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Electronic Heaven Revisited

Sanat Sinha, Shadab Nazmi & Raghu Kalra

Popular for it’s “Software! Software!” chants, Nehru Place is a place where electronics, piracy, clothes and business offices intersect. Beyond the shrill cry of hawkers, office bustle and some drama, Nehru Place is an organism on which the survival of many different people is dependent. We talk a walk through Asia’s third largest electronic market to find these people.

 

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Sanat Sinha

The 2014 General Elections promise to be a watershed in Indian politics. With extravagant election stunts, real political blows and mind-numbing jingles, the entertainment value of elections has never been higher than it is now.

 

Sanat Sinha & Sharib Suhail

In an era of digital photography where the analogue camera has long since been forgotten, Aditya Arya, an ardent camera fan, owns one of the largest camera museums in Delhi.

 

Sanat Sinha & Tahir Ahmed

When Gulnaaz, a student in a school near Jamia Nagar, jumped from her school building, the students took to the main street of Jamia Nagar to protest. They alleged that the Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya (SKV) authorities had a big hand in pushing this girl to take her own life and demanded an investigation.  Nagma, one of the student protestors takes us through the course of events.

 

 

The situation got heated when stone pelting began, with no clear view on who started it. The students of SKV and residents around the area share their views on the aftermath.

 

Sanat Sinha & Tahir Ahmed

Little did the rickshaw pullers in Gafar Manzil, Okhla, know that when they doubled their fare, they actually lost business. Interviews ranging from rickshaw pullers, workers and residents of Gafar Manzil, this audio piece explores this small incident which has affected many lives in the area.

 

Gurgaon in the Morning

Sanat Sinha

24th November, 2013. New Delhi.

Gurgaon, or the  “Millennium City”, as it is better known, is the hub of rapid development and urbanization. Constantly full of people and traffic, the capital of Haryana is always abuzz with activity. This masks the real issues which get completely glossed over by the charm of this futuristic city. “Gurgaon in the Morning” is an attempt to capture the city when it is still sleeping, and highlight the disjuncture between the rural and urban, as well as investigate the issues which plague this city.

A NOTA-ble Impact?

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18th October, 2013. New Delhi

If you thought an additional button was the only change in the voting in Delhi, think again. On, September 27, 2013, when the Supreme Court of India ruled in favour of citizens exercising their fundamental democratic right to register a “None of the Above” or “NOTA” vote in elections, India joined a select group of 12 nations including France, Brazil and Spain. This sent rumour mills into overdrive, with each half baked political news reader questioning the impact, if at all any, this would have on upcoming elections.

The Delhi elections, which are to be held on December 4, 2013, have been the breeding ground for all sorts of speculative politics. With the results of the ABP News-Nielsen survey, conducted from October 9 to 12, the predicted winner is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which will win an estimated 28 seats. The 15 year bastion of the Congress will be lost with the party only garnering a probable 22 seats. The biggest surprise is the inroads made the AAP, which has emerged king-maker with a projected 18 seats.

The reaction of the political parties to the inclusion of the NOTA was not hard to gauge, keeping the newly released data in mind. Dr. Sambit Patra, spokesperson for the Delhi BJP said, “The inclusion of the NOTA is a welcome act. After a long time, something positive has been added to the electoral purview.” The AAP, which has eaten into both the Congress and BJP vote share, was also of the same view. Ashwini Muralitharan, Media cell coordinator of the AAP, said, “We welcome the NOTA and the Supreme Court has once again given a good judgement.” Meem Afzal, spokesperson for the Congress, said, “Earlier, a similar option was included but people were not interested in filling out a long form to express the same view. As a NOTA form, it has become secret ballot, but it is nothing new.”

Two primary factors are implicit in the inclusion of the NOTA in future elections. Firstly, this would lead to an increased participation in the percentage of voting citizens, a fact which the Supreme Court pointed out as well. Secondly, large amount of NOTA votes would hypothetically serve as an ideological reminder to the political parties to field sound candidates.

People’s reaction to NOTA and its immediate electoral impact varied. Retired Brig. NK Sharma, 85, a resident of Som Vihar, Central Delhi, said, “After a long time in India’s voting history, we can see changes in the electoral reforms. The NOTA will definitely marshal a new era of voting as will be evident in the Delhi elections.” Amay Yadav, first year student at Faculty of Law, Delhi University, counterpoised, “The NOTA is a good first step, but it will not get instant results. It needs time to creep into the system, down to the grassroots. It has to get ingrained into people’s minds.”

The biggest problem with the NOTA is the outcome of the so-called “negative voting”. The votes recorded against this button will have the same fate as the ‘invalid’ votes of the ballot paper era and would have no role in determining the winner. The judgment is ground-breaking, as recognition of “negative voting” as a constitutional right is by all means a giant step forward for the voter. However, it will not have much of an impact on the actual election results since negative voting will only be recorded, not counted. Therefore, the button is not actually “negative” in nature at all.

Dr. Patra cited the same argument, “Until NOTA comes up as another counted option in itself, there is no point even if 60 percent of voters use this option. It will be an effective means provide people have the second option of ‘Right to Reject’ ”.

Nakul Varma, 20, a resident of Vasant Kunj, South Delhi, said, “The solution is to make people more aware. The NOTA is an easy way out. Instead, there should be an improvement and sharing of information of nominated candidates and their achievements. Tools like the conventional media coupled with the use of Facebook and Twitter will result in increased cognizance.”

Yadav also pointed out, “The presence of the NOTA will have a larger impact in states where there are two major parties like in Madhya Pradesh. In Delhi, there is a big alternative in the AAP. The NOTA is new and needs time to take effect, and the changes will take time to be visible and might not be so in the upcoming elections.”

Clearly, the NOTA in its current form is an ineffective tool to bring about any radical change in electoral reforms. However, for those people in a dilemma over vote choice in the upcoming elections, does the inclusion of NOTA mean that having no choice is still a question?

Image courtesy – InSerbia News

Streets of Change

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On National Social Service (NSS) Day, 25th September 2013, School of Social Work, Roshni Nilaya held a street play competition on the theme of “Save water, save life”. Due to its versatile nature and easy location requirements, more and more instances are cropping up of street plays being used to address social issues.

Street theatre is possibly the oldest theatre form in the world. In India, it can be traced back to folk theatre and puppetry. It grew as a powerful tool of fighting against the colonial oppression during the Indian freedom struggle. The late Safdar Hahsmi, a Communist playwright, actor and director and founder of the famous Jana Natya Manch, said, “If street theatre has any definite tradition in India, it is the anti-imperialist tradition of our people forged during the freedom movement. “

The importance of street theatre is in spreading awareness among the masses. From addressing issues like Right to Education, corruption, female safety to more abstract issues about the degradation of society and man’s greed and selfishness, street theatre touches a chord with every human life. Breaking social, economic, political and gender boundaries, it unites the actors and the audience in a seamless experience of entertainment and education. Street theatre reflects the idiom of the people, and raises contemporary issues.

Jayesha Koushik, a student from Hindu College, who participated in anti-rape protests this year, speaks of the amazing response she received while doing a street play at India Gate on female safety issues, “Being someone who works in stage plays, I assumed that street plays might be too didactic for people. But it barely takes a circle of five people and a few shakes of a tambourine to gather an instant crowd of 200”.

What makes street theatre a highly versatile and successful means of communication is its ability to be performed anywhere. Whether it is the roadside, markets, public parks or parking lots, street theatre can spring upon the audience unaware. Caught right in the middle of their daily lives, audience are forced to step out of their cocooned existence and become active participants in the play.

Arvind Gaur, Director of Asmita Theatre Group explains, “When the public is muzzled, stage is the perfect place to find a voice…and open public places like markets, metro stations are perfect staging grounds.”

Since there is no stage, the demarcation between the audience and the actors is blurred, leading to closer association with both the characters in the play and the issue. This momentary, direct and intimate moment is ideal for effective spreading of social messages. The absence of traditional play requirements like stage, large props and lights and sound equipment minimizes costs and enables the play to be performed many times at multiple locations, thereby reaching large groups of people.

Farzeen Ali, a street theatre actor, observes, “Street theatre is a presented in the form of a play for a heterogeneous audience. Since the audience does not pay for the performance, it is extremely important to grab the audience’s attention. What sets it apart from proscenium is its highly raw approach.”

From Uday Kumar’s initiative in Patna, where he involves fruit sellers, milk men and the unemployed youth in his plays, to GS Channi’s street theatre campaign regarding social and sex related issues in Burail jail, Chandigarh; organized initiatives involving lead theatre have branched out and gained popularity.

Today, street theatre is a recognized art form and has gained legitimacy. Gaur points out, “There are more opportunities now than ever before. Twenty years ago, there was a showcase theatre type; today acting is a full time job”. Actors can use these opportunities as stepping stones to careers on stage or on television. With these personal benefits added to the cause for the public good, it makes street theatre a great platform to initiate change.

Photo: Sahil Ali

The Mobile Tower Operator

Sanat Sinha

6th September, 2013. New Delhi.

The elaborately constructed AIIMS flyover sees major traffic flow every day. However, commuters are in such a hurry that they fail to notice the life weaved into the made construction. In reality, this structure is a large organism, with life proliferating around it. One such life explored in this story is of Shyam, who operates the mobile cell tower under the flyover.

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Satpal Yadav has been working for 8 years as a shared auto driver but his life changed for the better with the opening of Sikanderpur Metro station. His income grew with the steady stream of passengers who now needed to be ferried to get to their swanky offices in the office of Cyber City, Gurgaon. The reality of Millennium City, however, is its woeful infrastructure and the most economical method of local commute is by the use of shared autos.

Yadav’s work cycle follows a rotation of changing between 8 Gurgaon locations, many of which are metro stations, and takes 8 days to complete. The shared autos cover not just the Cyber City area, but they operate under one union which plies from IFFCO Chowk to Galleria to Sector 56 and eventually to Faridabad. While autos and rickshaws charge anywhere between Rs. 30-40 per passenger, shared autos charge only Rs. 10 per passenger, and are therefore a popular choice among commuters. Satpal Yadav makes roughly Rs.2000-3000 on a weekday and Rs.1000-1500 on holidays. Its the most money he has ever made in his life and he talks of how its secured his family.

But, while shared autos are a norm, there are still many people who drive to Cyber City for work and the large number of vehicles at office hours lead to major traffic jams over the roughly 1 km route from Sikanderpur to Cyber City. Ragini Ahluwalia, who works an Analyst at Accenture, observes: “As a former Gurgaon resident and now an employee at Cyber City, I have seen the traffic situation in Gurgaon move from bad to worse to ugly over the last few years. This has led to perpetual jams and bottlenecks in and around the Cyber City area.”

It is this daily mess which brings in a new metro system that has been spawned by the parent Delhi Metro and the connectivity conundrum. In an effort to increase connectivity and reduce traffic flow, the Delhi Metro has tied up with private partners to develop India’s fully privately financed Metro – the Rapid Metro. Soon to begin operations, it will stretch across 5.1 km, connecting Sikanderpur, Cyber City and NH-8. The Rapid Metro officials envisage that “about 30% of existing road traffic should move to Rapid Metro thereby reducing travel time and traffic jams, resulting in conservation of fuel and reduction of air and noise pollution.”

Commuters from the Delhi Metro will just have to walk on a skyway from Sikdanderpur and catch the air conditioned Rapid Metro. With 6 metro stations near most office buildings, it offers a far more comfortable mode of transport which is free of traffic snarls and which will function regardless of the congestion of the roads. “In the same price point of Rs.10 –12 Rapid Metro promises a secure, comfortable travel experience.”

The biggest losers clearly will be the shared autos, which travel roughly the same distance. Though the shared auto drivers are unanimous in agreement that the Delhi Metro has brought them a lot of business, they say that the induction of the Rapid Metro will change things. Satpal Yadav claims that nearly 90% commuters which use his auto are office workers. However, he says that they have a direct drop off facility near most buildings and that they drop off commuters at Shankar Chowk, a place where the Rapid Metro does not ply. The Rapid Metro authorities state: “We are trying to work closely with the administration to get dedicated pedestrian and NMT (Non Motorized Transport) movement pathways keeping security of commuters in mind and are willing to provide space to rickshaw pullers at our stations.”

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Kunwar Singh, another shared auto driver, observes: “With most buildings not open yet in Cyber City, the traffic jams in Gurgaon are only going to increase further, with or without the Rapid Metro. With each passing day, the traffic condition worsens and even 20 years later, traffic jams will exist in this area.” Both Satpal Yadav and Kunwar Singh agree that if there is too much loss in business, they will permanently move further inside Gurgaon, where the Rapid Metro has not yet extended it’s reach.

Clearly, the problem lies with urban planning and overall development of roads and Mass Transit Systems in and around the Cyber City area. The roads are in a pathetic condition and no town planning for future growth has been visualised. Therefore, a lot of regular commuters to Cyber City are not even excited about the Rapid Metro as they don’t see it really changing the situation. Megha Dasgupta, Associate Consultant at Michael Page, points out: “Honestly, the purpose the Rapid Metro will serve is crossing the traffic as an over bridge. Otherwise, there is not much difference for those working in Cyber City.”

Ragini Ahluwalia further observes: “The final construction of the metro will undoubtedly bring a lot of relief to the area, but I’m not fully convinced that the situation of the roads will better even once it has been built. Careful and methodical planning is definitely lacking and badly needed.” The introduction of The Rapid Metro may delay the inevitable traffic snarls but there is a clear consensus that a complete restructuring needs to be undertaken by the State Government itself of the road and all the transit systems which can solve this problem in the office hub of Millennium City.

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