How E-Governance can make a #DigitalIndia, a better India.

Information Technology is a powerful tool. It’s a tool that we continue to use for great advantages in our personal lives, but a tool that is yet to be used extensively in our ‘public’ lives. In spite of its wide reach in our lives, we have not yet fully ingrained its use into our public and government affairs. The opportunity for it, particularly in a country like India is immense. There are many ways in which E-Governance can lead to a better digital India.

E Governance is the application Information Technology in Government Services. The most common form of this application is the linkage between government bodies and citizens, followed by the communications between the different government employees/agencies. Directly, the first form is the one that touches are lives in the most obvious manner. The communication between the government employees and agencies serves as an underlying aspect, the skeleton upon which the body stands.

If you think about it, E-Governance is something that most of us are already familiar with. It is common place to use the internet to file taxes and pay bills. We don’t spend time standing in the queue to pay for our electricity or other utility bills. We can pay it from the comforts of our homes, at any time we want. For those who don’t have access to internet at home (or do not know how to pay online), they utilize the 24 hour bill centers that are scattered throughout the city. I have paid my bill at 11 in the night, because I couldn’t find go and pay it in the office on account of work and some personal commitments at home.

The challenge over here is that much of these facilities and developments can be easily and quickly utilized by the urban citizens. More than half of our country’s population lives in the rural regions. Most of them do not have access to internet at their homes, or lack the knowledge to use it. This however does not mean that we E-governance cannot impact their lives. They too can go digital through something as simple as a cell phone. This doesn’t need to be a smartphone, but just an old fashioned cell phone that can send and receive text messages.

One of the pillars on which our country stands is agriculture. Farmers can now be helped via E-governance. One of the aspects which affects their crops and our lives is the health of the soil. Samples of their soil are taken sent to the government laboratories for soil health checks. Tests can determine which nutrients are needed to improve the soil health, and the same can be quickly communicated to the farmers via sms. Using only their registered number when the soil sample is taken, the information can be quickly sent and acted upon instead of waiting for days for the reports to be sorted and sent.

Not just soil health reports, but aspects like the right fertilizer and its quantity make a significant impact. With timely information, and use of fertilizer, the crop health is improved. In fact, why just limit ourselves to fertilizers? Other details like how much rainfall is expected, what is the day’s selling price of seeds/produce can be shared in relevant season, allowing them to make more educated decisions.
One important manner in which going digital helps us, is healthcare. From time to time, we all need to visit a doctor or hospital on account of some illness or accident. It is imperative that the correct information is available to the medical professionals to treat us properly. However we are not always in the right frame of mind, or awareness to share the same. If our medical information, like what we’re allergic to, the diseases we’ve previously suffered from, and medical background are easily available, then doctors can take more informed decisions. This will only be directly helping to people who have some specific medical history or allergies. However if you look at the large population we have, this can be thousands or millions of people who can be saved with the right information. A central identification details like Aadhar UID, voter ID, or PAN Card can be used to identify us.

This is why I believe that going digital and as a result E-Governance can help us all form a better India. This post was inspired by Intel, and its vision for a Digital India.

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Where do you answer Nature’s call?

What do you do when you have to answer Nature’s call? No, you do not wonder how Nature managed to get your number and call you up on the cell. Nature’s call is when you feel the urge go to the toilet. Typically this would mean you going to the toilet to empty yourself, but there are so many people who have no toilet to go to. Which is why they end up urinating and defecating in the open near some roads, fields, or vast open lands.

Based on the joint estimates done by WHO and UNICEF in 2010, 15 percent of the people in the world defecate in the open because they don’t have access to a toilet. Indians make up 60% of these numbers. These are people who are exposed on to unhealthy, and unsanitary conditions on a daily basis. This impacts not just their own health but the health of the babies born in such areas. This impacts the future of our nation.

2.4 million children die under the age of 5 in India every year. 20%-25% of these are on account of diarrhea. The relationship to sanitation however has been made clear. If you look at India’s Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), then Infant Mortality Rate reduced by 4 infants per 1000. This clearly shows that with better sanitation and access to toilets, more children will live to fulfil their lives. Not just that, children who lived the first year of their lives in areas with better sanitation grew taller.

How does poor sanitation and lack of toilets affect health? It is simple. Defecating in the open can cause fecal matter to mix with the river’s water supply. The same water that will be then used in their homes for washing, drinking, and cooking. Not all people go to isolated fields or river banks to defecate. Children in particular are known to defecate near their houses. This causes an influx of flies and other germs in the vicinity of the home. On account on poor sanitation, the same hands that were used to clean or remove fecal matter may not be clean enough to prepare food, or wash clothes, and can lead to transmission of diseases.

This leads to a direct impact on the economy of the nation as well. Due to the lack of proper sanitation India faces a loss of 2.4 trillion INR every year, or a per capita loss of 2180 INR. Out of this, the largest chunk of 1.74 billion INR is spent on health (checkups, treatment, medicines and such). Of this, the poorer families suffer the most. Sometimes they lack the necessary funds to treat the illness of their children, or must suffer wage loss while they do so.

Sanitation and toilets are the basic rights of everyone. It is also something that we take for granted most of the time. Something that is as basic as a toilet or latrine is actually something that is out of reach for a large population of this country. This lack of facilities is not only affecting their daily lives by having them go away from their house to defecate, but also leads to many diseases. The severity is such that many children will not live beyond the age of 5. It cannot be stressed enough that it serves as a fundamental right of all citizens.

For my research on this, I mainly used two papers at the Indian Sanitation Portal and the Water and Sanitation Program.

Domex, HUL’s flagship sanitation brand, currently runs the Domex Toilet Academy (DTA) programme. Domex Toilet Academy was launched on 19th November 2013. It aims to become a sustainable and long-term solution to provide sanitation that benefits the local community and helps stimulate the local economy. The Toilet Academy makes toilets accessible and affordable, while promoting the benefits of clean toilets & good hygiene. Our effort has resulted in bringing the change in the villages of Maharashtra and Orissa and we aim to build 24000 toilets by 2015 in rural areas faced with the problem of open defecation.

You can bring about the change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing your support for the Domex Initiative. All you need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on www.domex.in and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on your behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.

Written for the ‘Toilet for Babli’ at Indiblogger. 

5 off-beat Bollywood movies to get you started

Movies are an integral part of India. Be it the popular Bollywood which makes mostly Hindi movies, or the other regional –woods like Tollywood (Bengali), Kollywood (Tamil), Mollywood (Malayalam)  and so on which makes movies in regional languages, cinema touches many people. The movies made can be split broadly into two categories: mainstream cinema and off-beat cinema. Mainstream movies are your run of the mill Bollywood movies. They either use well established or upcoming stars, are easy going on the story line (possibly with a bunch of plot holes), and have song-dance routines. Typically these are happily ever after movies, and are meant for enjoyment with friends and family as a welcome break from the drudgery of life. Their main motive is to reach out the most to the average movie goer and make as much money as possible. Off-beat movies are also called parallel cinema or art movies. These are not your average light hearted movies. Most of them involve shunning of the song and dance routines, which makes it difficult for everyone to watch. The movies are thought provoking, and dark. Some may make you laugh, but will utilize dark-comedy or satire to do so. Typically they deal with realism, or the morals and motivations of the characters.  Off-beat movies generally don’t perform that well financially. It is easy for most mainstream movies to make millions for their makers and have wide viewership. Off-beat movies on the other hand are critically acclaimed and well made, but do not gather in as much revenue. These are generally viewed as a means to showcase talent, or experiment.  That doesn’t mean however that they must be taken lightly. Some of the most interesting and thoughtful movies have been off-beat movies. Since people need to develop a taste for such movies, sometimes off-beat movies are made with a touch of mainstream masala. This may be in the form of having famous and popular actors, addition of songs that go with the plot (and do not have uncalled group dance sequences), or some sweetening of the story line. I would like to share 5 such movies with you that I believe are a must watch to develop a taste for more serious off-beat movies. Dev D: This is a modern adaptation of the old Bengali novel Devdas by  Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. The novel has been famously adapted into movies with Ashok Kumar and Shahrukh Khan as the titular character. Devdas and Paro are childhood friends, and develop romantic feelings for each other after Devdas leaves his village for schooling. When he comes back, he is not allowed to marry Paro as she is from a family of lower status. While Paro moves on, Devdas drowns himself in alcohol at the court of Chandramukhi, with the help of his friend Chunni. Soon she develops feelings for him, but Devdas does not return them. The alcoholism takes a toll on him and he visits Paro one last time before he dies.

This modern adaptation is quite different. Paro (Mahie Gill) is much more confident and bold unlike the soft spoken versions before. She can match Dev (Abhay Deol) in his passion and wants him physically just as much as he does. While the parents approve of his match with Paro, a misunderstanding causes the jealous Dev to not marry her. Paro harbours no more feelings for him and moves on. Chandramukhi (Kalki Koechlin) on the other hand is a teen, who has to shift as her boyfriend makes an MMS of her performing oral sex on him. When this becomes public, her family first leaves the country. After her dad’s suicide, she comes to back to the country and lives with his family in the village. Unable to come to terms with culture shock and misogyny, she runs back to the city where she becomes a prostitute under Chunni. Dev meets Chunni over drinks and drugs, and begins to spend time with Chandramukhi. What is wonderful to see is how both the women are strong willed and ready to take control of their lives, and how Dev is brought back on his feet by them. The movie has a wonderful soundtrack by Amit Trivedi which complements the psychedelic take on the novel. Aks:
Aks is the story of Manu Verma (Amitabh Bachchan) and Raghavan (Manoj Bajpayee). Manu Verma is a cop who is given the job to protect the Indian Defence Minister on a foreign trip. Raghavan is a skilled (albeit psychopathic) assassin who manages to kill the minister. Manu and his partner team up to catch Raghavan at the cost of his partner’s life. There is a fight in the jail when Raghavan is sentenced to death, and the two end up shooting each other. While Raghavan is presumed death, his soul latches on to Manu and tries to take control over his body. The movie is about this fight of the two souls in a body, and how Manu has to now save his family and his world from the evil spirit within him. The movie features wonderful performances by both the actors. No Smoking:
Directed by Anurag Kashyap, it is one the lesser known movies that utilize a fantasy dream world. The movie is the story of Kay (John Abraham) who not only is a chain smoker, but a narcissist. His wife (Ayesha Takia) cannot deal with it anymore and threatens to leave him unless he quits smoking. Left with no option he is lead to a rehab centre called the Prayogshala (Laboratory in Hindi) by his old friend Abbas (Ranveer Shorey) who started to smoke with him in the first place. He signs a contract with Shri Shri Shri Prakash Guru Ghantal Baba Bangali Sealdah Wale (Paresh Rawal) so that he would do ANYTHING asked to quit smoking. He is blackmailed into threats that for each time he smokes a worse punishment will dealt onto him. This includes from hearing loss, making his brother with a sick lung to breathe in a gas chamber full of cigarette smoke, cutting of fingers and killing of his wife. One he realizes that the Guru’s disciples have infiltrated his life to ensure that, he has to come up with a plan to escape them. The movie uses fantasy lucid dreams, the concept of karma and souls as well. Delhi Belly:
An air hostess (Shenaz Treasurywala) agrees to make a delivery for her colleague’s friend as her friend is unwell. She gives the package to her boyfriend (Imraan Khan) and his debt-ridden roommates (Vir Das and Kunaal Roy Kapur). The package contains smuggled diamonds which are to be delivered to a local gangster, but is mixed up with a stool sample when one of the roommates gets diarrhoea after some street food. Hence the name Delhi Belly. Taking this as insult, the gangster kidnaps the air hostess. The film is about the hilarity that ensures as they sell off the diamonds and try to rescue the girl. This is a relatively short film that features no intermissions. The movie contains generous use of Hindi curse words, and potty humor. The movie is made by newcomers Abhinay Deo, Akshat Verma. It is one of the few Bollywood movies to have most of its dialogue in English, with generous Hindi curse words thrown in. Gangs of Wasseypur:
Gangs of Wasseypur was shot as one movie which was 319 minutes long. Since it would be difficult to release a movie over 5 hours long, it was split in to 2. The movie is set in the Wasseypur and Dhanbad cities in the Bihar state. Sardar Khan’s (Manoj Bajpayee) father was killed by Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) who is a coal magnate and politician. Khan swears vengeance upon Singh, and promises to not kill him but make his life miserable. While he becomes a gangster in his own right, he is not able to fully deal in and gets the shot to death. After his and his older brother’s deaths, and spurred on by his mother (Richa Chaddha) the youngest heir ( Nawazuddin Siddiqui ) takes on the family business as he tries to exact the vengeance his father couldn’t. The movie is more just than the vengeance over dead family members, but deals with the politics of the region and how people come together or fall apart. The movie has generous use of the local regional language, and curse words. The soundtrack shuffles from rustic songs, old family songs, and some eclectic dance numbers. This one is a must –watch film that cover over 30 years of story. This post is a part of the Miss Lovely Activity in association with BlogAdda. Miss Lovely, an off-beat film directed by Ashim Ahluwalia is set in the lower depths of Bombay’s “C” grade film industry. It follows the devastating story of two brothers who produce sex horror films in the mid – 1980s. A sordid tale of betrayal and doomed love, the film dives into the lower depths of the Bollywood underground, an audacious cinema with baroque cinemascope compositions, lurid art direction, wild background soundtracks, and gut-wrenching melodrama. Miss Lovely is scheduled for commercial release on 17 January 2014. You can check the trailer of the film