Free Basics would impact online user behavior because “walled gardens” have lasting influence

(with Himanshu Gupta, @halfrebel

India has been fervently debating Free Basics, a restricted Internet services bundle that is managed by Facebook and provided for free on Reliance Telecom’s mobile network.

Indian civil society and academia are enraged as Free Basics goes against the basic tenets of net neutrality. It takes away people’s right to choose what they want to access, exposes them to a very limited set of web content and apps decided by Facebook, and potentially threatens the privacy of their personal data.

Facebook on the contrary argues that something is better than nothing, and sees Free Basics as a magic bullet for connecting the uninitiated to the world’s information superhighway. Besides promoting it as a philanthropic endeavour, Facebook claims that customers enrolled onto Free Basics eventually upgrade to the full Internet when they see how wonderful it is to be connected to the Internet. According to Facebook’s data, 40% of its Free Basics users so far have done so, which is primarily the reason why Reliance Telecom is funding the free data in the first place.

Even if we were to believe Facebook that people would migrate to the (paid) open access Internet, we believe Free Basics, in its current form, is a poor way of offering Internet access to India’s unconnected billion, with undesirable consequences.

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गयी भैंस पानी में…. : दाराब फ़ारूक़ी

इतने दिनों के बाद एक अति उत्तम हास्य व्यंग शैली में हिंदी लेख से मुलाकात हुई – ज़रूर पढ़े और फैलाएं !

KAFILA - 10 years of a common journey

Guest post by DARAB FAROOQUI

जी हाँ मैं भैंस हूँ और करीब 5000 साल से लगातार पानी में जा रही हूँ. जब भी किसी का कुछ भी बुरा हो रहा होता है तो हमेशा मुझे ही पानी में जाना पड़ता है. ना उस वक़्त मेरे नहाने की इच्छा होती और ना तैरने का मन. पर मुझे ना चाहते हुवे भी पानी में जाना पड़ता है.

तुम लोग कभी उस सफ़ेदमूही गाय को पानी में क्यों नहीं भेजते हो. और वैसे भी हम अल्पसंख्य हैं, हमसे कहीं ज्यादा गायें हैं भारत में. और शायद तुम्हे याद न हो, हमारे संविधान में सब बराबर हैं. पर इतना सब कुछ करने के बाद भी तुम लोगों ने हमें कभी अपना नहीं समझा. हमने क्या नहीं किया तुम्हारे लिये, तुम्हे अपने बच्चों का दूध दिया, तुम्हारे खेत जोते, तुम्हारे चूल्हे जलाये. कितने बलिदान दिए हमने पर तुम्हारे तो कान पर भैंस तक नहीं रेंगी.

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Here’s how not to capture India in a day

Ridley Scott is asking Indians to capture What they did on October 10 to create a reel of “India in a Day”. Scroll talks about it here . The article shows two Youtube videos. The first one is a concept explication. The second one (scroll down a bit) is “what exactly do they want!”.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/ed0HwXuRfGk“>

Will he able to?

I say this project will yield a very skewed slice of the country . The “urban, left liberal, yuppie anglophone” India. I say this because: See the videos explaining the concept and the example video where the implementing director (some American Desi) is asking people in his very American accent on what he wants them to do.

Watch here:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/EhXqMrqw0BU“>

I am all for people satisfying their creative pursuits. However, I would have appreciated some localization of this effort. Some attempt to make the request a better cultural fit with a wider cross-section of India.

The current video wont appeal to large masses of Indians with bilingual English proficiency. Because they train in English, not in “American”, and at least an American Desi should understand that, if not Ridley Scott.

Let’s wait to see what this turns out into.

The Interpretation of Gender and Unfair Advantages In Sport

Reflecting on how some female athletes are banned from competitive sport because of gender issues, the piece casts a larger question on what physical characteristics should be considered as creating unfair advantage in sport?

If you follow Indian Athletics, you would be familiar the name Duttee Chand, a promising sprinter, in the last couple of years swiftly rose into prominence to become the country’s best prospect in 100m and 200m. However this journey has been cut short as suspicion was raised on her gender. After a battery of tests it was found that she has more male hormones than is permissible to compete as a female. She needs further tests and possibly medical or surgical intervention before she can return to run. This is not the first time a female athlete in India has gone through this. Shanti Soundarajan (2006) and Pinki Pramanik (2012) are at least two other cases in the recent past.

Duttee is still a teenager and as this piece by Shivani Naik in Indian Express suggests, a huge pall of uncertainty glooms over her promising career.For instance, currently she is banned from International contests and is not competing in the ongoing Asiad, where she was expected to make her first big splash on the international scene. That was not be.

These cases raise a larger question. Why do we have such deterministic standards (based on physical characteristics) of what constitutes gender in sport? The manifestation of Gender as a neat dichotomous construct (Male or Female) is more of a social construction (Duttee or any of the other athletes I mentioned earlier were raised as females) than a scientific one. The latter is perhaps more fuzzy.

A further question is that of what constitutes unfair advantage in Sport? For instance height clearly signals an advantage in basketball and volleyball. Yet both these sports do not organize competition by height categories. Hence teams from “taller” [sic] nations have historically fared better.Yet, there are other sports that recognize the import of these advantages. Boxing and wrestling are clearly organized by weight categories. But perhaps all these respective sports look more spectacular because of this organization. We wouldn’t enjoy a basketball or volleyball game as much with shorter players.

Similarly, if women born with certain characteristics can run faster/better, why do we hold that as an unfair advantage? Is it different from being taller than others which lets one pocket more baskets than the rest or be better spikers?

Why Capitalism could fail under Narendra Modi?

Bulk of the rhetoric about Narendra Modi’s becoming the PM of India has centered around the Gujarat Riots and whether he is culpable or not. Or related, the incorporation of Hindu Hardliners into the mainstream under his governance.

His proponents argue that he should be supported because his approach to governance fosters “development”.  By enabling a favorable business environment (getting speedy clearances, shortening the red tape etc. ).  And this they argue is reason enough to give him a change to replicate for the country , the wonders he has done to Gujarat.

Now two articles by very illustrious economists hint at why the development argument for Modi may not play out as expected.

First in this piece Mihir Shah, a member of the planning commission explains why the argument that capitalism initially creates wealth disparity but slowly reduces this disparity is flawed. It is flawed because the conditions for that to happen (honest relationships and transactions between business, focus on state provision of education, healthcare) are not met.

How does Mihir’s piece this apply to Narendra Modi? Fair question. Read  SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN ‘s excellent piece to find out exactly why? Basically he argues that Modi in pursuing his pro-development capitalist agenda, violates the exact conditions under which capitalism fails to provide inclusive growth. 

Still want to vote for Mr Modi? Of course depends on what your idea of prosperity is.

When Hindi Heartland Encounters India’s Deep South.

Is the Modi Wave a hype after all? 

April 20, 2014: This is a photo from today’s Hindu from an election rally by BJP (India’s Hindu Nationalist Party) strongman Rajnath Singh in Tamil Nadu

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Review of Swaraj by Shekhar Gupta: A misplaced critique

Review of Swaraj by Shekhar Gupta: A misplaced critique

his critique of Swaraj by Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party by Shekhar Gupta (SG) of Indian Express centres around what historical source is more accurate in providing historical “facts”. The following quote from the article reflects Shekhar’s core problem with Arvind’s historically inspired solutions from ancient India.
“But learning ancient Indian history from Chandamama or Amar Chitra Katha (Swaraj even has sketches) is even more perilous than knowing Mughal history from watching Jodha Akbar. Particularly for grown-ups”

My critique of Shekhar, Arvind and many others including those on the center right of the Indian political spectrum is the relevance of this method. In other words, I accuse them of being too “stuck in the past”, rather too “stuck in thinking the past is relevant” given the tectonic shifts in social,political and economic structures of our society from ancient times. Yes it may be instructive to learn from certain mistakes/experiences of the past. But in romanticizing how functional ancient India was, it is very dangerous to draw on that romanticism to provide solutions for modern India. Wish SG had at pointed that out as the main problem, than questioning Arvind’s sources for stating his philosophy.