Chapter Seven: India's new IT Rules' contradiction with Int'l Human Rights norms

A very happy International Yoga Day that just passed early this week. And also congratulations to all of you that India vaccinated 8.5 million people in a single day on 21 June 2021. Let's hope that this speed of vaccination continues without any digital barriers and vaccine shortages.

Last couple of weeks our lives have been overwhelmed by the mention and coverage of Twitter, Social Media and the new IT Rules. Our Minister of IT and Law has been upset and has constantly been voicing his displeasure claiming Twitter not complying to India’s new IT Rules and the fact that Twitter may lose its  “protective shield” of an “intermediary status”. According to the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), “This emerges from an incorrect reading of the law”.

The thread clearly defines what is Intermediary Law, the extent of its implications, how all the headlines in the newspapers have read and interpreted it wrong by saying Twitter has violated the law.

In this connection the RTI filing and replies that IFF received is also significant. It is here:

Further, the United Nations Special Rapporteur gives a statement that India's New IT Rules ‘Do Not Conform With International Human Rights Norms’.

Moving on. Here is a great news: India pledged and stamped its signature on G7 Open Society Statement that says

We, the leaders of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, South Africa, the United States of America and the European Union, reaffirm our shared belief in open societies, democratic values and multilateralism as foundations for dignity, opportunity and prosperity for all and for the responsible stewardship of our planet. As leaders of over half of the world's population living in democracies, we believe it is imperative that we reaffirm and encourage others to embrace the values that bind us together, including our respect for international rules and norms relating to”.

The detailed statement can be read on the website of Ministry of External Affairs of India.

 However, it is important for the masses of India to know what India has signed on and accordingly put pressure on Indian government to walk the talk.

This is because, according to this thread of tweets, India has done everything opposite to what it has signed on at the G7 Summit.

 Did you know that the cost of data is lowest in India — $0.09 (INR 6.68) for 1 GB. But, what is the cost of 1GB mobile data in various other countries? Find your answer here.

On the other hand, as far as a smartphone is concerned, India's affordability is pretty high. In India, one is required to work for 63 days worth of pay to buy a smartphone, which is one of the highest in the world.

The positive thing in India is that internet data is inexpensive but It is ironic that unless you have a device you cannot really utilise this positive benefit. Yet, if talks of creating public spaces for accessing the internet, the value to access would be pretty much highly affordable even for the poorest of the poor.

In a country with the cheapest data cost, the digital gender divide is pervasive. And, even more pervasive is patriarchal thinking. There was a  terrible news reported recently from the state of Uttar Pradesh where a female member of a state women commission made a statement that mobiles should not be given to girls as it leads to rape. Of course it got bad press coverage and also large scale condemnation on social media. But having said that, it proves once again that access to mobile for women is treated as their freedom and access to opportunity and liberty — all of which are not acceptable by our families, patriarchs and society at large.

We would like to plug here a report that we at Digital Empowerment Foundation conducted last year that clearly elaborated the intensity of the gender digital divide and how the school going girls are extraordinarily deprived of digital access and therefore opportunities to education. Please read the report here.

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Bridging the Digital Divide for Girls in India

Ever thought about what would be a life of a stand up comedian before the era of social media! Certainly, the unmatchable reach and impact that the social media have provided to the standup comedians like Shyam Rangeela has not only made social media rich but also strengthened democracy considering the kind of issues they take up. This one is about highlighting the meteoric rise in fuel prices.

“We don’t know whether the National Food Security Act or biometrics are working on the ground” — Siraj Hussain, former Union Secretary for Agriculture.

 It is ironic that after seven decades of India's independence, the issue of starvation, hunger, access and right to food are still major issues of concern. Even though we are all aspiring to be fully digital, access to food has been biometrised. Here is a great read through an excellent piece of digital journalism.

You can read the story directly at https://fiftytwo.in/story/famished/

This may be a heartwarming photo of how a village man is holding an umbrella to protect his daughter and her smartphone as she is accessing online classes somewhere in a village in Mangalore area of Karnataka. But, if viewed this amidst the fact that majority of 320 million school going children of India are not only unable to go to school because of Covid and lockdown, they are also not able to afford connectivity and devices to access education online, the romanticisation of the picture simply washes off.

Income tax department's e-filing portal is one of the hallmarks of Digital India. Two weeks ago they launched a new portal, albeit with several bugs. It is important that because of digitisation, if it is claimed that the tax collection cost has been reduced to 0.62 percent from 1.36 percent, the digitisation must be foolproof. In the recent past, the government's digitisation and if at all it plays a role of efficiency for the people at large has been questioned. For example, the mandatory registration on CoWin portal for vaccination and how this portal being just in english and being digital media based was exclusionary.

Log into ClubHouse and get a job’— Does that sound real? ClubHouse is an audio based app that allows impromptu and organised conversations. It is also called as Internet Radio or Audio-Chat club. Recently, “five companies from the state of Tamil Nadu, including start-ups, got onto the invite-only audio social networking app for recruiting candidates. And in the first 15 minutes, over 100 people got into the room called Gig Hiring. Together these firms had over 100 jobs on offer.

Meanwhile, Facebook has come out with its own version of Live Audio Rooms and podcasts, as part of their plan to bring social audio experiences to Facebook.

 The social media giant says,

Public figures and select Facebook Groups in the US can create Live Audio Rooms on iOS, and select podcasts will be available to listeners in the US. In the coming weeks, we’ll expand the ability for more public figures and Groups to host a Live Audio Room and introduce new features for both experiences in the coming months.”

Covid has deprived and affected many, it also created over dependency on digital platforms and especially for the students community. Among those are children with disabilities and there must be useful, accessible and friendly digital content available for them. According to a report in The Hindu:

The Education Ministry has laid down new guidelines for producing digital education resources for children with disabilities, after a year in which the COVID-driven shift to online education has spotlighted the lacunae in such resources. However, the PDF document containing the guidelines does not even follow its own rules, making it partially inaccessible to the visually challenged, says an activist, raising concerns about effective implementation.” 

Here is a small plug: how Digital Empowerment Foundation’s  one of the programs, has empowered a physically disabled person in Barmer in Rajasthan who is not only digitally empowered but also empowering her entire neighbouring village access to digital access and means to solve several of their daily problems.

For more such examples you can also click here.

Access to healthcare is a dream for Indian villagers; it is hardly available and it is a painful experience, especially in the times  of disaster and pandemic. Often one wonders: why we cannot have a video conference or video link based service to connect a villager to talk to a doctor and seek advice. Here is an example of how Digital Entrepreneurs and most of the 1000 centers of Digital Empowerment Foundation is offering video linkages to doctors in real time — it is easy, affordable, and works very well to prevent many medical disasters.

Now, an antiviral mask that attacks coronavirus. It is a 3D printed mask by a company based in Pune.

Interesting fact circulated on social media: A world of languages and how many speak them by Alberto Lucas López, SCMP Graphic. According to this map of the world languages, India features Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Portuguese, Marathi, and Lahnda.

OUT NOW! A4AI’s Sustainability Access Report. This report analyses how governments embed climate issues into their broadband policies, looks at the consequences of inaction, and suggests policy recommendations towards a greener internet.

The detailed report can be read here.

These young women across several places in Indian villages are making Smartpads. What is a Smartpad, you may wonder? Smartpad is a reusable sanitary pad for menstruating women. It has been adopted by several digital resource centers of Digital Empowerment Foundation to train local women in making the sanitary pads locally and selling/ distributing them too. Have a glimpse of what's happening on the ground.

We would like to recommend the following three books for you to read. They are a collection of tech for good cases from across South Asia; another one is compilation of select cases from the region related mobile innovations and the third one is about the best practices of those who are great social media initiatives making social impact.

eNGO Challenge Award 2021: https://www.defindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/engo-award-book-20-21.pdf

mBillionth Award 2021: https://www.defindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/mBillionth-Award-Book-2020-21-2.pdf

Social Media for Empowerment Award 2021: https://www.defindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/SM4E-Award-Book-2020-21-2.pdf

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See You next week with more mash up of digital developments…!


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TypeRight - The Digital Nukkad, is a weekly conversational bulletin curated through the news and discussions on social media as well as what's happening on the ground. Through the eyes and ears of Digital Empowerment Foundation across rural India and global south, TypeRight aspires to focus on bringing the contextual relevance of digital technologies and developments on the society - both connected and unconnected.