India Puts a Halt to Facebook’s Arrogance and Colonialism

FacebookNew Orleans   The old saying is that “pride cometh before a fall,” and sometimes pure arrogance continues to be glaringly obvious even after a fall. It will be interesting to see if Facebook learns anything from its disastrous mishandling of internet access and politics in India or the whipping that India just gave them. The bottom line is that the Indian government was able to see through the Trojan horse strategy around Facebook’s claims for its expansion in the country that would advance their commercial interests and provide them control over internet access. Methinks the company doth protest too much, but it’s busted, so hopefully they will cop a plea and walk the line in the future.

Here’s the backstory though. Facebook over the last year rolled out a service, shrewdly named and packaged as Facebook Free Basics in India, just as they have been doing in Africa. Their claim is free access to a limited number of websites that channel internet through Facebook’s servers for technical reasons. They marketed the service through the huge India-based conglomerate Reliance. They claim that they brought 1 million people onto the internet for the first time, which sounds like a lot at first blush, but not so much when you realize that 100 million Indians came online for the first time in 2015, making Facebook a small drop in a big bucket.

The Indian regulator brought Facebook down to size and, importantly, protected “net neutrality,” which Facebook claims to support at least in the United States, by ruling that free services are illegal when they favor any content by waiving mobile fees. In doing so they joined other countries that have banned “zero rating” of content including the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Chile. The slippery way Facebook was back-dooring their business and claiming they were do-gooders while doing the opposite lies in the fact that they would have had the sole decision making ability on any additional services gaining access through Free Basics and its slower bandwidth.

Who did they think they were fooling? As the Software Freedom Law Center told The Wall Street Journal, “Once you create walled gardens that raise barriers of entry, anybody capable of getting into agreements like Free Basics are in a competitive sense the only companies that can be online.” A self-interested Facebook board member seemed to argue that maybe colonialism would be better in India than allowing the country to make these kind of bonehead decisions, prompting outrage from Indians, and forcing Facebook to disavow his comments and muscle him into making an apology.

An apology is simply something coming from the moving parts of the mouth, not a change in mindset, and that is clearly the problem with Facebook’s arrogance. Mark Zuckerberg is developing a happen of claiming something is charity, while making sure he and/or his company grip everything with an iron fist.

The only place the charge of colonialism sticks is on Facebook itself and the way it has handled and set up this program and its sly efforts at global dominance of the internet in developing countries in the guise of charity. India has called them out, and other countries need to follow. Facebook needs to change its tune or hear the chants of protest not only in developing countries but throughout the world.

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ACORN in Delhi Offers Alternatives to the “Sleep Mafia”

WP_20151204_10_56_12_ProNew Orleans   It is not every day when the work of ACORN and its affiliates is written between the lines of major stories in The New York Times, but recently that was the case in a glaring, tragic story about the so-called “sleep mafia” in Delhi.

The story of privatized sleep follows a familiar pattern in this city: After decades of uncontrolled growth, the city government’s inability to provide services like health care, water, transportation and security has given rise to thriving private industries, efficient enough to fulfill the needs of those who can pay. But shelter, given Delhi’s extremes of heat and cold, is often a matter of survival. The police report collecting more than 3,000 unidentifiable bodies from the streets every year, typically men whose health broke down after years living outdoors. Winter presents especially brutal choices to homeless laborers, who have no place to protect blankets from thieves in the daytime hours. Some try to hide them in the tops of trees.

In this overview, that’s a statement of the problem and the city’s response is somewhat explained by an Indian Supreme Court decision.

A cluster of “pavement dweller” deaths prompted India’s Supreme Court to rule in 2010 that the country’s large cities must provide shelter for 0.1 percent of the population. This winter, Delhi expanded its shelter system to accommodate more than 18,000, but the number of homeless is vast — likely more than 100,000….

As always it’s more complicated than simply some poor people taking advantage of even poorer people, as sleep wallas rent blankets for 20 or 30 rupees a night to the homeless. Many of this number are migrant workers in from the vast, imperiled rural countryside of India, trying to find a way to make a living, rather than how many might read the story and equate the situation in a kneejerk fashion to homelessness in the US. It’s as bad, but it is also somewhat different.

Furthermore there is worse story of Delhi’s efforts to privatize the problem of shelter. ACORN for several years was one of a number of nonprofits that ran several sleeping shelters for migrant workers in various districts of the city, including a large facility in a Delhi Municipal Corporation building in Old Delhi. In 2015 most of the nonprofits, including ACORN’s affiliates were pushed out when the city tried to outsource the problem in a bidding scheme that divided the city into huge regions allowing larger private enterprises to capitalize on the process and squeeze experienced nonprofits out of more effective support for the workers. After the failure of that system the city now has had to revert in many cases back to better operators. Recently I heard from Dharmendra Kumar, ACORN’s director in Delhi, that we had been awarded several new contracts and had a number of the ones we had lost in 2015 returned to us.

What do we do? As Dharmendra reports:

Janpahal, a Delhi based affiliate of ACORN International in association with Govt of Delhi is running and managing five shelters for homeless namely at Shakarpur, Ganesh Nagar, Yamuna Khadar, Akshardham and Geeta Colony. The shelters are free with many facilities including clean mattress, bed sheets, blankets, quilts, drinking water, electricity, toilets, bathroom, first aid box, lockers, daily newspaper, morning tea, breakfast, counselling and sanitary napkins. Free tuitions are provided to school going homeless children. Facilities for entertainment and sports are also available. Along with daily morning tea and healthy breakfast, fresh and hot food for dinner are also being served on sundays. We run various awareness programmes and programs to link homeless with government services and skill development programs. Special awareness drive was conducted on drug-deaddiction, HIV/AIDS, TB etc. Homeless residents of these shelters collectively celebrate festivals and have created a creative corner in all shelters. Recently, a film festival was organized from christmas to New year.

When I shared the Times article with Dharmendra he also sent along a picture of a “rescue” vehicle that we are using that combs the streets of Delhi between 10 PM and 4 AM in the morning locating homeless who are sleeping rough and bring them to the nearest shelter.

None of this is enough, but bringing organizations and advocates back into the picture this year restores a voice for the poor and dispossessed that offers hope for expansion of services rather than the ill-fated mega-privatization schemes.

More needs to be done, but organizations like ACORN and its affiliates are leading the way in pushing for a solution and offering help and support in the meantime.

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Janpahal, a Delhi based affiliate of ACORN International in association with Govt of Delhi is running and managing five shelters for homeless namely at Shakarpur, Ganesh Nagar, Yamuna Khadar, Akshardham and Geeta Colony. The shelters are free with many facilities including clean mattress, bed sheets, blankets, quilts, drinking water, electricity, toilets, bathroom, first aid box, lockers, daily newspaper, morning tea, breakfast, counseling and sanitary napkins. Free tuition are provided to school going homeless children. Facilities for entertainment and sports are also available. Along with daily morning tea and healthy breakfast, fresh and hot food for dinner are also being served on Sundays. We run various awareness programmes and programs to link homeless with government services and skill development programs. Special awareness drive was conducted on drug-addiction, HIV/AIDS, TB etc. Homeless residents of these shelters collectively celebrate festivals and has created a creative corner in all shelters. Recently, a film festival was organized from Christmas to New Year.

Poster of film festival Local Legislator playing santa and distributing gifts to homeless kids on christmas Homeless Kids with their Christmas gifts Homeless kids enjoying movie Fresh and hot food being served to homeless Feeding Homeless Kids Feeding Homeless Kid Creative corner by Homeless

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