Tuesday, 20 September 2016

FB Discussions - Internet in the village

(From a post of Rahul Banerjee. About internet being brought to the remote tribal hamlet of Kakranam Alirajpur.)

Rahul Banerjee Cowmesh is community owned wireless mesh, a technology that allows internet to be provided in remote locations far away from mobile towers. The government is not supporting this as it is a cheap means of empowering the poor and that is why it has to be there in the name.

Aparna Krishnan who designed it - is it free ?

Rahul Banerjee A guy called Arjun Venkatraman did the set up. It cost us 40000 to install. Running cost is minimal. However, to insulate against long power outages we are investing another 100000 on a solar backup. 

Aparna Krishnan so open source in a sense. anyone can replicate it anywhere ? 

Rahul Banerjee They will have to take training to run it. The people in kakrana can install it. You will have to pay some nominal fees its not totally free.

Aparna Krishnan Ok, np. In principle however i do beleive that all knowlege after creation belongs to society. The society which in many known and unknown ways has sustained the person who created that knowlege. Like the ayurveda texts which were written and handed over - with the writer not even claiming authorship, just some general name of vyasa or vagbhata placed for form ! That was the same bread labour concept in more recent times - where each works for his food, and creativity is given over to society.

Aparna Krishnan Anyway thats by the by. In the here and now I agree things are different, and a nominal fee is very reasonable.

Arindam Ghosh The rishis were supported by kings thru grants

Arindam Ghosh So you can say it was like university work. Once published you don't have IP on it. People on those time also tried to keep things secret only disseminated to chosen few.

Aparna Krishnan No, rishis were not always in courts. But those days knowlege was supposed to go with austerity, as a value. That is essential, so that knowlege not lead to arrogance. A brahmin was to have read very deeply, and was to live on bhiksha, asking from home to home. That brahmins perverted that ideal is a different story. Today they are all grazing in greener pastuers, forgetting even debt to those who worked to feed them in fields !!

Aparna Krishnan Maybe they kept things secret, maybe not. I dont know, and it does not matter to me. Just have a general beleif that knowlege belongs to all. Only the here and now interest me. the past to the extent that it helps me understand the present. 

Arindam Ghosh I understand your point. But there was this unwritten agreement: If a sage needed something he can go to any king and his demand would be instantly met. 

Aparna Krishnan Yes, austerity and learning was considered higher than wealth and power. But that austerity has to be real. that detachment real. The yamas and niyamas learn from early years would give an orientation. 

Aparna Krishnan Anyway if people say things were different, maybe they were. It does not matter. Its matters only so far as it helps us get a sense of direction and a societal understanding today.

Rahul Banerjee In reality the ideals of vedanta were given a quiet burial and the karmkandi caste oppression riven monstrosity of everyday Hinduism has ruled the roost for two millennia.

Aparna Krishnan i would differ. many many things i have seen and sensed in the village show me that essential values of the gita are there. Termed differently maybe. There is respect for austerity, for the medicant who wanders singing songs of god and asking for alms. There is unfathomable generosity (to share with a mendicant the last glass of rice at home comes from a different courage rooted in a different faith) which is termed dharmam. Yes, there are many unforgivable perversions. and each of those have to be uprooted with sweat and blood. But when we rebuild we need to rebuild on what the foundations of a civilization are. That is the vedanta. And to understand the foundations of a civilization is why we need to delve into a true history and into society outside the malls and 4 lane highways.

Rahul Banerjee Your village is as caste oppression riven as any other so no point in romanticising it away.

Aparna Krishnan I have little interest in romanticizing anything. My only real interest these days is survival, and all i do is answer FB messages and phonecalls on gada rates and bag rates of bags that are being stitched in the village. My only point here is that a civilization has its strengths and weaknessess. To throw the baby out with the bathwater, and to convince a civilization that its essentially a rotten civilization is one strategy. And the leaders can then define and build a new civilization with the broken bricks. The other is to reiterate the strengths, and question even failure unforgivingly - and rebuild on the strengths and the valid roots. I would go with the latter. Thats all.

Aparna Krishnan It is modernity and industrilizatin and centralization that has broken my village. The caste discrepencies we could have questioned and corrected in many ways. Modenity has rendered my village resourceless today - in a few short decades.

Sridhar Lakshmanan We will be installing one soon

Aparna Krishnan Sridhar, but actually why ? The same 'why' that we face over pulling villages into the market economy - the gains and the costs, both essentially unpredictable. The same questions with technology. The dependence that it engenders. The electricity that becomes more essential. And unless the gain is clear and substantial, I hesitate to rush in . So training the children in making GPS maps in our village has been Nagesh's trip, and i have stayed away - making local medicines with Eashwaramma. And the tribal communities you work with are more remote and self sufficent than my village. What is the need and gain you see for internet there ?

Sridhar Lakshmanan There is some thing called intranet. I generally prefer that over Internet it has a huge value and keeps negatives of Internet out. When I get my chance I will do that likely b4 this year.

Technology is a factor multiplier Wat u put in gets multiplied so input matters. And who holds the access to what matters.

Having said all there is enuf loot that has happened in the name of ict4d and also bridging digital divide.

All said and done individual efforts are to be lauded. It's also interesting that there is lot of research that suggests technology doesn't improve learning outcomes only the teacher does

Rahul Banerjee the internet enables one to get more info. what and how you interpret it is quite another matter!!! presently the internet is very weak in kakrana and all it allows is emailing. for content we download stuff in Indore and then take them by hard disk to kakrana called data muling and then use the intranet to spread it around the campus.

Sridhar Lakshmanan One sure way in which Internet helps is in price discovery . A real market assumes free flow of information and no assymetry and no skew . Internet almost makes this a reality

Aparna Krishnan What is intranet ?

Rahul Banerjee neo-classical economics assumes free flow of information in its conceptual markets but in real markets there is always information asymmetry engineered by those who control these markets!! the internet has helped in this process as now big financial institutions can control the crucial online finance markets better!!!

Sridhar Lakshmanan It's only for a dedicated set of users

Rahul Banerjee google and you will find out what the intranet is Aparna Krishnan

Aparna Krishnan Rahul Banerjee i am supposed to minimise use of technology as i criticize it ! I have been accused of double standards and worse. So asking Sridhar directly is a more technology-free act ! Than googling.

Rahul Banerjee bull shit!!

Aparna Krishnan Rahul Banerjee hardly. Just walking the talk !

Sridhar Lakshmanan If u have shouted from ur roof top and I did the same to reply Rahul Banerjee would have agreed

Aparna Krishnan Sridhar, technology is not neutral. It takes on colors based on a social and political reality. And the multiplier effect you mention takes over. So overall this (as any) technology will only deepen the industrial capitalist hegemony.

Aparna Krishnan I may sell a few hundreds (or thousands) of cloth bags through FB noise, and feel pleased. But that is just one of the fringe matters, and the overall picture of who benefit is another story.

Aparna Krishnan Thats my understanding, and my fear. I hope I am wrong. because it is a fait accompli, like many other things seem to be.

Aparna Krishnan Also, about learning and teaching, yes, I tend to the same old-fashioned view as yours. That the teacher counts, both to inspire learning and values, and technology is a simply a small extra.

Rahul Banerjee it all depends on who controls technology. capitalists have been controlling it and deciding how it is to be used. we can only frolic on the fringe without making much impact!!

Aparna Krishnan yes, and i dont see that change.

Aparna Krishnan And in that reality, the more we pull the disadvantaged into the internet, thinking we are 'empowering' them. the more we may be exposing them to the capitalist machinations. That dilemna is not just about internet, it is in each step we take into integrating the rural communities into the wider world. Either because we feel it will create new worlds for them, or simply because they (and we) have reached the end of imagination and see no other way in the here and now, however flawed the step may be.

Aparna Krishnan Sridhar, you had mentioned your friend Sundar, who facing this unsurmountable issue, simply stayed on his land 'doing nothing', as every step in these times seemed compromised. I passed their farm while going to Ram's farm (they are neighbours !) and wanted to stop and exchange woes, but it did not work out !

Aparna Krishnan Kannan Thandapani ? You have been in a village long enough now. Every step I have taken for two decades now (except maybe ayurveda where the doctor focusses to trying to work out locally preparable medicines where possible ) has seemed a step away from gram swaraj. The dream is in one direction, of small local, self sustaining communities. The immediacies make us take steps in diametrically opposite directions. I suppose the old man with the stick (wand ?) faced the same realities then.

Arjun Venkatraman Re: Open Source - there is nothing proprietary in anything we've set up at Kakrana. All the software is under the GNU Public License or comparable similar license. The charge that Rahul da is mentioning is pretty much at actuals on equipment etc.

Aparna Krishnan Arjun Venkatraman congratulations on having stood by that.

Arjun Venkatraman :D I quit selling software to wall street to stand by that :D. But I've found as much intertia against tech among the "dogood" crowd in India as I find in boardrooms on Wall Street. Rahul da and the Kakrana folks are one of our earliest adopters!! Even more commendable since the gent who put up the actual antennae etc is not a "qualified" engineer :D

Aparna Krishnan Arjun Venkatraman i dont know if i am 'dogood', but i admit that i am one of those who have 'much inertia' in tech areas. But congratulations on both grounding the technology, and avoiding the pitfalls of the patenting crookery. You may find your next partner in crime in Sridhar.

Arjun Venkatraman Rahul da, at the risk of sparking everyone's isms...my theory is that tech sits happily with whoever appreciates its power and uses it responsibly. If the non capitalists got hold of the tech, we would see new problems stemming from that as well. In fact, I think we will see our fair share of troubles even with the network we are discussing. But with a collaborative attitude and scientific approach, these can be resolved at the community level without becoming huge issues.
The problem is the religious mysticism that we let the technologists create and get away with. If we can break that, I think the rest will follow

Aparna Krishnan Modern technology is part of the industrial globalized world that many of us question, and buttresses it, whether used for good or ill. That is my fear. To use technology to destroy technology could be a plan. I am personally very unsure of that process. Though the other process of abstainaing is also problematic in these times. With all my reservations,I have been teaching my children in the village essentials of word and excel, just as i also teach them english, so that it could 'equip' them as they step into a world that promises to be very hard on them. I do not know if it will proved right or wrong in the final analysis.

Sridhar Lakshmanan EllamAe Mayai enjoy it as long as ur alive

Aparna Krishnan Sridhar Lakshmanan Along with the concept of Mayai is the concept of Dharmam, and the need to try to understand it and live by it !! Btw, dharmam is part of the common vvillage vocabulary, and the attempt to live by it. Mayai incidentally is not !!

Arjun Venkatraman Aparna ji I see the source of the tech inertia in the sentiment that you are expressing. I'd like to point out though that the perception of what is "technology" and what is not, is the key. This perception is what gets reinforced when we are subjected to the hardness of the world. However, technology itself is not limited to one sort of perception. Tool use has been a key step in the evolutionary process and technology as we know it today is no different in its effect from tool use among primates.

Arjun Venkatraman The only way appears to be forward. We must constantly push our tools and tool makers to do better with what we have. One of the reasons we choose to make shared community accounts for all our cowmesh efforts is that we wish to encourage people to do more things with less concern for their own private space. For example the password to the email cowmail.ranikajal@gmail.com is shared by all the students and teachers of the Ranikajal school as well as anyone else who is using the network. The security training required here is not to keep your password secret but to learn to tell who is an appropriate person to share your password with. We call this model peer validated self assertion. It is as technical as a computer and as complicated to teach, but requires nothing except a group of human beings communicating to implement.

Aparna Krishnan Yes, the charkha, the cycle. Beyond that I would not be categorical. (The cycle, because I need it rather desperately !) Also, I have been deeply suspicious of electricity dependece, maybe strengthened by the year spent in the Narmada struggle in days of youth. But I see a world gone amuck, and devouring all those outside its ambit. And so we try to get those on the fringe in somewhat. But I suspect we are simply sawing the branch we are sitting on, steadily.

Arjun Venkatraman BTW we've managed to establish that just as you can use a Charkha to generate your own clothes you can also use a dynamo equipped charkha to charge a battery to power your radio/laptop while you get your clothing sorted :D

Arjun Venkatraman I totally share your suspicions of electricity dependence myself. Centrally provided electricity is as dangerous as centrally provided information. This is why we are keen to get to a state where both the grid and the mesh can run without centralized assistance. Rahul da is already working on solar for Ranikajal's cowmesh. If it comes through, it will become at least India's first completely independent communication system. A few hundred of these around the landscape will make it that much harder to dominate opinion

Aparna Krishnan Your work per se is phenomenal. These are just some deeper questions I face.

Arjun Venkatraman Oh I love discussing this stuff on FB so that it's there in documentation. At some point I will write a program to collect all these conversations and compile them into a book :D

Sridhar Lakshmanan Arjun Venkatraman u forgot the solar based e charkha

Aparna Krishnan Sridhar Lakshmanan what ??? e charka ??

Arjun Venkatraman Hmmm, actually if you just want clothing, the solar charkha works out. But I suppose you could still stick the dynamo on there and have the sun do both your jobs for you...

Arjun Venkatraman The dams that have been built on rivers we can do little about. But we can prevent dams of inertia from being built on our streams of consciousness. Hopefully these conversations will serve to do that for others too :D

Kannan Thandapani Charging a battery using charka is great. Is there a disposal-friendly battery too?

Arjun Venkatraman Don't know of a disposal friendly battery. The only thing I can think of to do with them is to join a bunch together and use as a paperweight...in perpetuity.

Arjun Venkatraman Or if its a bigger battery as a base weight for a free standing punching bag or antenna

Aparna Krishnan Easiest to reduce, no. Safest, I mean.

Rahul Banerjee Anarchism classically speaks for rational use of tools controlled by a socially and environmentally conscious community. State of the art solar power for cowmesh ranikajal will be operational next month!!

Aparna Krishnan SF (science fiction), "socially and environmentally conscious community" !! What about tools for a socially and environmentally irresposible community - coming to the real world ? How much and how far should we aid technology use and dependence.

Rahul Banerjee Classical Anarchism is ideological fiction and not science fiction!! We are operating in an imperfect world and offering partial patchwork solutions all of us. No one is capable currently of posing a viable challenge to modern induatrial development.

Aparna Krishnan The multiplier effect ot technology that Sridhar mentioned is the heart of the matter. The good gets multiplied as also the bad. As of now, the latter would subsume the former is my fear. And in my village, validated. There is 'development' there as shown by cable TV population and cell phones. There is also the other side of waterlessness traceable to the day electricity entered 30 years ago. Which desertification makes all 'development' meaningless.

Aparna Krishnan Modern industrial development is a genie let loose. It will consume itself only the day the petroleum gets over. Or nature will bring us to our knees before that day. The poorest and those with least role in the mindless consumption, and who earn least dividends from this lethal game will get consumed first, and we will follow. The head sees that dispassionately. The heart has a rationality of its own, and affirms what the head rejects - and so it is all our lot to try to restore and build. Often even against all hope.

 Arjun Venkatraman Responding to a couple of points - An intranet is a network that uses the same underlying technology as the internet in terms of infrastructure, but is not connected to the "mainstream" internet. A sort of local network...We think of it as a lake/pond as distinct from the sea. Which in turn contributes both to the cloud as well as to the mist, i.e. global data sharing as well as local data sharing.
Arjun Venkatraman Also, the comparison of technology to a genie would be much loved by Asimov, who would also be quick to point out that if there exists a genie, it must certainly not be forced to live in a bottle against its will. Which means that artificially preventing the tech from flowing would be the same as building a dam (I suspect I am repeating analogies here) and would likely have the same effect.
Arjun Venkatraman Speaking from my understanding (though limited) of Gandhi from Gram Swaraj, if you consider the idea of a republic extending only up to the range of a bullock cart and extend the analogy to communication networks, then any network should extend only to such extent as can be afforded by the users themselves and should not require an external service provider to sell it to them. The idea of a COWMesh works on the same principle. If you can build capacity in a village to build a network ground up and have it eventually connect to the mainstream in its own sweet time, the learning curve of the people setting up and maintaining that network and of subsequent generations who grow up without the notion of taking communications infrastructure for granted would be stellar compared to the ones we see today.
Arjun Venkatraman This is why when working with the COWMesh we usually tell people to focus on building skills with the tech already purchased and available on the ground, since a LOT of the potential in already available tools is still untapped.
Arjun Venkatraman As a result, the COWMesh is far less about the mesh and more about the COW, i.e. about the community ownership.
Arjun Venkatraman The "mesh" is simply a reminder to tell people to keep multiple links between points to prevent any one node from becoming inappropriately significant as compared to the others
Arjun Venkatraman So now we tell people who speak of Jal Jangal and Jameen, to also include Jaankaari as worth standing for and taking ownership of...we've only lately started finding resonance with that sentiment.
Arjun Venkatraman And we further encourage people to see things more in terms of connectivity and communication than Internet or intranet or social media or any specific application...there is a nice line by Kabir - bin dharti ek mandal deese, bin sarvar ju paani....
Aparna Krishnan I would tend to be very very cautious with introduction of almost anything in a village. Because even something as innocuous as a school - i will not commit to whether it does more harm or more good. And something like borewell technology has laid waste our village. Technology is not value free at all - it absorbs the value of the current politics. But then time is not on our side, and also the larger processes demand our responses, and so with mixed feelings I go with certian processes. I teach my children English, I teach them some computering on my laptop, I encourage them to pass 10th even when they try to dropout. I stay deeply ambivalent about these however.
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Arjun Venkatraman I would say it is most important who introduces the skill and what they say about it. If the driving instructor does not bake in caution early, you have idiot drivers on the road. And we let kids on the information superhighway with no training :/
Aparna Krishnan Yet technology does finally take the colours of the larger economics and politics.
Arjun Venkatraman It has to. It is pure power. Power has no preference. It works for whoever wields it. My job in life is to make sure that no one can dominate the playground...
Aparna Krishnan It is a highly skewed ground. yes, we are all in different ways trying to address that. when in doubt i go back to gandhi, and wonder how he in his essential practicalness would address it. he understood in that long ago age, when his was a lonely voice, the madness of modern systems and modernity.
Aparna Krishnan we need to be practical, and we need to be idealistic. We need the long term, and the short term. We need a strong local independence, and in that strength we need o allow the whole world come in. This multi-dimensional balanceing eludes our abilities. So every act we do comes with its own baggage - and the maturity to face that, and to not need to defend our actions is I think essential in these complex times.
Rahul Banerjee well Gandhi may have understood the madness of modern development but he did precious little to challenge it because he was funded by the crooks who orchestrated that development in india.
Aparna Krishnan Thats a line sadly beaten to death. I have no intention of defending Gandhi, mainly because i do not feel he requires my defence.

Also because the idea and central philosophy matters more than the person. Humans will compromise, make errors of judgem
ent. They essentially need the honesty to accept these as errors and compromises. Gandhi, more than most, was extremely unforgiving with himself.

Anyway in the existentialist crisis of the day, with the breakdown of society, and earth itself, in all ways, it is a return to morality, to simplicity that is in need. Charity by the rich, who otherwise continue unleashing violence by their very living, is passe. Even revolutions which speak of redistribution of profits, while continuing assault on a battered earth, is passe. What is left now are those thought and principles that go by the name of Gandhiism.
Rahul Banerjee not only Gandhi but other anarchists too including myself face this dilemma which is never faced up to squarely
Aparna Krishnan Precisely. Then why take off of Gandhi each time ? Ms. Roy can enjoy her takeoffs - but someone like you who is totally grounded understands that in a compromised world, we all make some moves which cannot stand upto the ideals we vouch for.

When I
moved to the village I was firm on 'Local Income' as the corner stone of integrating with a village, and living as one of them. It was a glorious failure. We did earn from farming in initial years, but it did not meet our full requirements. And then drought came, and the whole rural discourse changed. To live on Local Income then meant living on half stomach. Stronger men/women might have done it - I did not. You have also had to make your direction shifts in life.

So we simply need to draw on ideals and ideals from Gandhi or Ambedkar or Marx, and do what we can in depleted times.
Aparna Krishnan Personal synchrony of thought and deed which was very important once to me, and still is in a sense, is less so with passing years. It is more of how we can collectively work out societal structures where life can find more validity and justice. Yes, anarchisim or gram swaraj or the rose by any other name ...
Aparna Krishnan Arjun Venkatraman, this was my recent response to another post celebrating 'Literacy'. This is one of my deepest questions - why we sell our knowleges as the celebrated knowleges to other communities having far more essential skills. By celebrating these, we are de-celebrating those. This is my question (to myself also) when I teach English, or computers to children. But having failed in securing Gram Swaraj, a validity of the way of being with sustainable local skills - these are other (damaging ?) interventions we indulge in. " Why should confidence be rooted in literacy. Confidence should be rooted in her own knowlege of agriculture and cattle rearing. By celebrating their poweress of writing (or schooling) de we realize that we are parallely undermining their essential self identitty. And subversively strengthening our own superiority in the pecking order. By celebrating our own inherited strengths. These are deep waters."
Rahul Banerjee because parroting Gandhi and Marx is not sufficient in today's context anymore
Aparna Krishnan Of course. And Gandhi may not have been fully sufficent in those times either, and there were other giants also. And he would have made mistakes - show me one human being who did not. Yet there is such strength and learning to draw from him, as from others, that denying or denigrating is rather beside the point, to put it mildly.
Arjun Venkatraman Ambivalence is the root of ambidexterity :)

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