How a skateboard brings social change in Madhya Pradesh village

Love of skateboard made Asha Gond, a 17-year-old tribal girl from Janwaar village in Panna district of Madhya Pradesh, the first person in her village to get a passport and travel to a foreign country. In November 2016 she stayed with a teacher in the UK for two months to learn to speak in English, something she was passionate about. All thanks to Janwaar Castle which crowdsourced the trip for her.

Image result for janwaar castle
Janwaar Castle: Girls First!

Janwaar Castle, is a project with India’s largest rural skatepark at its core.

Spearheaded by Ulrich Renate Reinhard, a 59-year-old German community activist, the skatepark happened by chance—over an impromptu conversation between Reinhard and Shyamendra Singh, the owner of Ken River Lodge resort in Panna National Park, in the summer of 2015. Singh asked Reinhard if she wanted to work in his home area. Reinhard suggested a skatepark and showed him a video of Skateistan, an NGO headquartered in Germany which empowers children and youth through skateboarding and education in various countries like Afghanistan.

“He loved the idea and agreed to donate land for it while I crowdsourced the funding to build the park,” says Reinhard who developes community projects with the internet at its core. She posted on her social media accounts and blogs, asking for artboards, or skateboards with artwork done by renowned artists from across the world, and received 19 of them. The artboards were then auctioned in October 2015 on eBay with the help of a German NGO skate-aid and Reinhard was able to raise $17,000 for the Janwaar Castle project. In April 2015, the skatepark had its grand opening and the project Janwaar Castle Community Organisation was formally turned into an NGO in January 2016. 

Continue reading “How a skateboard brings social change in Madhya Pradesh village”

The politics of Facebook

With the social media becoming an important political battleground, is Facebook affecting friendships and trying to influence our political leanings?



When social activist Uthara Narayanan, 32, posted an innocuous article link on the Gujarat riots on Facebook in January, she was in for a surprise. An old friend from college fiercely defended Gujarat chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, getting abrasive and personal in the post. “I had known her for more than 14 years and yet hadn’t seen this side to her,” says Narayanan. “I didn’t realize when she had gone off and gotten such strong views on the debate.”

From then on Narayanan decided to stay away from her friend though they live in the same city. “It left a bad taste in my mouth and marred our friendship for me, though I am still Facebook friends with her.” Almost as if agreeing with her, Facebook’s wall automatically started keeping her friend’s posts away from her wall—thanks to the EdgeRank algorithm.

Like-like stick together

EdgeRank, the Facebook algorithm that decides which posts to show in your newsfeed, bases its decision on three factors: an affinity score between the user and the one who’s created the post, the type of post (comment, like, create or tag), and time lapsed since it was created. The first basically means that you will see posts from friends you have interacted with and like to interact with on the social network.

In January, Catherine Grevet, a PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, studied this algorithm in the light of politics and concluded that people tend to get attracted to circles of friends who affirm to their own political leanings, all because of Facebook’s algorithms. “People are mainly friends with those who share similar values and interests,” Grevet wrote in the study. “As a result, they aren’t exposed to opposing viewpoints.” Grevet presented the study at the 17th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in the US in February.

Alok Sharma, a Mumbai-based creative writer who used to be a political cartoonist, says social media has led to Indians opening up. “We are taught to be a little politically correct, especially in face-to-face conversations. But when it comes to social networking sites, Indians express their views like fanatics,” he says. He blocked a couple of Facebook friends after a spate of personal comments on one of his posts. “My friends know me and get the crux of what I might be trying to say in a thread but there are others who are on my Friends list but don’t understand the context and take it all wrong.”

The misunderstanding arises because many of us post on the network as we would speak among friends and not as we would say things in public. “Facebook is not a community, a clique or a group of friends,” says Nishant Shah, director of research at Bangalore-based non-profit The Centre for Internet and Society. “It is just a network,” he says. That means that not all people on your Facebook list are friends—you are just connected to them on the network. You might have a professional relationship with them, be teammates or acquaintances or colleagues, but you don’t know them personally. Given that the average Facebook user has 229 Facebook friends—according to the numbers from US think tank Pew Research Center’s Internet Project which tracks statistics about the social network—that’s just too many people to even know personally.

“The audience on the social network is much larger than the friend list, including Facebook itself, which, if it finds your comment problematic, will censor even before a complaint is produced,” says Shah. A post on Facebook or a comment or a like, can get you in trouble not just with other individuals or communities who take offence but even the law, as happened to a girl in 2012 who put up a post criticizing the shutdown of Mumbai after the death of Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray.

“Though used like it, Facebook is not a conversation,” says Shah, “Because everything you write is archived and recorded. And can be used against you if need be.”

A medium to shout in

But would you shout at a stranger on the street as you do on Facebook? Basav Biradar, a programme manager based in Bangalore, actively posts on politics and comments on Facebook. He feels most people on Facebook give strong opinions that are not well-informed. “A lot of these opinions are dependent on propaganda and campaigns rather than facts. Why don’t people do some homework before forming an opinion?” With over 100 million Indians active on the social network, however, an uninformed opinion is hardly reason to stop anyone from posting, commenting, liking, offending and getting offended through posts on Facebook.

Shah calls this phenomenon cyber-bullying in politics. “Specific vocal and passionate groups and communities have emerged who silence any voice of dissent or critique by trolling the dissident,” says Shah. “They do not need anonymity. They don’t try to hide who they are. They feel so empowered by the backing of the politicos who are either hiring or supporting them, that they have risen in hordes and are stifling the space for dissent and questioning even more effectively than they have been able to do in real life.”

It’s almost like standing in a rally and hearing a swarm of slogans. Sashi Kumar, chairman of the trust Media Development Foundation that runs the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, gives a similar analogy. He believes that the language of communication on Facebook is not written but oral. “Writing implies a well thought through opinion, whereas speech is responsive and involved. Within the Internet, there’s a strange morphing of written form which is expressed in a way of oral communication. You speak to someone on Facebook, you respond, you hear, you react, you communicate, you talk.” He says that this morphing is leading society back to more oral forms of communication where written forms like newspapers will be a thing of the past.

Replacing traditional media


With surprising events like the support for Jan Lokpal law, Pink Chaddi campaign and even the backlash against the December 2012 gang rape case in Delhi, social media seems to have somewhere, somehow made all of us more participative, more aware and more active in political and social spaces.

Most politicians have active Twitter and Facebook accounts. Most newspapers and even news channels quote their feed as statements when summing up news. Social networks have become almost mainstream. So much so that when earlier in March Modi attacked Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at a political rally in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, Kumar’s response was detailed, and through a Facebook post.


Read the complete story on

The Kejriwal character

Since the name Kejriwal might get this blog banned without reason, let me start by saying this post is not about politics. It is about imagination.

As an exercise to improve the characters I write about, I have been looking at various people when walking on the road, or in news and creating their stories. See that old woman, in khaki? She just condoled someone who heard about a death in her family. See that little boy with her granny? He hates how the granny calls him by his nickname and he doesn’t like his granny’s spidery, wrinkled hands when she feeds him. In my stories, these people flower (or wither) so to say, becoming something more dramatic, sometimes sinister, sometimes vulnerable. it’s like a flash of an idea, a storyline attached to a face and I encourage it.




I got a flash of a character when I saw Arvind Kejriwal’s interview in one of the media channels (weren’t all of them interviewing him?). It’s not the real him of course, just a figment of my imagination. So hear it out.

Kejriwal is a puppeteer of people. He gets hold of strings which can suffocate those who are corrupt, and then uses those strings to make them jump to his calls or crash down. He enjoys it, just like a cat enjoys playing with mice. Hit with one claw, wait and smile. His smile is not open, but a simple stretch of lips, as if he’s amused by a hen ruffling her feathers (in this case, Karan Thapar was the hen who was interviewing him). The opposite doesn’t matter, it has to crumble in front of the power that the character exudes. Some call him an anarchist. Maybe he’s one. The character certainly looks like he wants feathers and skin ruffled.

As he cuts a wire in a middle class household, Kejriwal’s eyes shine with a strange kind of light – you might think it’s the light of righteousness, of conviction that he’s leading the society to a better place. There’s a Pied Piper in him, who will happily play a tune, hypnotise the masses and lead them, well anywhere. And every sheep will follow.

He has the charisma of a leader and he has the self-righteousness. Most of the parties are peeing in their pants looking at him right now and shivering as they wonder what will pop out next from his kittybag—will it be their corrupt name or their son-in-law’s? His power is unexpected and he knows it. His power is not of honesty, it is a power over people who feel dishonest. He’s the one-eyed king in a nation of blind men. He knows it. He will keep his feet on the table and tell you that he knows it and will see you sweat. All the while smiling that closed-lip smile. Can you trust him? I don’t know that yet.

That’s Kejriwal the character who will figure in one of my stories some day. I wonder how similar it is to Arvind Kejriwal the man. What do you think?