Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Friday, November 27, 2009

FOSS (free and open source software) for the comman man

The Maharashtra government recently announced a MOU with Microsoft Corporation ( to enhance the adoption of information, communication and technology in schools across the state. Government schoolteachers will be trained exclusively on its software products, with the government paying part of the training costs. Public funds will thus be used to promote a monopoly’s proprietary products, whereas the public good could be better served by training teachers on available equivalent FOSS (free and open source software) applications that are freely shareable. I also wish to debunk the popular impression among bureaucrats that they need to be neutral regarding proprietary software and FOSS, for FOSS is not merely a technology issue it has significant implications for equity and democracy in society.

The community and the corporate

Imagine a village that has a drinking water shortage. While there is a shop in the village that sells bottled (‘mineral’) water, it is obviously not within the reach of most villagers. A group of villagers has come together to dig a public tank that will provide water to all, treating it as a community resource. How should the government support the effort? Imagine if the government were to tell the villagers that it would need to be equidistant between the two sources of water -- the public tank and the bottled water -- and could not ‘discriminate’ between the two in providing its support. This would clearly be anti-people and unacceptable.

In actual practice too, government would support the community creation of public resources. Under the landmark National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) aimed at providing employment, the creation and maintenance of public waterbodies is a popular project. Government is unlikely to provide any direct support to the sale of bottled water, other than of course to regulate its sale. While the shop and the bottled water it sells do have their place in society there is little ambiguity that the government will support and participate in the community effort to provide clean drinking water through public tanks, and that it cannot take a ‘neutral’ stand on the two sources of drinking water.

Now let’s take the case of software, the basic resource that runs computers and the Internet and is at the core of information technology. On the one hand, we have proprietary software that is made available for ‘use’ on a ‘per use royalty’ basis. For every copy of the software purchased, a licence fee has to be paid. The buyer cannot make copies of the software (making copies is easy in the case of digital goods like software), even for his own use in multiple computers. On the other hand, we have free and open source software (FOSS, for short) which guarantees four freedoms:

1 Freedom to use the software.

2 Freedom to study the software (since the actual software program or source codeis publicly made available).

3 Freedom to modify.

4 Freedom to share/distribute.

Proprietary software does not provide the last three freedoms; the seller usually hides the source code. The word ‘free’in FOSS refers to these four freedoms, not to the cost being nil, although FOSS applications are often also available at no cost as they can be freely shared. Hence, like the community pond, FOSS is created by the people (produced by a community of software developers across the world volunteering their services for the public good), of the people (owned by society at large, not by private entities) and for the people (distributed freely to maximise public welfare).

Since FOSS applications are developed and maintained by communities of software developers working for the public good, their efforts require societal support, especially that of government. Governments must clearly support and adopt FOSS in order to promote the equitable and democratic spread of ICT.

Software as the building blocks of our information society

Comparing software to drinking water may strike one as a little far-fetched. But it is widely accepted that we live in an increasingly digital world in which software plays a critical role, whether in booking train tickets, banking, using search engines to get specific information, communicating with friends, use of the Internet by political parties and NGOs for their campaigns, participation of individuals in virtual professional and social networks, accessing public services over the Internet, etc. Software structures our social interactions and is increasingly important in knowledge-creation; hence its free and easy availability becomes essential to society. This would be even truer of software that runs personal computers -- our gateways to the information world. It’s in recognition of this that the Indian government has a programme (common service centres) that aims to provide Internet access through computers to 250,000 villages.

Governments therefore cannot afford to treat software as a mere technology issue and be ‘neutral’ to the dichotomies of proprietary applications and FOSS, ignoring their social, political, and economic dimensions.

There have been sporadic efforts by government and public institutions like NIC (which develops software for governments, often as FOSS), NRCFOSS (which works with educational institutions to adopt FOSS), CDAC (which has released GNU/Linux operating system distribution and the Open Office suite in Indian languages) to adopt and promote FOSS in India. The department of IT, Government of India, recently released ‘Draft Open Standards for eGovernance’, which provides an enabling environment for FOSS and emphasises free and open public standards. However, unlike many countries that have clearly declared national policies supporting the adoption of FOSS, India still has to take a firm stand on the issue.

Political parties

Political party support for FOSS is important as it can shift governments from their current ambivalent stand. Like most individuals and institutions, political parties have not put FOSS on their agenda, viewing software as largely an esoteric technology issue. The recent general elections made a break with this, with parties on both the left and right end of the political spectrum -- namely the CPM and the BJP -- announcing their support for FOSS. This is an appreciation not merely of the technical advantages of FOSS but also of the immense value for society from the principles of open and collaborative creation of knowledge and its critical role in a democracy.

The Indian left is a traditional supporter of FOSS. The Kerala government employs FOSS and even has a comprehensive policy for the adoption of FOSS across all public enterprises. The IT@Schools programme, which is ahead of similar attempts elsewhere in the country, is fully based on FOSS. The government also acknowledges that use of FOSS has saved Kerala crores of rupees and helped spread ICT in the state. The CPM’s election manifesto clearly supports “promoting FOSS and other such new technologies which are free from monopoly ownership…”.

Kerala and FOSS

The nature of adoption of FOSS in Kerala is worthy of emulation. It has been a participatory process involving teachers unions and civil society organisations collaborating with the state government. The actual ICT training has been taken up by teacher-training institutions themselves which are responsible for building the capacities of a large number of teachers within the government system. This ‘integrated’ model of ICT training has led to it becoming deeply embedded within the education system. Other states use the ‘outsourcing’ model in which the training of teachers and students is taken up by technology vendors whose core competency is not education. Here, even after years of hand-holding under public-private partnership models, most teachers view the programme as external to the school; it therefore does not become institutionalised. This is unfortunate as the public education system has strong teacher education structures at the district, block and cluster levels. Unlike Kerala, other states have not used these to build the capacities of teachers to use computers and integrate computer-aided learning into the mainstream learning process at schools.

Increasingly, the growth and development of language will depend on its digital presence. The dominance of English has increased since most knowledge on the Internet is in that language. For example, the popular ‘free’ encyclopaedia on the Internet -- Wikipedia -- has more than 27 lakh articles in English whereas Hindi has around 25,000! FOSS has helped the spread of ‘Malayalam computing’ in Kerala, as local enterprises and schools become more familiar with FOSS applications and start making software modifications and extensions. FOSS is also slowly helping develop FOSS-based enterprises in the state.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party in the last and current Parliament, released an IT ‘vision document’as part of its election campaign. The document suggests that the government standardise open standardsand open sourcesoftware. The document also recognises the role of FOSS in active promotion of the domestic IT industry. Overall, the document seeks a departure from the current largely market-driven investment by providing access to the nascent information society, to public policy, a public investment-driven one which seeks universal access and participation, with special provisions for the marginalised. The document also emphasises the role of such investments in providing socio-economic impetus in the current recessionary scenario.

The Congress manifesto, on the other hand, made no mention of FOSS and was itself in the .doc format which is a proprietary format, meaning information on this format is not publicly available. When a society uses a proprietary format to store its own knowledge, it can be dangerous. If the vendor is not available or willing to support the specific proprietary format (which happens, as newer releases of software and document formats are made available by the same vendor), the knowledge and cultural resources of society, which belong to everyone, are lost. Also, the use of proprietary formats often compels users to buy the next software upgrade even if they do not need it, simply because older applications do not open the document formats of newer versions.

It is a moot question whether forcing voters to buy expensive proprietary software to read its manifesto is aligned to the party’s espoused support for the aam-aadmi!


This kind of indifference is also typical of bureaucrats in most states. Bureaucrats, especially those in the IT or e-governance ministries, espouse ‘neutrality’ between FOSS and proprietary software even though many of them accept the fact that governments could save crores of rupees by adopting FOSS at least on the large number of personal computers they buy. They also insist that users in government departments should ‘choose’ what they are ‘comfortable with’. It is obvious that ‘comfort’ comes primarily from usage, and, being conditioned to proprietary software, users may find FOSS alternatives difficult at first. In a developing country, spending crores of rupees of public funds on proprietary software when FOSS equivalents are freely available is an avoidable waste and a clear violation of the ‘least cost’ principle that governments usually follow in their procurements.

A second kind of ‘neutral’ response from bureaucracy is to ask FOSS supporters to provide software on the same terms as do proprietary software vendors. Typically, the bureaucrat will demand the same kind of support across the entire state as the large technology vendor provides, saying: “X company can provide free training for the next one year; what can you do?” The problem with this expectation is that while the proprietary software vendor will have the necessary resources (acquired through software licence fees) to make support available immediately, it is harder for the other side to comply.

Once it is set up, though, FOSS provides benefits that are exponentially greater than the cost of establishment. The system has immense economic (both in terms of reduced software procurement and support costs and in promoting the establishment of FOSS SMEs --small and medium enterprises -- that provide local employment and entrepreneurship), social (supporting local collaborations) and political (reducing government dependence on specific vendors, many of whom are transnational) benefits. Kerala has consciously opted for this route of creating a FOSS environment and is already benefiting from both lower costs of setting up ICT infrastructure and spawning local SMEs that use FOSS.

Support to small-scale industry

Since FOSS-based enterprises do not license software but provide training and support services, they tend to be much smaller than proprietary companies that earn significant licence fees. While India’s policy has always been to support small and medium enterprises and give them preferential treatment over large industries, in the case of software government tenders often impose huge minimum limits of turnover which favour large companies over SMEs. Such high floor limits are inequitable and unjust; it is the government’s responsibility to promote FOSS SMEs and regulate restrictive trade practices that large technology monopolies indulge in with impunity (such as ‘persuading’ hardware companies to bundle only their software products with the hardware, ‘dumping’ their software at low or zero prices when they fear competition from FOSS). The irony is that the same bureaucrat who strongly supports community pond-building/maintenance as a secretary in the panchayati raj department, or favours small-scale industry as a secretary in the industries department, will insist on remaining neutral when it comes to proprietary software and FOSS, as IT or e-governance department secretary, ignoring the government’s duty in protecting the common good.

Bottlenecks in the adoption of FOSS

Our own research efforts indicate two bottlenecks in the adoption of FOSS. The first is basic awareness about FOSS itself. Though many people have heard of Linux, most technology users are unaware of the philosophy behind FOSS, its practical benefits and the various FOSS alternatives available today. The government therefore needs to popularise the adoption of FOSS, which can be done by supporting FOSS awareness and promotion campaigns just as there are government campaigns for polio vaccinations or literacy or consumer rights. FOSS is basically public software, and itneeds public/governmental support as much as public health and public education do.

The second obstacle is the apprehension that FOSS represents na├»ve idealism and does not work at a practical level. While it is true that FOSS applications are not available in all areas, requiring some governments to procure proprietary software, this is not the case with respect to most basic software applications including those that are on personal computers. Large organisations in the public and private sectors use FOSS. LIC has been using a GNU/Linux operating system for years, and several large banks like ICICI Bank are employing Open Office. A number of engineering colleges too use the GNU/Linux operating system and FOSS applications as these may be studied and customised by students in computer science programs. FOSS applications are used in several high-end applications as well, and most Internet applications are powered by the FOSS quartet ‘LAMP’ (Linux operating system/Apache Web Server/MySQL database/PHP scripting language). Millions of people use GNU/Linux (Ubuntu is becoming more and more popular) and Open Office for their desktops, instead of proprietary alternatives. Apart from the basic office automation software, Ubuntu GNU/Linux (and other GNU/Linux distributions) comes bundled with thousands of FOSS applications that are not available freely with proprietary operating systems, such as those for image editing, audio-video editing, PDF file editing, etc.

With regard to the second apprehension, the adoption of FOSS in the public sector would help break the myth of ‘non-usability’ and encourage more people to adopt it. For a start, all government websites could be developed in a way that they can be accessed by FOSS web browsers without any problem (in many cases, government websites work well only with Microsoft Internet Explorer which is a proprietary software application). Using document formats that are not proprietary would also support greater use of FOSS applications. Government should stipulate FOSS in their computer procurements and IT projects, acquire the source code and release it as FOSS to society. FOSS is not only a technical or technology issue, it is also a political one. Political parties seeking to represent people’s aspirations and interests must come out clearly in favour of adopting and promoting FOSS. Bureaucrats in the IT, e-governance and other ministries must use the same principles in their technology policies as they do in other developmental spaces, and promote FOSS on socio-political and economic grounds.

By Gurumurthy Kasinathan is with IT for Change, an NGO in Special Consultative Status with United Nations’ Economic and Social Council. He uses the following FOSS applications on his computer:

Ubuntu GNU/Linux 8.04 (operating system). Open Office 3.1.0 (office automation). Mozilla Firefox 3.0.10 (web browser). Mozilla Thunderbird (email client). VLC player (media player), GIMP image editor ( photo editing),PDFEdit 0.3.2 (PDF editing, which is normally not available on Windows machines), pidgin (chatting), K3B (burning CDs and DVDs) etc.

For more information on the sociocultural, political and pedagogical dimensions to FOSS, visit


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Interpreter of dreams

For 80-year-old Ramnika Gupta from Jharkhand, allowing voices to be heard that are rarely heard and yet have a lot to say, has resulted in a mission to hunt out and publish the works of tribal and dalit writers.

Thanks to her efforts over the years, several collections of dalit and tribal poetry, short stories, and books have been published. The magazine she founded Yudhrat Aam Admi has featured the works of many tribal and dalit writers. The All India Tribal Literary Forum, also her baby, is one of very few forums for tribal literature. And the Ramnika Foundation works for the emancipation of the underprivileged in several areas -- from education to legal assistance, research, cultural preservation and material assistance.

Is it really necessary to have a separate dalit/tribal genre of literature? Ramnika Gupta’s answer is to quote from a poem by Vahru Sonwane, a tribal poet of Maharashtra:

We never went on stage that was made in our name,

They did not invite us They pointed with their finger And showed us our place We sat there They appreciated us They were narrating to us Our own vows and sorrows Which were ours and never theirs We had some doubts We murmured They heard us attentively and sighed They twisted our ears and said- Apologise... or you will be...” “It is for this reason that tribal and dalit literature is required,” Gupta says. But the two literatures are very different. The dalits are landless and do not have their own language. Their literature is written in Hindi and other languages. They are victims of caste oppression and untouchability even today and hence have not developed self-respect; many are still engaged in occupations considered unclean. “They belong to the pancham varg of society, where the so-called upper castes do not take water from their hands,” Gupta says.

The adivasis or tribals, on the other hand, belonged to the forests which began to be taken away from them following British rule. Tribal-inhabited lands are rich in minerals so the pressing issues confronting them today are displacement and migration in search of livelihood. They have a rich language and culture, but today their very identity and existence are in peril.

Gupta says there are 90 known tribal languages in the country, of which she has been able to document 27 so far. “A literature that encapsulates a history of at least 3-4,000 years, a wonderful diversity with abundance of communities, and which is composed in 90 languages doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world – neither in American Black literature, nor Australian nor Negroid. It is a unique chapter in the history of world literature,” she says.

Though this multi-lingual tribal literature has been preserved through an oral tradition for 5,000 years, the written form of tribal literature is barely 100-125 years old, starting with the script of the regional language of the area. Christian missionaries who came to the tribal states took an interest in learning the language and began documenting tribal culture and history in English.

Gupta emphasises language because the language revolution can be really powerful in fighting the tyranny of the ruling class.

“Our main aim and agenda is to generate the socio-cultural forces that are necessary for bringing about an attitudinal change in people’s outlook to the victims of socio-cultural injustice, especially tribals, dalits and even women. For this, it is very essential that victims of injustice, exploitation and discrimination come forward and assert their voice in unison. To do this it is also essential that they shake off the inferiority complex they have developed over centuries of suppression and subjugation. It is also necessary that they fight for their self-respect and identity,” Gupta says.

The need to focus on indigenous literature, Gupta says, is “because we wanted to stop the prevalent practice of non-tribals speaking, writing and representing them, without caring what the tribals actually want, think, dream or plan. So we started a reverse process, ie the victims of injustice and discrimination should speak for themselves and assert what type of change they want to promote. Their literature may not have the conventional aesthetics, but it is grounded in reality, it is their voice, their struggle, their pain and anguish that are penned by them, as they see it.”

Tribal literature has always existed as an oral tradition, but when it is written down, the culture is documented, the history and trends are recorded and it is not lost, infiltrated, and imposed on by outsiders, Gupta explains.

“I got a chance to interact with a large cross-section of downtrodden society (dalits). I began collecting their works; their writings were stark depictions of their struggles, the pathos of discrimination, the trials and tribulations of their life. This led to the birth of the magazine Yudhrat Aam Admi in 1986,” Gupta says, describing the genesis of her interest.

In 1997, she formed the Ramnika Foundation which promoted, among other things, the literature of dalits. In 2002, the All India Tribal Literary Forum (AITLF) was formed with Dr Ram Dayal Munda, Sangeet Natak Academy awardwinner and eminent academician from Jharkhand, as president. AITLF has since been holding regular conferences across the country to mobilise tribal and dalit writers and collect their works, many of which are published in Yudhrat Aam Admi.

This quarterly magazine has become a gateway of expression for numerous tribal and dalit writers across the country. It publishes work in the original language and in Hindi translation, thus bringing a subaltern literature into the national limelight. Poems, stories, lyrics, novels and other literary forms from writers and poets of the north-eastern states, Jharkhand, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and other states, get exposure and are themselves exposed to outside critique.

The conferences organised by AILTF not only take these little-known writings into the outside world, they also discuss important tribal and dalit issues. These include a clearly drawn up 12-point agenda which includes highlighting the unjust development policies of the government which cause displacement and migration; denigration of tribal scriptures by mainstream languages; education in the mothertongue; change of curriculum in schools and colleges and introduction of tribal and dalit literature.

Yudhrat Aam Admi’s print-run of 2,500 is quickly sold out. The translations into Hindi are done by Gupta’s friends including Akil Quis and Pramila Garg of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and by Gupta herself. Often the authors do a basic translation in Hindi or English, which is then perfected by professionals such as Suresh Sahil and Madan Kashyap.

The material published in Yudhrat Aam Admi is now considered basic reference material for research work on dalit and tribal literature, which is carried out by several universities in the country such as Ranchi University, in Jharkhand, Cochin University in Kerala, Nagpur University, Central University and Osmania University in Hyderabad, and Arunachal University.

The excellent response to the magazine emboldened Gupta to compile the writings and publish them as books: Dalit Chetna is a collection of 41 poems, Chetna Kahani showcases the literary talent of 28 writers. Dalit Chetna Soch and Dalit Chetna Sahitya followed.

The AITLF has concentrated on different languages and language centres. Thus there is the Telegu Sahitya Me Dalit Dastak and the Gujarati Sahitya Me Dalit Kadam etc.

Four hundred dalit and tribal writers have been featured in a series of special issues between 1995 and 2000, surely a first of its kind.

“Our success story inspired the Indira Gandhi National Open University to start a post-graduate course in Dalit Literature,” Gupta says. Equally successful were the endeavours of the forum in the north-eastern states. A special issue on the North-East, ‘Purvottar Ka Adivasi Swar – Vichar Khand’, showcased the work of 60 writers in 13 languages of the region. A directory of 105 writers from the north-eastern states has been published in two volumes.

In 2002, the Sahitya Akademi joined hands with AITLF to host the first major tribal literary conference in New Delhi. This was followed by conferences in association with Kannad University in Tami Nadu, the Vinoba Bhave University, Hazaribagh, and others across the country.

“These writers across the country need to be honoured and felicitated for their work,” Gupta points out. To this end, the Ramnika Foundation Samman selects writers from the remote hinterlands and awards them for their creative writing. In this way new talent has been unearthed -- Nirmala Putul from Jharkhand went on to bag the Kendriya Hindi Sansthan Award, and the National Youth Award besides the Bharat Adivasi Samman award given by the Ramnika Foundation in collaboration with the National Book Trust in 2005, for her powerful Santhali writing.

In Nagare Ki Tarah Bajte Hain Shabad (Words Resound Like Drums), a collection of poems, Putul counterpoises her tribal world with the 'developed' and modern world. Her poetry questions the whole notion of 'development' and 'progress' in modern civilisation. Her poetry is very musical and full of imagery drawn from nature. They describe the agony of being belittled by an ‘educated’ and ‘cultured’ society and the consequent feeling of helplessness. Her poetry compels the reader to empathise with the angst of a dying ethnic group.

This year, the Ramnika Foundation in association with AITLF honoured 12 tribal artistes from across the country in the state capital of Jharkhand.

Among those honoured was Vijoya Sawiyan, a noted writer in Khasi and English. Her stories are about the life and culture of the Khasis of the northeast. The Family Secret and Other Stories is a collection of 11 short stories about contemporary life amongst the Khasis of Meghalaya. She is currently working on a novel, Men in the Shadows, based on the present situation in the turbulent northeast. Her other published works include three books of translations from Khasi into English -- The Teachings of Elders, Popular Khasi Folk Tales and About One.

Vahru Sonwane is the first modern poet from the Bhil community of Maharashtra. His poems depict the hunger, pathos and struggle of Bhil society. His collection of poems Godhar which has been translated into Hindi is a window into the trials and tribulations of his community.

Bhagwan Das, a lawyer by profession, was born into a dalit family in Himachal Pradesh. He has written 20 books revolving mainly around untouchability, human scavengers, human rights, and social disparity. ‘Main Bhangi Hoon’ (I Am a Scavenger), amongst his best works, is a vivid portrayal of the harsh realities of his community, aglow with his wrath against centuries of social oppression:

“Yes, my family name is Bhangi,” he wrote in Hindi. “Today, I want to narrate my story. My story in my words. Who would have narrated it? Nobody ever wrote anything about us. We are on the last rung of the social ladder – dustbins, where the filth and dirt are disposed.”

“The Foundation has instilled confidence in dalits and tribals,” Bhagwan Das says. “They take pride in their culture and language – this is the Foundation’s biggest contribution.” He has been awarded the Birsa Munda Samman by the Ramnika Foundation this year.

Sushila Takbhore was honoured with the Savitri Bai Phule Samman this year. One of her poems, Gaali (abuse), translated into Hindi, reads:

“Vafa ke naam par, apne aap ko ek kutta kaha ja sakta hai…magar kutia nahi, kutia shabd sunkar hi lagta hai, yah ek gaali hai… kya isliye ki wah stri varg me aata hai…?”

(In the name of loyalty, one may call himself a dog… but not a bitch… the very utterance of the word makes it appear as an abuse… is it because it belongs to the feminine race..?)

Ramnika Gupta’s empathy with the downtrodden began early. “I have been a rebel since my childhood and began to write from the age of 14, when I penned my first poems,” she recalls. “I questioned untouchability and the existence of God, defying the prevalent traditions and customs, particularly on gender and caste.”

Her first book, Geet-Ageet, (1962) is a collection of poetry on the Chinese aggression in the 1960s, nature, love, and patriotism. She began her career as a trade union leader, forming the Koyla Sramik Sangh in 1969 in the coal-belts of south Bihar (now Jharkhand), initially affiliated to Hind Mazdoor Panchayat, and later Hind Mazdoor Sabha. She fought for the cause of coal workers, braving attacks from the private mine owners and contractors, particularly in the Hazaribagh region, during the pre-nationalisation era. She was the CPM’s candidate from Mandu in the 1979 assembly polls, and won.

However she drifted away from politics after she suffered a heart attack in 1987. Also the changing political values made it difficult for her to work and gradually she came closer to the literary world. An ace writer herself, she has 67 books to her credit and is the recipient of the Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Award.

Her literary institution is run largely with the support of her children who are settled in the United States and Canada. Her pension of Rs 12,000, and Rs 100,000 free travel that she gets as part of her entitlements as a former MLA, are used for the cause.

Yet, in the twilight of her life, Ramnika Gupta is far from satisfied with her considerable achievements. “There are 600 tribal languages in our country of which only 90 languages have so far been written down. Our Forum aims to scout for more talent from the nooks and corners of the country,” says the indefatigable chronicler of marginal cultures.

By Moushumi Basu , a freelance journalist based in Jharkhand


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Neem, garlic and green chillies: Recipe for a bumper crop

“The atmosphere’s heat trapping burden (has come) not just through emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel… but also from another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. More than four-fifths of these emissions are from agriculture, from the use of chemical fertilisers.”

-- State of the World Population 2009. Facing a Changing World: Women Population and Climate

Today, organic farming is not just the ‘in thing’, it’s also paying. Ask Veera Narayana who has farmed both the ‘chemical way’ and the ‘organic way’. Till 2004, Narayana (41) and his two brothers did what every farmer was doing on their nine acres of irrigated land in Korivipalli village -- feeding the crops tonnes of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP). “We spent around Rs 10,000 on an acre of watermelon,” he says. And it worked initially -- returns were nearly double the input.

Narayana’s village in Singanamala mandal (mandals are administrative blocks) of Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh belongs to the rain-shadow Rayalaseema region that is arid, treeless and made up of poor red soil. It boasts an annual average rainfall of just 553 mm.

Even as farmers began to rely more and more on chemical farm additives, the frequency of drought increased from every alternate year to an annual crisis. In eight out of the 10 years from 1997-98 to 2007-08, all 63 mandals were declared drought-affected (government of Andhra Pradesh’s Handbook of Statistics 2007-08, Anantapur district).

Farmers borrowed from private moneylenders at monthly interest rates ranging between 2 and 5% to buy fertiliser and pesticides, and to drill deep borewells to water their fields. With crops failing year after year, the region began reporting farmer suicides as early as the 1970s.

In July 2000, Narayana applied DAP to his watermelon creepers that were just opening into three leaves. Days passed and still there was no rain; the plants wilted. A desperate Narayana would carry water in a 16 kg tin container from an open well and ration a mug for each plant, hoping against hope that the rains would come and save his plants. But there was no rain for three weeks. July ran into August and still the sun bore down relentlessly. That year, Narayana and his brothers incurred heavy losses.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) -- the United Nations body responsible for stemming the spread of deserts -- says that about 6 million hectares of productive land around the world have been lost every year since 1990, as land becomes degraded and less fertile. An estimated 135 million people are presently at risk of being driven from their lands because of continuing desertification that can reduce productivity in some regions by as much as half. The UN estimates that, over time, more than 1 billion people and one-third of the earth’s surface will be threatened by mostly creeping desertification. The Convention now has 191 signatories; India is one of them.

“Something had to give, or we have to give in somewhere… this cannot go on,” said a worried Narayana. In 2004, the 13-NGO network Anantha Paryavarana Parirakshana Samithi (APPS) staged a street play in his village on the ill-effects of chemical fertiliser and pesticides, and that home-made alternatives could be the answer in low rain areas. The APPS calls it non-pesticide management (NPM). The farmers enjoyed the play but went home laughing at its message. “If the most toxic of chemical pesticides, Monoprotophos (a phosphate-based insecticide), was not able to kill the stubborn red-haired caterpillar, the worst enemy of the groundnut farmer in this region, how could a home-made concoction of neem (Azadirachta indica), garlic and green chillies kill it?!”

But Narayana decided to give it a try. His brothers admonished him: “Has your brain taken leave of your head? Do it if you insist, on your portion of the land.”

“If it does not work then it won’t be the first time I’ll lose my crop,” Narayana replied. “But it will be less investment down the drain.” He started organic farming on one acre, following the instructions of APPS organic farming co-coordinator Hanumantha Reddy word for word.

Read in detail:

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Karmayog: unique free platform for concerned citizens (social and civic issues)


A world where every person can and does contribute to it’s constant improvement.


To improve our world by connecting citizens, civil society organisations, media, corporates, and government officials and organisations by online and offline methods

A desire to understand the concept of Karmayog as per the Bhagavad Gita led Vinay Somani to begin on 25th June 2004. Karmayog is, however, not a site on spirituality.

All of us have the ability and desire to help others. The problem is how to find who we can support or how to enable them to find us.

Nonprofits are doing fantastic work and even a little support can multiply their effectiveness. The problem for them too is how to find those who can help.

All these led to the idea of this website in which we could use our experience on the internet gained from our main activity - - a building stone industry site. / are free platforms for the Indian nonprofit sector, & for addressing civic issues in Mumbai.

Nonprofits can provide information about themselves & their needs through an individual, free 'website' that is formed on registration. Through this, NGOs can display their profiles, events & job vacancies & ask for volunteers, materials, services and funds.

Citizens & corporates can list the availability of their time, talent, materials, services, money, & indicate their interest in supporting particular types of projects & nonprofits. Karmayog lists 1000+ nonprofits in Mumbai & 3000+ in the rest of India.

Karmayog also provides a platform for you to share your work, ideas and concerns via a discussion group of 5500+ members, and a 28000 email group.

Since January 2005, Karmayog also carefully selects a "Nonprofit of the Month". The idea is to facilitate people to make small donations to good NGOs identified by a credible, neutral, third-party. This also helps small NGOs in finding new supporters.

Karmayog has also begun a sector-mapping exercise. The idea is to map the capacity and capability of each sector in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai with a brief note on their capacity, activities and services. We will also put together a Resource list for each sector. We hope this would help beneficiaries and their families, volunteers, funding agencies, policy makers, and NGOs themselves to use Karmayog as a starting base for their various initiatives.

Karmayog began with the hearing-challenged sector. It's people visited most of the deaf schools and connected NGOs to profile them and put their data on the website for free access by parents, beneficiaries, donors, etc. Lists of material providers e.g. hearing aid suppliers, and of service providers e.g. ENT hospitals, surgeons & doctors, were also compiled and posted on the website. A well-attended meeting was organised for everyone connected with the sector. Many interacted for the first time!

Karmayog also holds networking meetings of NGOs and supporters in various areas. Meetings have been held at Byculla and Fort.

When the tremendous rains hit Mumbai on 26th July, Karmayog played a very valuable role in helping relief and rehabilitation efforts. On 27th July itself, Karmayog set up a flood resource website which included needs and offers of materials, services, volunteers and money. The flooding crisis in Mumbai showed that there is no established way for the Government authorities (or for anyone else, including NGOs themselves,) to interact easily with a group through which information to and from NGOs could be conveyed.

Karmayog took the lead in forming an NGO-coordination committee duly recognised by and working with the BMC. And the website became the nodal point for flood reports and feedback from & to NGOs.

Karmayog then took the initiative to set up a formal NGO Council comprising more than 60 leading NGOs representing the breadth and depth of the NGO sector. The objective is for NGOs to be included in Government program and policy planning, as well as implementation and delivery of Government services to the public. This initiative is being well-recieved. Karmayog is the Convening NGO of the NGO Council, that has entered into an MoU with the MCGM to collaborate on civic issues. is thus evolving into two broad directions:
a) an internet platform for nonprofits and supporters to inform about themselves and their needs / offers
b) a ngo - citizen - government interface which can enable a holistic view of the various problems that society faces is an initiative of the Shri R. O. Somani Charitable Trust which is a trust duly registered with the Charities Commissioner, having 80 G registration.

It is currently funded by Vinay's personal resources.

Services by Karmayog:

- seek advice on personal or consumer problems
- donate or receive books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, toys, etc.
- share views & news with a 44,000+ discussion group & media
- learn via 80,000+ pages in 350+ resource sections
- donate to 18,000+ NGOs listed by cause, location & rating
- comment on CSR ratings of 1000+ companies
- contact 2000+ volunteers, 700 service providers, 500 donors
- get free website with templates
- manage websections or forums
- announce events to 2,00,000+ people
- complain about corruption & to BMC
- find emergency & government contacts
- volunteer or offer services, materials, jobs
- see all Government acts & schemes

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Indian green lessons for the West

Ahead of next month's climate change negotiations in Copenhagen there's a lot of anger in India about the West's pressure on it to sign up to emissions cuts. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder travelled to India's most industrialised state, Gujarat, to see at first hand some very effective - if homegrown - attempts at tapping renewable energy.

In the middle of an open field, a man crouches over some cow dung and uses two pieces of metal to scrape up large amounts of it before deftly depositing it into a pan.

He then transports this to a large biogas plant - essentially made up of three silos sunk into the ground and connected via an intricate maze of pipes to a large collection bin in which the cow dung is collected.

This is where the dung is mixed with water and fermented to create gas, which is then piped to a large temple next door, the Jagganath temple in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's biggest and most polluted city.

The temple uses the gas to cook food for 1,000 pilgrims every day.

Thick smog

The biogas plant is often showcased by the government of Gujarat to emphasise its commitment to green energy.

Rajiv Gupta is a senior official who co-ordinates Gujarat's headline grabbing climate change initiatives.

"We have been emphasising on renewable energy, we have been emphasising more on solar and wind energy, and we have been taking a number of measures that probably were not thought of also, let alone being taken, in the West, 25, 30, 40 or 50 years ago," he says emphatically.

"See, ultimately every development, wherever it takes place, has certain costs. Our effort has been to reduce those costs to the bare minimum."

But despite the drive to create a greener state, temple kitchens powered by cow dung are not the norm in Ahmedabad - it's a city of chimney stacks and thick smog, where you get the impression that "climate change" is still unknown to most people.

But in the city's schools there's a definite sense that this may be changing.

Grade seven at the Rachana school could be straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, the girls and boys huddled together inside a grim classroom, lit by a solitary fluorescent bulb with paint peeling off the walls.

But what's surprising is that the students here are not just being taught maths or physics, they're being given a lesson on climate change.

'Colonial nightmares'

"This is actually a national programme and it goes to 200,000 schools," says Kartikeya Sarabhai, who designed it.

One of Gujarat's most passionate Greens, he's a bit like an Indian Al Gore. So it's surprising to learn that he is bitterly opposed to India signing up to emissions cuts at Copenhagen.

"I think that pressure from outside is negative. Having a Western country come and monitor us is taking us back to colonial nightmares. And you must realise that we've come out of colonialism and that we are a proud country," he says.

It's not just the adults - after class, I discover that even 12-year olds resent the way they are being singled out by the West.

"I think in USA they use more appliances and vehicles than us," says one boy.

"They use more electricity, they always use their vehicles to travel small distances. We use public services like buses but they don't use all this," says a girl.

As dusk approaches, a thick smog settles on Ahmedabad and the green activist Kartikeya Sarabhai drives me into a teeming shanty-town of densely packed tin shacks.

Women dressed in colourful saris hunch over stoves, cooking dinner while half-naked children play on top of a rubbish dump. Looming large behind them are three giant chimneys from a coal-fired power plant, belching thick black smoke into the air.

It's a perfect illustration of the dilemma that India finds itself in - to improve the lives of its poorest it needs to develop further and in the process build more carbon-emitting thermal plants among others.

But Mr Sarabhai believes that there are other solutions and the answers may well lie in the slums.

"You need to look beyond the squalor and see how efficiently they live their lives," he says as he takes me on a tour.

Most of the houses, he explains, are built from broken bricks, tiles, stones which have been left over from construction sites.

"They dry their clothes on the roof and in the process cool their homes. They live close to their workplace," he explains.

"Sometimes poverty offers us the most creative solutions. You don't have to waste to grow rich."

It's a message that India will take to Copenhagen - that the answer to low-carbon growth lies in homegrown solutions.

And rather than being told what to do by the West, they could actually offer the world some expertise of their own.

Courtesy :

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Right every Wrong Conclave and Karmaveer Puraskaar 2009

Dear Friends,

iCONGO is organising the 4th RIGHT every WRONG conclave on 27th November at Lok Kala Manch, Lodi Road, New Delhi, in partnership with NNFI, PPI, Project Vijay, National Foundation for Communal Harmony ( an autonomous body under the Ministry of Home Affairs) and various other partners. The Summit will be Co-Chaired by an eminent group of thought leaders from India and abroad.

‘Confronting The Challenge of Combating Corruption And Related issues’, the theme of this year's programme, places particular emphasis on the role of citizen action in this context.

As is the case with many developing nations, Corruption is rampant and widespread in India. Criminalization of the Indian Politics is a problem. Talking tough alone will not yield any results unless the deep rooted causes of corruption are identified and treated. Hereby, our endeavour is to get an insight into what evil rests in our judicial and political system. So here is an opportunity for all of us to understand our responsibilities, voice our thoughts and do our bit in giving our nation the future it deserves.

Various thought leaders from civil society, business and government, as well as socially conscious reporting press from major international and Indian media organizations, will be joining us for the event.

We would be delighted if you could participate in the conclave workspace by participating and giving your feedback and suggestions on creating a corruption free system to make India a truly world class and greatest democracy where people have the power to be and lead the change. More details and conclave brochure are on

Bursaries available for deserving students and Civil society leaders. For details and registrations please refer to the attached mailer or contact

Snigdha Narain- Mobile: +91 9711773625, Email:

Please also join us for the KARMAVEER PURASKAAR awards ceremony on 26th November, at IILM Auditorium, Lodi Road, New Delhi

Thanking You


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Office Furnitures Required for Senior Citizens center near Mumbai

Dear Friends,
It our pleasure to inform you that we at Silver Inning Foundation are in process to start Center for Senior Citizens, created for inclusion of those isolated and lonely Elderly to a relatively healthy, and independent Elderly Community and to make them feel needed, dignified and self worthy .

Silver Inning Foundation Senior Citizens Center will start tentatively in next 15 day in western suburb of Mumbai at Mira Road.

For this purpose we need new / second hand (good condition) following items:
1) Two full size godrej type storewell cupboard for storing files and documents
2) Twenty Nilkamal type plastic chair with arm rest
3) Two Computers in good working condition for computer training
4) Two computer tables
5) Two Library racks to store books -upto 6 feet height
6) Library books - Hindi ,Marathi, Gujarati , English
7) One Water Filter
8) One music system
9) One projector

Donation in Kind and Material are welcome.Let us know in which way you can support.

We request your support for the cause of our Elderly.


Warm Regards,
Sailesh Mishra
Founder President - Silver Inning Foundation

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Action Aid India requires Country Director: Apply

ActionAid India is a member of ActionAid International working in the country since 1972. ActionAid India is governed by its national Board and General Assembly composed of a cross section of committed people from a broad spectrum of Indian society.

ActionAid together with it partners works with the communities, organizations and movements of excluded and poor people to eradicate poverty and ensure human rights and justice. ActionAid’s current focus of work is on the issues of Right to Food, Right to Education, Right to Human Security, Right to Health and Right to Housing.

ActionAid's operations in India are spread over 12 regional offices across 24 states and 1 Union Territory. With a core staff of 200, it works with over 100 long-term NGO partners reaching out to a population of over 10 million people to achieve its mission.

We are looking for a visionary and strategic leader who will lead the development and implementation of a bold new strategy for the next generation work in India as well as contribute to the development and impact of ActionAid’s work internationally. The successful candidate will lead in thought and action, be committed to social justice and rights of the poor and excluded people and will influence public policies and opinion. She/he will ensure growth and development of the donor and supporter base in the country to support ActionAid’s work.

Qualified development professionals across multiple sectors ranging from NGO, academia, government and corporate are invited to apply. Applicants should have relevant higher education and depth of experience related to this role as well as comprehensive understanding about issues related to poverty, exclusion and injustice from local to national to global. Candidates must have an excellent track record of leading and managing large and complex organizations. The candidate should have aptitude and entrepreneurial qualities to strengthen ActionAid’s voluntary fundraising in India.

He/She will also demonstrate skills and ability to manage a multidisciplinary team, policy advocacy initiatives, fundraising and donor and core stakeholder relations. The candidate will be aligned to ActionAid's values, will have excellent inter-personal and team building skills with ability to create an empowering work culture. Excellent communication skills in English and at least two national languages are essential. An experience of working with national governance boards will be an asset.

The position will be based in New Delhi, with frequent national and international travel. The position is offered under AA International’s international terms and conditions for a fixed term renewable contract.

Applicants should send an updated CV including two referees to latest by 4th of December 2009. We respect all applications but can only respond to shortlisted candidates. For more information on ActionAid India visit Detailed job description can be obtained by emailing your request to our search firm Third Sector Partners on

Whilst all applicants are assessed strictly on their individual merits, qualified women are encouraged to apply.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.