cheap smart phones.”

 India’s home grown smart phone companies control 30 % of the domestic market and are giving tough competition to the likes of Nokia and Samsung in the low segment category of mobile phones.

 Along side cheap mobile handsets, the mobile service providers are offering data internet at a very nominal cost.

Bharti Airtel, an Indian telecom service provider active in 20 countries in Asia and Africa say the internet data consumption has grown by 117% compared to the corresponding figure last year. It says  2G & 3G continue to lead the mobile segment growth through deeper penetration and consumption.  The company attributes its success to the smart marketing campaign: it rolled out Re 1(0.02 cents) video downloads for its mobile customers across India to give them a taste of mobile internet experience.
Following the success, the company has more recently launched email and Facebook access services at Re 1. Bharti Airtel  has also collaborated with Google to provide Free Zone, which gives Airtel mobile customers access to mobile web search and feature-phone-friendly versions of Gmail and Google+ in India. The first page of a website linked from search results is provided at no data cost.

Rajan Anandan, VP and Managing Director, Google India says,  “the mobile Internet user base is growing really fast in India. Working with Airtel on this exciting trial means that we can offer Internet services at no cost to anyone with a phone.”

We caught up with Pieters Marten, head of Vodafone in India. He said the Internet enabled mobile phones have given a sense of privacy for the first time to many Indians. People can watch, listen and chat freely. In many Indian households such freedom doesn’t exist or is restricted.

The potential of the fast growing developing markets hasn’t gone unnoticed in the developed world. On the other side of the globe, Facebook has announced plans to drastically cut the cost of delivering basic Internet services on mobile phones, particularly in developing countries. It is an interesting example of how in the era of globalisation the rich and the developing world are connected in terms of policy and business sense!

 A report by The International Herald Tribune says that Facebook is working with major mobile manufactures to simplify phone applications so they run more efficiently on phones and networks so that they transmit more data while using less battery power.
It is hoped that in the years to come, with the efforts of global community, the internet and new technologies will greatly empower millions of people in the developing  world and help them to leap on a digital information highway much like the motorway over Bangalore’s electronic city!