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Automated surveillance technology using drones to spot problematic human behavior in crowds is going to be tested at Technozion and Spring Spree festivals at NIT Warangal, reports the Verge. Lead researcher Amarjot Singh of the University of Cambridge claimed that their system has 94% accuracy at identifying violent poses. However, this accuracy drops with more people in the frame (like there would be at a festival), for example, to 79% with 10 people in the frame.

Police surveillance is growing without much scrutiny in recent years. The laws governing such surveillance have grey areas in which a lot of video surveillance technology currently operates. Reported applications include face recognition technology, behavior recognition, as in the case of the surveillance drones reported in The Verge, facial recognition and linking with police records, including tagging personal information with Aadhaar and sharing it across states.

An increasing number of cities have police using various kinds of surveillance databases to get better information on suspects and potential criminals in the city. These databases, where individual policemen can add the information of people to have some disturbing implications. There are several cities using Facial Recognition Softwares to assist policemen keep track of criminals.

Surveillance of everyone, not just criminals or suspects

There are several cities where CCTV camera networks scan everyone on the street and match their faces against a database of suspects and criminals. Here is a partial list:

  • In 2015, Surat became the first city in India to deploy real time surveillance through facial recognition systems when they implemented NEC India's FaceWatch in collaboration with Innovative Telecom & Softwares. The system uses live feeds from a growing network of CCTV cameras and can be used to monitor for crime in real time. It is capable of facial recognition as well as Automatic number plate recognition. Also, "It automatically matches faces against a database of 30,000 criminal mugshots and can alert the police immediately of anyone on a watchlist."By August, Surat had 604 cameras in 114 locations, covering 10% of the city with plans to add another 900 cameras in a year and bring the total to 2,500 in two years.
  • In 2015, Hyderabad police launched vehicle mounted CCTV cameras with a 360 degree view and ability to store footage for 15 days.
  • In 2016, Mumbai got 4,617 CCTV cameras hooked to the RTO control room and backed by 1000 vehicles fitted with GPS in order to coordinate with the control room were made operational with the objective of tackling law and order, fighting and preventing crime, regulating traffic and detecting traffic-related offences. These cameras are also capable of Automatic Number Plate Recognition as well as Facial Recognition. Additional Chief Secretary (Home) K P Bakshi told the Indian Express, "We can search for an individual all over the city. The cameras will identify the face of a wanted criminal. The camera will also pick out faces of persons roaming around continuously in one place. The nearest police van will then be alerted about the person’s location."
  • In 2016, 160 CCTV cameras were installed in Visakhapatanam as a part of a hi-tech surveillance network.
  • In 2016, in Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh, NEC's Facial Recognition System was used to identify suspects and criminals at the Krishna Pushkaram religious event which sees around 50 million pilgrims attending to take a holy bath in the Krishna river.
  • In 2017, Jaipur police trialed a facial recognition system with cameras installed outside the Ganesh temple at Modi Doongri and controlled from the command and control centre called "Abhay". The FRS would scan the people before it and match them against a database of serial offenders and suspects.
  • In 2018, Cameras with Facial Recognition Technology are expected to be in use in local trains on the Central line in Mumbai, by the end of the year 2018, at a total cost of 276 crore. The cameras "will store facial details of commuters (for 10 days). The cameras with facial recognition software would help trace past movements of any offender on a local train and arrest the person when he travels next." A total of 11,160 cameras will be procured - 76 cameras for each rake, with at least 6 cameras in each coach of the rake.
  • In 2018, Hyderabad city police are matching the faces of everyone on the city's streets against a database of one lakh criminas, from the control room at the Facial Recognition Analytics unit at the Commissioner’s office at Basheerbagh. IT Cell incharge, K. Sreenath Reddy said that the local police are alerted only when the resemblance is more than 70 per cent.
  • Thiruvananthapuram police are using 233 cameras in their surveillance network of the city.
  • Paradip in Odisha is to get a CCTV surveillance camera network within a month.
  • Retired ACP Dhoble (of the hockey stick wielding moral police fame) is now in the process of getting a facial recognition software for the city and believes it needs to be created with the "help" of his son Kshitij, who specialized in Artificial Intelligence at Aukland University. An effort that initially began with a goal of tracing missing people has expanded its objective to "tracking criminals" as well. "Meanwhile, they began compiling the information of all 15,847 police stations in India and uploaded it on the site. One aspect of the site is uploading the information of these police and stations. The other is to spot child beggars, labourers and send it to the site."

Police database for use with mobile app -FaceTagr

This is a database of criminal records that can be used with a Facial Recognition Software (FaceTagr) installed on Android mobile phones of beat policemen and inspectors working in the field. When a policeman scans a suspect's face, the mobile app returns data of police cases filed and police station limits for the criminal the face matches with. Databases being expandable, the database has the potential to store the records of criminals across the country.

The application that was originally built by Vijay Gnanadesikan, CEO of Haliscape Business Solutions, to help rescue children by matching records of missing and found children, was first trialled for police use in Chennal

  • In 2017, FACETAGR was adopted by T Nagar police station of Chennai, beginning with a database of 12,000 criminals. An additional 40,000 suspects were added to the app to improve the chances of police identifying faces. The app used by policemen to "scan" suspects. Once a suspect is scanned, the app returns information about them.
  • In 2018, Chennai police will expand the use of FACETAGR to include interstate criminals as well by expanding the data used by the application to other Southern states. Currently the database has information on 67,000 criminals, including information sent by the Pudducherry Crime Records Bureau. It is awaiting data from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and Karnataka. The application is in use in 10 out of 12 police districts and is installed on the phones of beat constables. 18 inspectors, subinspecotrs and 150 beat police of Washermanpet were the latest to get the app, with "700 criminals in A, A plus, B and C categories".
  • Chittoor adopted the app in December 2017 with data of 10,000 sandalwood smugglers and 3,000 suspected criminals.
  • Pudducherry has also adopted the use of FACETAGR in March 2018

e-Petty

The e-Petty app is being used across Telangana state to book cases in minor crimes under Sections pertaining to IPC, City Police Act, Gaming Act/ COTPA Act 2003, Motor Vehicle Act and Town Nuisance Act. The app can record photographic and video evidence from the crime scene, photographs of suspects and generate an automatic chargesheet based on evidence. The app tracks previous cases of individuals as well and identify repeat violators because the app links profiles online with Aadhaar card numbers.

Hyderabad

Hyderabad is probably the most surveilled city in the country. The Integrated People Information Hub pulls data from dozens of sources to create profiles of individuals that include not just their own comprehensive information, but that of parents as well. It is a data hoarding machine gone rogue, where there appears to be no reason or reasonable suspicion required to put citizens under surveillance. The surveillance includes call records, social media, relatives and friends, utilities and more.

Questions raised

The use of aggregated databases and Artificial Intelligence  in large scale applications is new in India and the laws don't yet have necessary support as well as restrictions on implementation. There is no doubt that information is power and information on suspects and criminals empowers police to do their jobs better. The lack of development of proper laws, policies, protocols and facilities for the police to record and access information in a secure manner has led to the adoption of various technologies in an ad hoc manner with little overisght.

However, largescale use of such applications raise several and serious questions:

  • Is it constitutional to treat every person as a potential criminal? When all the people entering the range of a Facial Recognition enabled camera are scanned and matched against databases of criminals, it amounts to intrusive surveillance. India lacks a data protection law or a law defining the contours of privacy, however the recent robust arguments against surveillance and observations by judges in the Constitutional Challenge to Aadhaar are very clear that Indians do have a right to privacy and surveillance violates this right.
  • Data ownership: FaceTagr is owned by Haliscape Business Solutiosn Pvt Ltd of Chennai. NEC is a global organization. It is unclear who owns or protects the data on these databases and what restrictions exist against its misuse.
  • Data access: Cortica, a foreign AI company has formed a partnership with the Best Group to analyze CCTV footage from public cameras to predict crime. While technologically it may be a challenging goal, a foreign company with considerable ties to foreign intelligence has capabilities and access to individuals on Indian streets. The software is capable of using data from not just video cameras but satellite and drone footage as well and is capable of analyzing human behavior, including differentiating between nature of crowds - routine market corwd or a protest, etc.In the case of Mumbai, a company run by a software professional and a retired police official appears to have  access to information from all police stations in India and are proceeding to build a database! It is unclear how and why a software under development by private individuals has access to nationwide sensitive data.
  • A market of the gullible: The lack of proper evaluation or policies requiring specific standards has left the police of India a ripe target for companies selling surveillance products who may exploit the real need for collecting information or corrupt insiders to gain contracts. Many of the technologies described here have not been subjected to robust testing and have no published research about their quality. Some of the stories describe extensive installations that become defunct or are not of adequate quality to begin with, as in the case of Visakhapatanam, left with 3 working cameras out of 160 within 2 years of installation at massive public expense. Others describe extremely efficient systems, but ones that violate the rights of the citizens they are supposed to serve.This risks spending public funds for purposes and methods that may not be in public interest. There is an urgent need to consult with independent experts and digital rights law researchers and other professionals without conflict of interest to put together guidelines for data collection for surveillance, data destruction when its purpose is served, securing of that data to prevent misuse and policies on who should have access and a transparent process for granting such access.
  • Who is a criminal or suspect: It doesn't take a lot for police to consider someone a suspect and there is little oversight. There is no warrant or independent authority required to initiate surveillance against anyone. Such a database has the capacity to take the local prejudices of police across state lines and cause considerable harassment to individuals in all areas covered by such databases.
  • Utility: While there is obviously a need for police to monitor suspects in order to gather evidence, the legality and utility of randomly spotting them on the street is debatable. What is the utility of someone say.... suspected of having conducted a robbery... being spotted in another state - if it even is the same person?
  • Technological limitations: Such "identification" is inherently probabilistic and can be wrong. A good example would be the Welsh police wrongly identifying over two thousand people as potential criminals when they used Facial Recognition at the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff in a crowd of 170,000 spectators. This has the potential to create a lot of harassment as well as waste police resources when applied to the far bigger numbers of people on the street in Indian cities.
  • Bypassing consent: A person suspected by the police and asked to come for questioning has rights. They can agree or refuse and the police cannot actually force them to say.... stand in a line up to be identified without any due process. Or they may wish to have a lawyer present when interacting with a policeman as a suspect. However, use of software such as this allows a beat constable to completely arbitrarily scan people who may not even realize that they are actually in a situation with the law where they may need to exert choices to protect their interests.
  • Human rights: As often happens when the state adopts technology, the advantages of the technology have been understood and promoted, but there appears to have been little consideration given to human rights implications of falsely accused individuals, potential for corruption through entering or removing entries on the database for bribes or blackmail, consequences of false positives to innocents and other potential fallout. There needs to be better consultation by the state when adopting such technologies with professionals (other than those providing the technology as a solution) to assess the wider impact beyond the immediate problem the technology aims to solve and mitigate the potential for harm.
  • Ability to maintain technology: Out of 160 cameras installed in Visakhapatanam 2016, 3 cameras were working in 2018. One of them being pointed to the ground, was useless.
  • Aggregated or discrete databases? It is not known whether the databases used to identify criminals through CCTV or the FaceTagr app or e-Petty are linked where they coexist. Aggregation of data across these databases has even more potential for the violation of rights of citizens.
  • Magnifying social prejudices: A simple statistical reality is that positives - whether real or false - will be higher among those who get scanned more. In a country where there is considerable documented evidence of prejudice against religious minorities or underprivileged castes, classes and communities, the use of such a software has the potential to magnify and endorse prejudices that cause their targeting. Take for example, reported cases of slums being raided and all the men in them being asked to identify themselves. The chances of these men being identified - correctly or falsely - will always be higher than say a person living in a gated society, where such raids are unheard of, simply because such faces will get scanned more often than those whose circumstances don't lend easily to such situations.
  • Use of Aadhaar for profiling: the e-Petty app used in Telangana is a clear use of Aadhaar for profiling - something the government has consistently denied in the Supreme Court.
  • Lack of appropriate digital security: Apart from the data being shared across state borders, or being hosted on private servers or foreign companies being given access to it - which are issues of policy to determine what is appropriate and what is not, there are outright failures of digital security, which result in unintended and unauthorized access to the very sensitive data being collected. Researcher Kodali, for example, had pointed out that the Hyderabad police were using a third party portal to record and geotag crime. The portal having very poor security for the purpose it was being used for, had allowed the indexing of crime reports by search engines for years, including the names of rape victims - which is not legal in India.
  • Lack of independent audit or testing: The systems used for both largescale CCTV surveillance as well as scanning individuals using a mobile app do not have information available on their accuracy. The lesser the accuracy, the more such systems will end up wasting police resources on chasing dead ends and causing harassing citizens.
  • A need for legislation: It is undeniable that the police need effective ways to access databases to find information on suspects and criminals on the fly. It is also inevitable that this will involve a certain degree of invasion of privacy in the interests of conducting investigations. However, this cannot simply be left to whatever software developers believe can be done or police wish to adopt. There needs to be a regulatory framework that will identify situations when such use is legitimate and protect citizens from arbitrarily being entered into databases as suspects. There should also be regulation of what information should remain local and what should be disseminated - a local suspected of robbery does not need to be found acorss state borders, but an absconding criminal found in the footage of a murder should be. There is also a need for legislation to remove names from the databases when the people are no longer suspects - for example cases people were suspected in get closed with others charged.

Further reading:

  • Research published by the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, "The Perpetual Line-Up" on the unregulated use of public surveillance by law enforcement and the risks.
  • Technological bias: While MediaNama was not able to find any research about FaceTagr specifically, "Face Recognition Performance: Role of Demographic Information" by the FBI about accuracy of Facial Recognition in various population demographics is an interesting read on the biases caused by how the system is "trained" to recognize faces.
  • Policy Paper on Surveillance in India by the Centre for Internet & Society

1

This post began life as an attempt to boost the response to the latest wave of targeted violence and/or State-sponsored suppression of civil liberties in Chhattisgarh. Even as I typed away, trying to summarize the ever-mounting brutality in that state, the news breaking from the University of Hyderabad took centre-stage. Every day this past week I have been reflecting on the horrors unfolding in India. Whether Chhattisgarh, or Jharkhand, UP or Hyderabad there is only the sense that the various agencies of the central and state governments are brazen in their attempts in maintaining control of their narrative, either through commission or omission.

The War against Scholarship

The Central Government's Ministry of Human Resources & Development seems to be waging its own war against universities across the country. The earlier controversy at FTII was just the curtain raiser - the Ministry recanted on its decision to stop Non-NET Fellowships last year after massive protests from students across the country. But now it seems to be opening that can of worms all over again - with the current fire directed at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. However, over and beyond the critical question of supporting research is the amount of control being handed to the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The massive blow-up of sloganeering at a student event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (even if it was about the controversial hanging of Afzal Guru), now appears to have been kicked off by the ABVP inviting media teams to campus, possibly without permission from the necessary authorities. Even as student leaders from other campus bodies were arrested (and subsequently released on bail), no questions were asked of the ABVP's leadership, with them seeming to get implicit support even from the Central Cabinet. This has emboldened them to become the government's henchmen on various campuses.

Which brings us to the grim episode as yet unfolding at the Hyderabad Central University. This too, started last year, with the shocking apathy of university officials towards Dalit research scholars leading to the suicide of #RohithVemula. The central player in that episode, the Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile, was suspended pending investigation into his abetment of Rohith's suicide. Strangely, he made an unannounced return to campus, in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated move. Again, it is important to note that on his return, Podile had the ABVP's support, as noted by many of the student protestors.

The other thread throughout this narrative is the inordinate, disproportionate amount of violence by the State. If Delhi witnessed scenes of lathicharge, water-cannoning, etc. during the UGC protests, the violence against the #HCU students seems to on a different scale altogether. It is almost shocking to think that this latter bout of violence has, up to the time of writing this, not received even one statement of censure from any state or central government official. Add to this the fact that the police detained and questioned protestors in Chennai (for attempting a hunger strike) and Mumbai as well.

As I write this, Pune's Fergusson College is becoming the latest theatre in ABVP's war for control of campuses India-wide. In this, the ABVP is only following the #BJP, whose gameplan to be India's politics new singular force was signaled by Amit Shah when he first took over as the BJP President. To be fair, there were some ABVP members who found the whole JNU fiasco, particularly the assault by the lawyers at Patiala House, revolting enough to step down.

Highlighting the Real Issues

The issue of student scholarship must be seen in the light of whom it affects most. The most-telling characteristic of the student politics at JNU and HCU is that they empower students from the most marginalized sections of society who would otherwise hardly get such an opportunity.  Their battle must therefore be seen against the backdrop of the various conflicts being fought in the remotest parts of India. As the journalist P Sainath said when speaking at JNU after the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU was now fighting the criminalization of dissent that had long been fought by India's poorest and most disempowered.

In Chhattisgarh, the State has continuously waged war against the tribals in the quest to make mineral resources available to corporates - this war is older than the state of #Chhattisgarh itself. Much of the most critical reportage on the circumstances in the state are already beginning to look dated, although their relevance is as yet intact, with on-ground situation mostly remaining intact, until now. Commentators now see a "Mission 2016", particularly in #Bastar, wherein any and every agency that attempts to speak for the tribals is flushed out of the State - the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group has been forced out, likewise doctors and journalists. Those two bravest of local voices - Soni Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi are being attacked more insidiously now, but continue to speak. As do other local activists and lawyers like Bela Bhatia and Shalini Gera continue to hold their ground, even as they too are targeted by the government.

In Maharashtra, the impact of the irrigation crisis has now been compounded by the crippling drought that affects a large swathe of the state. The famed Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code, is now imposed in places like Latur prevent riots over water. Latur's MLA, meanwhile, has disappeared leaving even his party whip in the legislature clueless. On the other hand, the state's Attorney-General, Shreehari Aney, has resigned his office after the legislature found controversial his support for separate statehood for Vidarbha and Marathwada (Latur falls in Marathwada, btw). Mr. Aney is now planning to take his protest to Jantar Mantar. It is useful to remember that Devendra Fadnavis sought his mandate in Maharashtra on this very promise.

The list goes on - the state of Orissa now fights the very people it is supposed to represent to get mining rights for POSCO in Niyamgiri, while Jharkhand's cow vigilantism seems to find support at the highest echelons of government. There are famine-related horror stories coming in from Bundelkhand,

Response

The purpose of this article is to not to recount a litany of horrors,  but to highlight the urgent need for responses. The resignation of Mr. Aney, the Orissa government's lawsuit, the ABVP members' resignations can all be seen as alarm bells of one kind or another. The journalist Prem Shankhar Jha also highlighted the worsening situation of India's Muslims vis-a-vis education and unemployment.

The students of various institutions have also shown the way, by becoming a credible opposition to the whip being wielded by government.

It is now essential that empathetic citizens also raise their voices. In Bastar, when journalists found no one to carry their stories, they went online, posting stories on Facebook. Suresh Ediga and Bhavana Nissima are now using social media to leverage public support for the initiatives of Soni Sori, through their  #OneMillionPostCardCampaign for #Bastar. Similarly, most of the news from Hyderabad has come out through Facebook, with the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice -UoH carrying content on its page.

The violence highlighted here runs across caste, class and (religious) community lines, especially in the run-up to elections. There is a visible attempt to communalize violence that isn't communal to begin with. Ultimately, these issues, along with those of land and water, will affect each and every one of us. I ask, beg, request, that readers at least broadcast any and every effort at combating these issues, if not supporting them in every way possible. Good night and good luck!

Dear Friends,

We are living in times where groups which win the battle of media often succeed in serving their purposes/propaganda. Our founders had expected that media shall stand as a fourth pillar of Democracy to make it vibrant. Media shall provide power to the people and make them believe in Democratic principles. Reality however did not encompass the expected. This fourth pillar of Democracy, instead of standing up with people as a fourth underpin, as a fourth guard is apparently dominating even the other three pillars. Instead of strengthening the people, it is often making them weaker, helpless and undermining the essence of Democracy. Media, therefore cannot be ignored now. It is an inescapable fact of life. Ravish Kumar of NDTV India says, "Sanchar madhyam bimar ho gaya hai, aur wah janta ko bhi bimar kar raha hai".

Architect of Indian constitution, Dr. Ambedkar's below thoughts are relevant and apt here. He says, "Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the public. To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India its first or foremost duty. To accept a hero and worship him has become its principal duty. Under it, news gives place to sensation, reasoned opinion to unreasoning passion, appeal to the minds of responsible people to appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible. Never has the interest of country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero-worship. Never has hero-worship become so blind that as we see it in India today. There are, I am glad to say, honourable exceptions. But they are too few and their voice is never heard".

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We, a group of young Indians in Mumbai began our journey with the Initiative of 'New India Debate society' in 2014 with the below idea in mind:

New India debate society has been making an attempt to interpret and comprehend Ambedkar in a holistic manner trying to locate the missing thread of 'his nationalism'. This we do and shall continue to do so in a strict academic discipline and hence the initiative has been considered only as an academic pursuit with no ulterior motives of any social or political action.

Though, we were always of a mind that we will welcome any action springing out as a result of this exercise which would give India a push towards its ultimate destiny – a destiny common for all the elements of the national life.

In line with the said thoughts, we lately came up with the idea of IFIL - INDIAN FIRST INDIAN LAST.

ABOUT IFIL:

IFIL - (which may also be read as I-Feel) is an initiative which envisages to generate and provoke a kind of Public conscience among Indians which rises above the closets of Caste, Creed, Religion, Language, Region, even Nationalism and creates a mindset to fight against any form of Injustice.

Meaning of I-FEEL(IFIL) is that 'I am Sensitive'. I feel the joy and pain of each Indian and I pledge to stand-up for the people in need with full sincerity.

IFIL also means 'I-FILL', I shall determine myself to fill the expected democratic and progressive leadership which at present, is regretfully lacking in Indian society.

IFIL initiative shall time and again continue to put forth various activities, programmes, demonstrations, symposiums, events workshops, lectures et al.

We intend to launch the IFIL initiative with one such activity. We have organised a demonstration 'In solidarity with the emerging democratic, progressive voices in Indian media' on Monday, 14th March 2016 at Azad Maidan, Mumbai between ⏰3:00 p.m to 6:00 p.m. ⏰

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Sindhu Sooryakumar, chief coordinating editor of Asianet News TV, threatened, abused after moderating debate on Mahishasur Jayanti

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Sansad Marg on 14 April 2015: Shannon, a young student of journalism, came running towards me. I thought she was approaching me for a selfie, but she wanted to show me a selfie of my profession. She asked a question that had troubled her all morning. ‘Why isn’t Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar on television screens and in the newspapers?’ The media routinely broadcast images of festivals and anniversaries, but when it comes to Babasaheb there is a blackout. Shannon’s question actually hints at a larger concern from which we have insulated ourselves. Though Shannon was smiling, she was also angry. She kept stating, ‘There is such a massive crowd on Sansad Marg, but absolutely no coverage of the event. Even when there are only a few people protesting at Jantar Mantar, the media is there to cover of the issue.’ I could have answered her, but my response would have sounded (and rightly so) hollows  - Ravish Kumar
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" Bheedtantra se Jung mein, hum hai tere sang mein - IFIL"
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" Loktantra ki baat mein, hum khade tere saath mein - IFIL "

This is to express our solidarity and support to some exemplary voices we heard and observed during the tragic Rohith Vemula or JNU episode. These voices (like Ravish Kumar of NDTV India, Nikhil Wagle of Maharashtra One TV, Sindhu Suryakumar of Asianet etc) went against the flow of otherwise Profit-making, Capitalist, Brahminical & populist image of Indian media. Amidst the noise of 'deshdrohi, deshdrohi', these mediapersons gave a voice to the oppressed in unprejudiced manner and discharged their duty of digging out the truth behind the stories. For such courageous journalism (fourth pillar of democracy) and their democratic spirit, they certainly deserve a word of recognition from the responsible citizenry.

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A day comes when you have to take call of your conscience. When principles are more imp than small benefits of life, u become a free bird! - Nikhil Wagle

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Therefore, do join us at Azad Maidan on Monday 14th March 2016 between 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. to be a part of this solidarity demonstration and help us make it a big success.

P.S: The demonstration is not in support of some specific people in media but with all those sincere democratic voices in Electronic, Print or even Social media.

Do contact, Sumedh , Pratik, Kiran, Pathak, Vivek, Anita, Mrs. Geeta, Chetan, Chandrashekhar, Prasad,  and Team IFIL (I-feel) INDIAN FIRST INDIAN LAST  to join the demonstration mail: pratikse_2007@rediffmail.com; .

You can also register through the below Facebook event link.

Demonstration in Solidarity with the emerging Democratic, Progressive voices in Indian media'

1

The Indian socio-political space is polarized as never before. The religious and economic right wings came together in an unprecedented show of solidarity and gave India its first Prime Minister who refuses to answer any questioning. The writing was on the wall. Subramanian Swamy had detailed the RSS "plan" as far back as 1999 with remarkable accuracy if one is to read it with the wisdom of hindsight.

Arundhati Roy had spoken of the economic separation going on in the Indian society in words that have since been seared onto the minds of most people who read them.

What we’re witnessing is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in Independent India. The secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country. It’s a vertical secession, not a lateral one. They’re fighting for the right to merge with the world’s elite somewhere up there in the stratosphere.

Journalists, bloggers, social media commentators have been pointing to this situation coming. This blog has certainly not pulled any punches, and the only surprise in it is the number of people who apparently did not imagine that people given to disregarding law and country while not even in power are wreaking complete mayhem now that they are.

Repulsive utterances and acts have systematically decimated any gullible people who had believed that the country would thrive under a Hindutva right extremist government. Pretty much the only supporters the government has left is its core constituency - those who support them not in spite of their communally hostile views and acts, but because of them. Businessmen are already talking about lack of investments, rupee continues to sink and so on.

Call it BJP's anti-intellectualism committing suicide by pitting itself against institutions of education or call it the simple end of the election campaign resulting in the fog of advertising coming off people's eyes, blaming the right is not such a difficult thing these days. They seem to be doing more than half the work themselves.

In the process, what is happening is a complete absolution of those who are not these barbarians. The nice halos of liberals, intellectuals, leftists and what not other identities with lofty morals are shining brilliant more from the lack lustre contrast of a determinedly incompetent right than any particular merit of their own.

How easy it has become to forget that the Congress pretty much handed the country to BJP on a platter, or that the excellent campaign of Kejriwal suddenly stopped talking of deliverables and dived into Gods after pitching the meager finances of the party into Varanasi and ensuring that hundreds of other seats did not campaign well for shortage of money? A careful Modi wave respected the Gandhi and Yadav parivars even when it swept across UP in a historic win. BJP returned the favor in Delhi elections giving AAP the landslide win so close to Kejriwal's heart. Of course, Kejriwal wasn't ungrateful. After becoming CM and whisking off for treatment at the supposedly hated PM's recommendation, his party did a nice purge of leftists who could have a problem with placing results over ethics or process.

And it goes on. Rahul Gandhi has started finding his eloquence. A near dead left is suddenly visible on Twitter. The country, as is normal for a democracy has no real answer for who should lead it.

Unless India wants to keep swinging between opportunists, the need of the hour is for a struggle for the intellect. A struggle to examine social norms, assumptions, and holy cows and test them against own reasoning, own experiences in life,  own sense of judgment. A struggle to assert own authority to demand accountability and performance from a government.

While there is no doubt that the Hindutva right is a disaster for India not just socially and economically, but in terms of intellectual capital, fundamental freedoms and perhaps even national integration itself, blaming the Hindutva right for the state of the country would be a mistake. For all their faults, their unsuitability was never hidden. A phenomenal carpet bombing of propaganda, entire cover ups of history, brutal and crude campaigns, opportunistic use of human rights propaganda and more got them a landslide victory. A complete multi-pronged brainwashing campaign with a budget to rival the GDPs of entire countries and still, their vote share wasn't a third of the voters in the country.

Can a citizen afford to forget that while the Hindutva right may be guilty of conducting this "advertising scam" and while it may be "guilty" of governing exactly as it has always said it wants a country to be run, it is the complacency of the left and the intellectuals that completely failed to challenge even a single prong of the facade? The word intellectual implies a mind that spends time in thought. A mind capable of more efficient thinking, more robust processes of concluding. Is it not time that the citizen asked whether the country's public intellectuals have served it well?

I have yet to find a reasoned argument that can engage with a crude and illogical defamatory conclusion that makes up in quantity what lacks in quality when it comes to propagation. Why is it that our intellectuals have not made an effort to fight the dangerous undermining of critical thinking nationwide, even as there has been no shortage of them screaming alarm that it was happening?

The right has never pretended to include people. Their concept is simple. "We are the rightful rulers of this land, and we'd like the rest of you to vanish. In any case, we will oppose you anything you want, fundamental right or otherwise" This is no secret. The fundamental of the ideology plays out when it is possible to simply accuse someone loudly enough for it to be a truth to be fixed with a lynch mob. It is not that the mob is stupid enough that no one realizes that the targets are probably framed. It is that the mob is fine with the destruction of the targets for whatever the superficial reason. Be it a Dadri lynching or "terrorists" in JNU.

The question of national integration has to be one for the left to answer. Because the left claims to believe in inclusion. Have they been talking to be understood by all, if a country can be fooled into pseudo-nationalist outrage at the drop of a hat? Have our public thinkers thought loud enough?

While our upper and middle classes are seceding into the stratosphere economically, is it not equally true that our intellectuals have so seceded into an intellectual stratosphere that their ideas of free speech and fundamental rights don't sound familiar to the masses?

A blog by a right wing blogger, Amrit Hallan comes to mind. In it, he compares why Niti Central shut down, but Scroll thrived. To me, the reason seems to be that Niti Central was set up with the specific purpose of electoral propaganda when BJP was in the opposition. Its archives contain often reckless condemnation of a lot of things done by the UPA2 that BJP is currently doing, and it is no longer a suitable publication for the purposes of those it served, because its own archives would condemn those it favors. My guess is that in a few months, it will mushroom up in another avatar with content more suitable to publicizing the work of this government and nothing inconvenient criticizing very similar actions by another government.

But reading the piece by Amrit Hallan was a revelation. Not because his analysis differed from mine - that is bound to happen - I have an extremely cynical view of political propaganda as a whole and BJP affiliated propaganda in particular. What stunned me was how he saw the "Left". From reading his post, the inescapable perception is that of the "left" as he puts it (including leftists and "Congis", activists, etc) as a monolith. He goes to the extent of speaking of leftists promoting each other by name or linking to pieces and creating an artificial credibility where none exists. To look at the piece in terms of its merit as a debate would laugh it off the stage, because it is so absurd.

Yet, if someone does not understand the thinking that leads to stands on fundamental rights, would not completely independent instances of agreement with rights they do not wish to give appear to be an incomprehensible conspiracy? If I did not understand, say for example architecture and published something that creates an unstable building for reasons completely beyond my knowledge, would experts who trashed my article not appear as a conspiracy of elitists unwilling to recognize my masterpiece because I did not agree with them?

Would it not appear as a conspiracy to someone conditioned to react with hate to "enemies" of India, if their reaction were criticized for impinging on the rights and safety of another? To someone who has never had a deep dialogue on citizenship and the right of every citizen to their nation, would it not appear that there was nothing being impinged in order to correct a perceived threat?

If I wrote an article criticizing the beef ban in Maharashtra from an animal husbandry perspective, Asad Owaisi retweeted it, because he perceives the beef ban as a targeting of Muslims, a few dalit activists retweeted it because of the lack of recognition of dalits eating beef as a legitimate diet of Indian Hindus, if those endorsing fundamental freedoms retweeted it because they oppose the imposition of religious belief on people..... would it not appear to be a conspiracy to a well meaning, if ignorant urban product who has never cared for cattle, but been brought up considering it holy and further radicalized to believe that a cow is nothing and nothing but a symbol of Hindu faith?

Why would an urban mind think about the crisis of fodder and water in rural India? Why would it think of a centuries old thriving trade (and exports) of Kolhapuri chappals? Why would it think of massive income from the export of beef, because Indian taboos make India the only country in the world where beef (considered superior meat) is actually cheaper than goat meat, resulting in massive export business? These things are not told to the mind, the ideas of individual rights are not informed to the mind. What remains is a fog of outraged insult that anybody would kill and eat their mother. That is where the bizarre questions come from.

Would you kill and eat your mother?

Well, I wouldn't tie her in a cattle shed either!

That is what they know. Then begins the desperate search to make an emotional stand sound logical.

No one can know what they don't know. What sort of an intellectual capital have we created that there are so many among our masses who are unaware of the reasoning behind fundamental rights? What sort of an intellectual capital have we created that there are so many left in ignorance that they can be fodder for opportunists to feed ideas for political profit? How is it that we can have a country where the population of cows rivals that of states, and yet the products of our education have no idea of the economy cattle sustain beyond religious faith?

The cow is just an example. This kind of deficit of reasoning that results in dangerous, life threatening outrage can be traced to a lack of adequate information, lack of education, lack of public debate.

We could sneer at them for their stupidity, but it would be useful to remember that we are all products of our circumstances. None of us were born wise. None of us stop learning. All of us learn in various ways unique to us that trigger deeper thought on assumptions that often lead to complete changes in views.

Whose responsibility is it to inculcate such thought? Actually, no one's. Today, we have an abundance of activists pointing out problems and demanding solutions from governments and advocating change, but relatively few reformers who create change regardless of society or government. Governments themselves have over and over abdicated this responsibility. Remember, it wasn't fanatics ruling when we chose to embrace liberalism so thoroughly that our films went from coolie and mazdoor heroes to flashy cars and item girls. It wasn't fanatics in rule when our media chased wealth so thoroughly that national integration was no longer for public content. No more ek chidiya anek chidiya and mile sur mera tumhara. Now paisa bolta hain.

Well, paisa spoke. It spoke so loud that it created an entire fantasy world for youth who never experienced a public space where children dreamed of becoming teachers and scientists instead of MBAs and MNC employees. It never told them of social injustices and showed them films like Amar Prem. Their world is one where these ugly things don't happen. In fact, they are "less privileged", if you look at the bling they are bombarded with as "normal".

You cannot expect private individuals to educate public intellect. You cannot even force them to speak so that they are understood by masses without violating their rights to free speech. That almost sounds like forced conscription for weapons of mass instruction. Something a government will never bring about regardless of political party in power, because idiots are easier to con with pipe dreams than people asking why midday meals are so pathetic and where the money went.

So who is left, whose responsibility it is to create intellectual capital?

No one's. It is a responsibility abdicated by one and all.

But I can tell you what will happen if we do not have a more thinking citizenry. We will burn each other to the ground when incited by opportunists for goals that won't give us a thing beyond the heady sense of being the neighbourhood's biggest bully. Regardless of whether it is the left or the right, the dalits or the brahmins, the Muslims or the Hindutvawadis, everyone will burn. No matter who the opportunists, the ones dying in street fights are always cannon fodder.

12

This post explains Net neutrality and the challenge facing it in India for all of you who can't exactly figure out what is going on. This is not intended to be comprehensive, but it gives you the bare bones of the issue and ideas on how to find out more to form your own opinion.

Net Neutrality is the idea that internet access not be manipulated to favor some websites over others. Unfortunately the user will still be limited by the internet package they purchase. Let us be upfront.

So why, if you don't have a website is this debate important to you?

When you surf the internet for entertainment or information or engagement, your freedom is at stake when you are manipulated toward using some sites over others. While some deals are transparent - in the form of packs - "100 MBof Facebook data free with 100MB 2g" or whatever, other deals may simply manifest as one website opening rapidly while another is agonizingly slow. So, your tendency to go with whichever is ready fast plays out over hundreds of thousands of users. Some sites make a windfall from your unintentional bias (that has been induced by technology) while others may become extinct. Do you intend to be biased?

So what if I am biased? I like fast websites, and they made the effort to be fast for me.

Not exactly. Throttling is more like other websites being made slower. But there are tangible disadvantages to you too. Let us begin with saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch. When Flipkart invests its money to get you on their site, it only does it because it earns more from your visit. When your network ties up with one operator, it is essentially like the taxi driver who takes you to the "cheapest hotel" and earns a commission for bringing you. You have nothing more than the driver's word that it is the cheapest.

If you are looking for a laptop and get an array of prices from Flipkart fast, while its competing sites will load agonizingly slow, chances are high that you miss finding the cheapest option, because you will be bored surfing slow sites while one blazing fast one is tantalizingly close. The difference in the laptop costs would probably buy you several data upgrades that could let you surf and find the best choice.

But I don't buy online.

How about Facebook (which has a history of offering user data to governments) being the only social network you can use because it is fast and even if you are willing to use a safer one, all your contacts are on Facebook, because it is fast.

What happens when you have to buy data packs and what looked like a FREE Facebook pack becomes a collection of 100MB packs each coming with something else free? One for WhatsApp, one for Google, another for youtube.... Would it be cheaper, really? It isn't cheap while you get the "free Flopkart" either. Only less visible, because you will easily use up the 100MB non-Facebook data and you're getting only one pack.

[tweetthis]Is "Free" really free? #NetNeutrality[/tweetthis]

What is the price we pay for free packs?
What is the price we pay for free packs?

Would the cheap packs still be free if you purchased them a-la-carte and added sites you use often one by one - for a price? You'd have to, because using them normally would give you the slow versions or be costly if you use them a lot. How many sites do you use in a month?

What if you are an activist or blogger?

If you get a whim to start a blog, you can just start one today. Without Net Neutrality, your blog would be like the tree that fell unseen, unheard - did you even make a blog if no one reads it? If people get bored waiting for it to load and find something better to do? This page loaded in 2 seconds. If it loaded in 8, would you have waited to read something that says "pay attention here"?

There are hundreds of blogs starting daily. Causes. Initiatives. Businesses. Someone finds a problem with degradation of environment in their area, starts a website to converge resources and information to fight it. Today, if you want to start a website, you buy a domain name that costs about Rs.300 for the first year and some webhosting space and you're in business. If you are like me, you already have a server and one domain name later, you add a new website to it. New initiative launched for a net cost of Rs.300 and some effort. What if all these people would be seen normally worldwide, but achingly slow in India, where their target audience is?

Or, the cost of starting a website just went up to Rs.300 + hosting + Airtel hafta + Idea hafta + Vodafone hafta...... 20 operators later, and most of your website running cost would be about PREVENTING artificial interference from driving away your visitors instead of whatever you are trying to do. Or, of course you can pray that all your visitors have the patience of a saint.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles="true"]Without #NetNeutrality most of the cost of website would be in preventing it being silenced by paying off providers[/tweetthis]

When the Net Neutrality debate was raging in the US, activists had organized a day when websites participating in the protest deliberately slowed down their websites to show people what the internet would be like without Net Neutrality. It was the 10th September - day after my son's birthday. I will remember it for a long time, because almost none of my visitors read a second page on any of the six blogs I had activated it on, on that day. From thousands of pageviews, that day was a few hundred. Who'd want to read another page on a site that just.wont.load? I did it deliberately. This would become my reality unless I was willing to shell out money for faster access.

There is a protocol coming up. Http/2. It is already released of sorts. Google and big sites implement it. By the end of the year, a very popular server called Nginx will be implementing it. Sites worldwide will become much, much faster. Except for sites that won't pay these middlemen - in India.

The Telecom industry has been showing huge profits.

This isn't about not being able to afford. It is about exploiting a ready resource for the profit of some cronies. I have said this before, during the debate on FDI and I say it now. We are not used to thinking of the Indian population as a national resource. Yet, if you can harness something that earns you a rupee from each Indian a month, you'll earn a cool 1.2 billion every month. Whether it is by opening the market so foreign companies can profit, or luring citizens to services you make deals with, so those services earn from it. And make no mistake, even if you buy nothing on Facebook, write nothing, even checking your notifications loads pages and earns Facebook ad revenues. Notice how the notifications are designed so that you can NEVER make out which post got the like from your friend till you actually click the link to find out. That's a page load.

I am not trying to be paranoid or even grudge anyone advertizing revenues. Only pointing out that your convenience is not the goal, the goal is revenue. But it wastes YOUR time. But other services that may be way more user friendly will not be able to compete with a network promoted by every telecom operator in the country. Even if you are willing to risk a slower network, people you network with will likely not.

In other words, this is a manipulation, and for all the claims of "giving Facebook free", as Rajesh Mathews put it, I have yet to come across a single free data pack on any mobile provider's website. You have to purchase data, and you get their crony for "free", which will be recovered from your hide in other ways.

Data is data. What you use it for is your business. When you purchase data, it is being sold because it is profitable selling it. The idea that existing data is not profitable and hence principles of equality must be ignored is discrimination and illegal.

The idea that there isn't enough spectrum and therefore existing services that are ALREADY MAKING MASSIVE PROFITS can hold India's internet hostage for their own windfalls is plain and ugly cronyism, if the government allows it.