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.
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