How I use cell phones to bridge the gap for the voiceless
Recently, I met Jyoti Bairagi - a 20 year old woman living in a remote village in India’s Madhya Pradesh state.
The village, perched on a rocky hill, had no motorable road and no running water. Everyone there wanted a boy and, when a woman gave birth to more than one girl child, it was killed. A girl’s education stopped at 5th standard, because the high school was 5 hours away, and after school, a girl would return home in pitch dark, thus running the risk of being molested. In few years, she was married off, as parents felt, she sat idle for way too long. This often resulted in early motherhood, post-natal sickness and infant mortality. The state had the highest rate of infant mortality and the worst sex ratio (888 girls to every 1000 boys) in India.
Jyoti didn’t want to get married early. She had heard that outside her village girls went to college and worked in offices. She wanted to be one of them. But first, she wanted her village to be connected with the world, and learn of those changes.
The concept of media didn’t exist; no reporter ever visited the village – over 2 hours’ walk from the nearest bus station. Nobody had a TV or bought newspapers.
But we had technology!
I was heading a program where underprivileged communities were trained to produce their own news. I spoke to a few mobile phone service providers. Jyoti’s village had a network!
‘A cell phone is all you need’ I told her.
Jyoti traveled to my office in Goa. There I helped her buy a mobile handset. In the next 2 weeks, besides basic Internet use, Facebook and Twitter, Jyoti learnt to subscribe to a free SMS service. She learned to type a Hindi text message in Roman script and write a micro-report using no more than 140 characters. Next, Jyoti learned to send the SMS to a group of people. Each time, she could reach 145 people. I showed her how to add in that group, people who mattered: journalists, activists, Government officials and police officers. Most of them were active users of social media and could, through re-twits and re-posting, help take Jyoti’s hyper local reports to a pan-global audience.
Four days after she left Goa, Jyoti sent us her first news report:
‘I am in village. With me, my village has got its own media.'
To me, this is what technology is all about: empowering one woman to help empower another, bridging the gap between the urban and the rural and, the vocal and the voiceless.
Waiting out there are millions of Jyoti. I strive to reach them all with technology, so, no injustice against them ever goes untold.