Why I founded Seven Sisters Project?

Seven Sisters 2

From my teenage days I took up traveling as one of my never ending passions. I used to always travel cheap, stay in dorms and mix with the locals. But there was something which kept me thinking, the general attitude of mainland tourists towards northeast India. At points of my travel I will bump into mainland Indians who like their nosy counterparts will blast me with questions like, why am I traveling alone, if I don’t get bored etc. Same time they will caution me not to go to Northeast India. They will give me varied reasons ranging from Mizos will inject me with HIV blood, Nagas hate Indians and they will spear me. But from the bottom of my heart I knew that all of them were a bunch of hypocrites and nothing else. In 2007 quite accidentally I relocated to Delhi. Here I encountered a very different situation. Like any other metros Delhi has a huge number of youths from the Northeast. Most study, then work in the service industry and send money back home. I saw them facing racist jibes from other Indians which include being called chinki, dog eaters to the extent of sexual violence.

At this point of time I started meeting quite a few people from Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and to my good fortune they are my good friends today. Over the years during our chats I realized that there is a big vacuum between the two sides of this nation. If the central government didn’t want to develop Northeast even after 1962 war with China merely out of concern that China will use the infrastructure to occupy Northeast permanently, then mainland Indians have also largely ignored this region.

In a nutshell what we have now is a bunch of stereotypes floating around. I started thinking what I can do as an individual to overcome this bridge? Whether we can create a medium where indigenous communities staying in Northeast India can tell their stories without being censored? One thing we noticed is the huge progress in mobile phone penetration in Northeast India. (increased from 26% in March 2009 to 47% in September 2010. Source: Sinlung.com). I realized if we can somehow connect people with a platform where they can call a toll free number to record their opinion/stories on issues they care about, then we will be able to at least make an effort to bridge this information gap.

Fast Forward Seven Sisters Project-

The idea was simple- Use a open source software used in building India’s first Interactive Voice Response reporting system CGNet Swara and integrate it with a Facebook app which will let people share news of Northeast India similar to apps being used by Guardian and other news sites, just that ours will be voice based. Primary mode of communication will be mobile phones and the technology would simply combine an Interactive voice response system and Facebook application to create a mobile reporting network for Northeast India, with the aim of spreading news through Facebook to users in different parts of the country.

Our idea won the inaugural Access Now’s Tech Innovation Award in the Facebook category and with that small grant we started our journey. I just finished my first leg of the Northeast tour covering bits of Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. The stories can be found on our website- www.sevensistersproject.org.

How does it work?

The Seven Sisters Project uses open-source voice portal technology that enables citizens to report and discuss issues of local interest. To use the portal, individuals call 08376952143 using any mobile or fixed line phone. Callers are prompted to press “1″ to listen to stories recorded by others, “2” to comment on stories, and “3” to record a story. Once a message has been recorded from the field, a team of professional, trained moderators access the system using a Web-based interface, review and verify each report. Approved reports are then made available for playback over the phone and can be accessed on the Seven Sisters Project Facebook page, Website and on Twitter.

Join Us Where We Live-

Phone- 08376952143

Website: www.sevensistersproject.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sevensistersproject

Subscribe to our newsletter – http://bit.ly/15v1p2U

Twitter: @7sistersprojekt

Email: info@sevensistersproject.org

Call For Action: Occupy EWS Flats in Delhi

I read with alarm that our honourable Madam Sheila Dikshit and her government have failed to allocate 14,000 flats to Economically Weaker Section (EWS) people in Delhi. Reason? The incompetent government doesn’t know the definition of EWS or can’t make up its mind who it should award the flats to or which section will vote for her if they get the flats.

For the ones who don’t know who exactly can fall under EWS category, here is a note from the Government of India –  “The Minister of State in the Ministry of Urban Development Shri Saugata Roy has said that the Government has recently revised the income ceiling in respect of Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) from the earlier limit of ‘upto Rs. 3300’ to ‘upto Rs. 5000’.” This was later revised to 6,000 a month.

Lets take a snapshot of EWS people and those who live in Delhi-

Our maids who cleans our houses, to the garbage collector, to the rickshaw puller who drives us to all the bylanes of Delhi, they all fall under this EWS category. So where do these people live? They live in the many unauthorised slums scattered around the city, they live next to the big garbage dump in Jahangirpuri and many other unknown places. In summers they face the scorching heat, in monsoon their little encampment gets flooded with rain water, in winters they shiver under the chilling Delhi cold. Now all these people would not have to face these difficulties for the last five years if the Delhi government was competent enough and distributed the EWS flats to the people who had duly filled up the forms. I am sure they had to make dozens of rounds of various departments and definitely some small bribe had to paid to get things done. But what do they get after all this? An endless wait because the government can’t decide who falls under EWS. Ask a primary school student and he/she will tell you who is poor.

Power to the people-

Its times like these that the people themselves have to take power in their own hands. If we look back we can see this happened during the Salt March, Civil Rights Movement, Chipko Movement and many more. More important people have waited long enough. 5 years is a long time. People who have registered to get these flats and people who fall under the EWS category should non-violently occupy these flats. They should be steadfast in the non-violent principles, even if they face violence from the authorities. People outside the EWS category (read: civil society, enlightened middle class, social media generation) should come out in support and form the outer layer of occupation.

Yes there will be repercussions from the government. A violent and of course a legal one. But are we afraid? No I am not and I hope neither is anyone. A time comes when silence is betrayal. Lets not betray our future generation, our ideals and surrender to this corrupt and incompetent system.

Shibayan Raha

About.me/shibayan

“There is a point when anybody can become an activist. I mean you see something happen that is so wrong, you have to act. Even if it means the end of you.” – Edge of Darknesss (2010)

More information-

14,000 EWS flats lie vacant for 5 years in Delhi

http://www.firstpost.com/economy/14000-ews-flats-lie-vacant-for-5-years-in-delhi-745611.html

Govt can’t decide who is poor, so 14,000 new flats vacant for 5 years

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/govt-can-t-decide-who-is-poor-so-14000-new-flats-vacant-for-5-years/1109974/

Open Letter To Swami Agnivesh: I Am A Meat Eater But Not A Rapist

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To Swami Agnivesh,

Bandhua Mukti Morcha 7,

Jantar Mantar Road,

New Delhi-110001

Date- April 27, 2013

Namaste Swamiji,

Apologies for writing in English Swamiji. Since we are uneducated, urban, not-so-young people who eat meat and drink beer all the time; we prefer English as well. You might not remember me, though we have met quite a few times. I have even come to your office in Jantar Mantar. But that’s okay. I am one of those many meat eating, alcohol friendly youth whom you always dislike :)

I happened to read your statement in Times of India, “Rapes will come down if people shun meat, alcohol: Swami Agnivesh”. I won’t go into your reasons behind it as you know it much better than me. Your statement didn’t sound astonishing to me at all. Actually, you also followed the tradition of our dear politicians and some other swamiji’s who had taken the easy way out to blame women and other useless factors for the ongoing rape culture in this country. Let me give you some brief information about me and my Bengali culture. We are hardcore fish and mutton eaters. It’s like our religion. Bengalis can shun vegetables but they will never shun fish. My father is also one of them. But guess what Swami Jee, my father never indulged in any kind of violence against anyone, forget women. The work I am doing today is also because he inspired me in a way. He leads a righteous life and eats a lot of fish and meat. I his son, an organiser/activist, am also a hardcore non-veg consumer and a hardcore drinker in a way. I can drink beer like its water. Vodka and Gin are like amrit to me. But guess what? Till today I haven’t been involved in any kind of violent acts, forget about violence against women. I have drank and ate meat with my female friends but they have all been safe in my company. Actually, friends call me a ladies man since my quota of female friends is more than male friends. No one has ever complained that Shibayan is a misogynist or a violent man.

You have also quoted some report by a Japanese scientist. May I request you to make it public and put it forward for public debate? If nothing, but just for the sake of vindicating your stand. Will you please do it Swami Jee?

Let me quote my Kashmiri friend here to put everything in context: “Rape happens because rapists can get away with it. Everything else is just eyewash”

If time permits, I and a couple of friends are planning to organise an open air party in Jantar Mantar right outside your office. We plan to bring lot of meat and plenty of alcohol. We will send you a proper invitation to join us. Please do attend when it happens. Don’t worry, we will include some tasty vegetarian dishes too since we respect your choice.

With Love and Freedom,

Shibayan
Meat eater and Lover of Corona Beer

 

The Open Letter was also published by Youth Ki Awaaz: Mouthpiece for the Youth

 

A Reply to Dhruv Arora

Taken into preventive custody for posing a National Security Threat, Le Meridian Hotel, New Delhi, April 17th, 2008, 4.50am.

Taken into preventive custody for posing a National
Security Threat, Le Meridian Hotel, New Delhi, April 17th, 2008, 4.50am.

Namaste Dhruv Jee,

You might not know me well though we have met quite a few times but I do hope that you will take some time out of your busy schedule to read my mail. I happened to read your post on Gotstared.at regarding your protest on 21st April –  21st April 2013: The Day I Realized I Am No Longer a Part of a Democratic Nation. It was profound and I hope your post inspires many others in this country to do what is needed today. Though I must say that I am in a way quite happy about how things are happening. Happy in the sense that young people like you and many others are realising that democracy in this country is more or less dead. But for me this democracy died long back. As the nation and its youth are seeing today how the political masters of this country behaves when their rule is questioned, we have witnessed this long back. For me and many of the refugees staying here, democracy is more or less non-existent.

Every time a Chinese leader visits India restrictions are placed on movements of Tibetans and supporters. The Tibetan colony in Delhi is sealed and RAF battalion is placed. No one is allowed to come out or go in. Our phone communications are monitored and so is our movements. For me democracy died that day when I was picked up in the middle of the night in April 2008 while I was addressing the press near Jantar Mantar. The ones who took me away were wearing civilian clothes and neither had any id with them. For 24 hrs or less I was in a cell in Parliament street which even lacked the basic amenities like proper drinking water and a functioning loo. We were not taken to any court but rather forced to sign a paper which was written in India. When asked the ACP told me that we have become a threat to national security and the government is sending us to 14 days preventive custody. We were sent to Tihar Jail, Ward no. 7. My democratic rights were taken away that day in full public glare. Indians young and old told me that day well you have to behave you know. The chinese are our guests and we believe in Athithi-Devo-Bhava. Democracy died again in jail (if there is anything called 2nd death), when I had a severe asthma attack and instead of a proper check up I was declared to be an acute TB patient and send to the Delhi TB hospital. Luckily for me the attending cop in the van decided to show me the papers and ask what exactly was wrong with me. I was saved but there were four inmates who were not lucky that year. Allegedly they died of wrong TB treatment. In jail I met a Tibetan who had nothing to do with protests. He was simple guy who was coming back from home along with his Nepali colleagues from Noida after work. The cops picked all of them but later let the Nepali folks go. The SHO told their boss that the Tibetan guy couldn’t be released since he has orders to put any Tibetan in jail for next many days. But no written copy of the order was shown. We heard similar stories from other Tibetans in Tihar and trust me there were close to 700 Tibetans in Tihar then.

Brother for us democracy died long back. I am in no way trying to put your efforts down. But rather I must say that I am happy about what you did and that you have inspired me.  As I say in my talks with young people that at least once in a lifetime you should be imprisoned for a good cause. These experiences teach us a lot of valuable things.

I am ready and can’t wait for the day when I will walk with you and many others to break laws, barricades that are unjust, be tear gassed, be water hosed and if needed to be shot at for defending and upholding our rights. Our rights to a non-violent protest, our rights to bring back our much cherished democracy

Here is a quote that defines me and many others – “There is a point when anybody can become an activist. I mean you see something happen that is so wrong, you have to act. Even if it means the end of you.” – Edge of Darknesss (2010)

With Love and Freedom,

Shibayan

P.S- Since I am a school dropout I have no sense of grammar or knowledge of punctuation. So there will be many errors and I request you to ignore them. Also if you feel there is a problem with what I have written please get back to me. Don’t file a defamation suit or an application under IT Act. I can’t afford to hire a lawyer now

This letter got published in Gotstared.at.

My Talk on Digital Activism and Anti-Corruption Movement, Indus Business Academy

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I was invited to give a talk on Digital Activism and India’s Anti-corruption Movement at Indus Business Academy’s Sixth International Conference on Situating New Management Philosophy: Nature- Mind-Technology on February 21, 2013. As part of my talk I also presented a pdf presentation on Digital activism and tactics used by the Anna Hazare led anti-corruption movement.

Participating organizations include leading technology firms, manufacturing firms, environmental organizations and movements, digital activists, academicians, students, researchers from leading organizations across India. The conference is also being addressed by leading personalities including Dr. Vikas Amte (noted social worker), Dr. A. Ravindra (Adviser to CM on Urban Affairs), Dr. Swati Ramanathan (Janagraaha), Dr. Venkatesh Hariharan (Red Hat and Google),  Dr. Shazaad Shams (ICT4D, London), Dr. Aravind Chinchure (Reliance Innovation Council), Prof. K.B.Akhilesh (IISc), Mr. Vikas Malpani (Common Floor),  and Dr. Yellappa Reddy (noted environmentalist) among others.

 

An Open Letter To President Elect Barack Obama

My open letter to President Elect Barack Obama which was published in Youth Ki Awaaz, India’s largest online and mobile, collaborative, award-winning platform for young people to express themselves on issues of importance. An Excerpt of this letter also appeared in Global Voices.

  • Posted on: November 7, 2012
  • Under: Specials

 

To,
President Elect Barack Obama,
White House,
Washington DC,
United States of America

Namaste Obama Jee,

A hearty congratulations on being re-elected as the President of United States. I do feel America and the rest of the world will be much better off with you at the helm of affairs. But unlike other Indian citizens I didn’t actually follow the Presidential race closely but was updated all the time, thanks to interpret Tweets from my Tibetan-American friends.

I am from India, a country touted as the next global leader. I seriously doubt it though but not because I don’t believe in my people but mostly that I don’t believe in the politicians running this country. As you gear up to take your seat in the White House I have these following suggestions which I think if accepted will raise USA’s status much higher in the developing world. Please read-

1. Put Tibet on top of your Foreign Policy Agenda-
You must be aware that the occupation of Tibet continues to this day. While you give your victory speech, China continues to suppress Tibetan’s basic demands for liberty and self-rule. Till date 63 Tibetans have self-immolated inside Tibet. Their demand was very simple- Return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet/ End of Chinese Rule in Tibet/ Freedom to practice their religion and preserve their culture. Instead of opening a dialogue the Chinese regime has turned Tibet into a prison with massive security presence and roadblocks all across the country. Free Tibet groups are calling for a multilateral action on Tibet and I urge you to lead this effort by putting Tibet on top of your Foreign Policy.

2. Stop the Drone Attacks-
I know what happened on 9/11 in USA. Lot of my friends and families were devastated by it too and you have every right to declare war on terrorism. But killing innocent people in the name of fighting terrorism doesn’t help at all. The drones that you send to Pakistan also kill innocent civilians which include children. Maybe you don’t get to see their pictures but we do and it brings tears to our eyes to see kids being bombed and annihilated for no offence. Therefore it’s an earnest request to stop the drone attacks and rather look at an alternative strategy regarding this issue.

3. Release Bradley Manning-
Remember Bradley Manning? I am sure you do. He is the US Soldier charged with espionage for allegedly leaking secret military files to whistleblowing website Wikileaks. He has undergone inhuman mental torture by means of solitary confinement, being stripped and shackled, denied visitation rights among some of many. His crime has not been proved yet but what he has undergone will remain with him as long as he lives. Release him until all charges are proved and let him live a normal life again.

4. Don’t let Israel Bomb Iran-
Tensions are rising again in the Gulf. This time over a possible military action against Iran for allegedly trying to build nuclear bombs. While I, as a non-violent activist vehemently opposed to weapons of mass destruction and any country building it, I do urge you to exercise restraint and use diplomacy over war. Israel supposedly has the largest stockpile of Nuclear weapons in the Middle East and morally doesn’t have any right to voice concern over this. Experts and credible reports suggest Iran is nowhere near to building a nuclear bomb and sending drones or Israeli aircrafts will further destabilise the region and bring untold miseries to the Iranian people.

5. Close Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility-
Your Excellency, if I remember well that you had made a election pledge last time that you will do everything possible to close down Guantanamo. Sigh that it is nowhere near to being closed or prisoners being transferred to normal prisons in USA. I am not blaming you since I do know your administration has been doing a lot to close the detention facility. But I do think a lot more has to be done so that more detainees don’t commit suicide after spending decades in inhuman conditions and for a crime they have no idea of.

I know that you have just got re-elected and probably throwing a champagne or two before you settle in at the white house. All the best again and I do hope that Indo-US friendship will also reach a new level which will be based on mutual understanding and trust. I do also hope that you get some time from your busy schedule to read this note and do the needful. I would absolutely love it if you also get the time to write me a reply. My email id is listed below.

Love and Freedom,

Shibayan Raha
Email- shibayanraha@gmail.com
About.me/shibayan
www.shibayanraha.com

Email Writing for Political Action Workshop

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Photo Credits: David Huang

In October 2012 I conducted a training for Tibetan Advocacy Groups based in Dharamsala, India on “Email Writing for Political Action”.  I have been engaged with the Tibetan community in India since many years first as a volunteer, then as the Grassroots Director with Students For A Free Tibet, India. After stepping down I worked with Online Organizing groups such as Avaaz.org and Change.org where I was trained in political action related email writing. I wanted to use this and assist the Tibetan community in improving their advocacy skills through emails.

In the first hour, we ran through some slides on the different components needed to write an effective email. In the second hour we explored some successful emails from different campaigns and different tools and platforms which can be used to mobilise support online. I also emphasized the need for maintaining a proper segmented email list and why is it important for advocacy.

Slide- Available on request. I am also available for any trainings, workshops related to the above.

The Power to Change the World is Within Us!

Yesterday I posted this image on a Facebook page I manage. Within minutes I could see many likes and dozen more shares. After 24hrs the virility went up to 36%. Here the question comes why did it resonate with people so much ? Answer is simple.

People in India and around the world tend to forget the power to change something lies within us. We elect politicians but we forget that they are answerable to us. We forget the moment the politicians go astray we can pull them down by their collar. This picture depicts an image where an individual is standing on a plank shouting on a mike. He seems to forget the moment his audience starts walking away he will just fall down. One man starts walking and it will only be a matter of time the rest follows him. Once no one is balancing the plank he will just fall down.

 

If you feel motivated, eager to learn more then you can join the Facebook Page and tell others to like it.

Tibet’s Sacrifice: Exiled Lives

I am featured in this multimedia piece of comics journalism on Tibet. Cartoons by Dan Carino.

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Today we publish “Tibet’s Sacrifice: Exiled Lives” by Dan Carino, a multimedia piece of comics journalism examining Tibetan activists living in India and their willingness to die for their cause through self-immolation.

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In New Delhi, India, Carino interviewed activist Shibayan Raha, who was arrested in 2007 for attempting to self-immolate, and visited the refugee settlement Majnu Ka Tilla to see why so many Tibetans seem willing to die for their homeland.

“The fact is that self-immolation now transcends Tibet and protesting monks,” Carino says.  “Everyday exiled citizens in the diaspora feel so anguished and frustrated with the Chinese process that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause. Meanwhile, Tibetan settlements serve to truly support the welfare of Tibetans born in India and preserve their culture.”

Tibet’s Sacrifice” blends numerous multimedia aspects, including navigation, an audio/visual slideshow, and outside links to supplemental material. You can use the multimedia navigation with the latest Chrome, Safari or Firefox browser. Otherwise, you’ll be presented with the comic as a static page.