This year too, our mandate to work at the intersection of ICTs and social change has required us to carry forward our multi-pronged strategy of shaping discourse, building alternative models and influencing policy.
Our task and outputs seem to move between the granular and the grand. Sometimes we find our efforts showing impact at the level of what Michel Foucault would call micro-local power. This could be a narrative, where dalit women belonging to the collectives who run information centres in a small, non-descript village in H.D. Kote block in Mysore district bargain for access to pre-school facilities, by undertaking a survey to show that their village does indeed have children eligible for such a public service. Or it could be one involving a mathematics teacher from the Karnataka public school system, who now explores ICTs in her teaching-learning, knowing that her own practices are not really about fanciful technological gizmos, but about her empowerment as the primary actor in the school system.
Last year, the Directors' report had observed how "..the coming together of the most powerful economic and political interests in the network society is bringing alive the most bizarre sci-fi predictions..... (and) presents the spectre of a global cyber control room where big business and the agents of the US government sit together, scrutinising and controlling the minutest details of our world, employing the new global neural system of ICTs". Snowden simply gave the world irrefutable proof of what was in fact already evident.
At another place, we seem to confront power as it is manifest in global space - at the forefront of debates, where global frameworks are made. In these often invisible sites where macro power entrenches itself through a flexible politics so characteristic of network society, we have continued to call the bluff. We have stood up and spoken against how the resources of global companies for 'women's empowerment' may indeed be tied to exploitative ideologies of global markets. We have attempted to add to the voices that caution against handing over the political reins of transformative change to business actors.
In the education and ICTs space we have broken ground in a paradigmatic sense. Nowhere else in the developing world is such a teacher-centric and collaborative content-based public education model being shaped, from below, through practice: a model that stands in direct opposition to the default - where 'ICTs for education' means corporate entities taking over educational ethos, process and content, invading the public education system, and brazenly reaping digital dividend through a privatisation of the public.
This year, to our existing work on networking teachers through online Subject Teacher Forums, we added a component on collaborative educational content for the public education system in the state of Karnataka. As new models are being built, we have earned the credibility to participate in several policy related committees at central and state government levels, where our learnings are directly influencing evolving policies on education.
In the global governance space, we have had to master the art of doing politics in a highly shifting geo-political landscape inhabited by a multiplicity of actors. As the global regime of command and control reproduces itself by tightening its grip over the territory of the global Internet, we have anticipated and decoded intent in the chaos (often perpetuated deliberately, by powers that be), mapping the actors and their ideologies. Knowing well that our battles against the state are for us to wage 'inside', we have, time and again, informed government negotiators from developing countries, enabling them to make sense of the diffuse discourse.
We are conspicuous at the global level for presenting a uniquely pro-South discourse that accounts for the slippery and often missing narrative of social justice in the depoliticised space of Internet governance. The Internet was coded as a global commercial market place through its founding documents written by the Clinton administration in the US. If it has to be reclaimed principally as a space of social collaboration and political claims-making, a foundational make-over of its constitutional political framework is necessary. One country and its vision of the universe cannot determine this future paradigm.
Our team in IT for Change's field unit Prakriye, has contributed to path-breaking modeling work. We have continued to experiment with a 'small world' network in the complex social environment of rural Mysore – working to strengthen marginalised women's influence in the local governance ecology. Our work with radio, video and information centres continues, and we have now added GIS, tablets and IVRS components in a new initiative that seeks to bring elected women in local panchayats together on a networking platform.
Our work in gender has been the most important in shaping discourse. It has served as a place-holder to show how ICTD as a discipline, needs to be, and can be, politicised. We have continued to learn from South-South collaborations, thus contributing to new vocabularies in this field and engaging with traditional, inter-disciplinary scholarship on gender, power and citizenship, nuancing the basics of traditional disciplines with the complexity of network society theory.
A key aspect that informs us as we go forward is that the time, to connect our work more deeply to existing civil society struggles and movements, has come. In the past, the ICT and development arena was largely a shadow-boxing space, with the realpolitik hidden behind a win-win techno-optimist facade. Now, internet politics is out in the open. Snowden has conclusively proven what many of us in this field knew earlier : that the Internet has lost its innocence. The battlelines are clearly drawn now. It is evident to many that the Internet can evolve into a mechanism of control – social, economic, political and cultural – or alternatively, as an egalitarian space for cherished freedoms. Today, many cutting edge progressive organisations that are fighting for justice, both nationally and globally, are joining hands with us in supporting and shaping our politics, embracing our work as critical to their agenda.
We would like to believe that the fragments that make our work, are equally about the everyday as also the historic. Coming back to Foucault, our work on the ground, where micro-power operates, continues to be as meaningful as the grand visions of global democracy that we are seeking to shape. We see both as part of the tapestry of the emerging network society.
The new context will require an adequate consolidation of progressive forces, something that has unfortunately not happened in a satisfactory manner, even though the Internet itself could be a potent platform for this. The promise of an open, participative and global Internet must be intertwined with the agenda of global justice. The struggles to democratise the technological regimes of today are critical to civil society. They also need to find place in the imaginations, deliberations and actions of other social movements and people's organisations.
We have been able to build a coalition of actors in India, simultaneously expanding the ambit of their struggles with respect to Right to Information, gender equality, accountable governance and more. The common agenda has been around the deployment of ICTs in the depoliticisation of governance and, the hand-over of key governance structures and processes, by the state to commercial entities, bypassing political institutions at the central, state and local government levels. For instance, we have begun a dialogue, in right earnest, on Government of India's move to transfer public data to private companies (through National Information Utilities), who will retain control over this data and rent it out to all of us. As the role of 'big data' becomes more and more significant, the political implications will become an issue across various socio-economic sectors in this country.
Over the next few years, IT for Change will also attempt closer engagements with social movements - not only so that people can use new technologies to their best advantage, but also because the lives and perspectives of those who may still be 'unconnected' can strongly influence the shape that digital space, as a vital determinant of our future social structures, is taking.
In attempting this creative confluence, we will need to learn from Dr. Vinod Raina, who dedicated his life to bridging policy discourse at the macro level with mass movements on the ground. His untimely demise earlier this month, has robbed us of an eminent intellectual-activist. He was among very few people who live by an ideological commitment to fight the deep structures of exclusion in society, whilst still managing to work with complete dedication and strategic vision to achieve real outcomes, the Right to Education Act and the People's Science Movement, being just two examples. We at IT for Change, take his life and work as an inspiration for what we have set out for ourselves to do, and dedicate this annual report in his memory.
IT for Change