Social Movements

Notes on social movements in India and abroad
Thanks to my engagement with campaigns working on hunger, education, corruption, health, peace and other issues, I have had an active interest in collective action and its role in the society. The following articles are based on my experience with these campaigns (mainly right to food and the right to information campaigns in India). There are also a few articles that look at literature on this subject, as well as a selection of interesting talks and documentaries.


This is the text of a presentation on the Combatting Corruption with Mobile Phones Project in Portuguese. The talk was delivered online for a conference at UFPA, Brazilian Amazon on 4 Nov 2014. Boa tarde. Meu nome é Vivek, sou um cientista social na Stanford University. Hoje, vou tentar algo muito audacioso: fazer uma apresentação em português. Isso é audacioso porque eu não falo bem o português. Eu aprendi essa língua em um curso de português que fiz por três meses há doze anos atrás. Eu preparei esta apresentação usando o google translate. Agora, você vai entender porque eu falo […]

Combater a corrupção com telefones


In many villages, people had fought for decades to demand one amenity after another. As an activist put it, they would struggle one year and get 100 metres of road, street lights required another protest, and many basic amenities had to be gained through sustained collective action. The impact of such protests over time was to gain an impressive array of services. Such protests date back at most to the 1970s.

The root of TN’s commitment to services








“To be ruled is to be kept an eye on, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, sermonized, listed and checked off, estimated, appraised, censured, ordered about…to be ruled is at every operation, transaction, movement, to be noted, registered, counted, priced, admonished, prevented, reformed, redressed, corrected”. Proudhon quoted by James Scott in Seeing like a state. The power of information is often used by those in powerful positions to control others.  The right to information movement inverts this principle and turns the gaze on those in positions of power by making their actions visible and thus amenable to democratic control.  Sharing information […]

Politics, technology & accountability II


In an earlier post I asked if there are technological answers to the problem of accountability, or if accountability is purely a political problem needing political solutions.  I then argued that while accountability is best seen as a political issue, technology can have an impact on the political terrain, and thus have an impact on accountability.  Let me illustrate this an example. Micro-politics of accountability At the heart of accountability in government programmes lies the process of specifying a set of responsibilities, clearly recording activities of various agents, cross verifying this information and holding agents accountable if there are breaches […]

Politics, technology & accountability I





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Improving accountability depends on political and social initiatives, and not technological solutions. But technology can shape society and politics in limited ways. This article looks briefly at how the Unique id project can help in improving accountability of the government to people in India.

Will the Unique ID project improve accountability?


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T R Vishwanathan was one of the founding members of the communist movement in South Arcot District I met TRV for an interview two weeks ago. Though he was unwell and very old, he insisted on speaking to me. “I may have a heart attack and pass away anyday”, he said, “if I talk to you, you may take my message to more people”. We went on to have a delightful 4-hour discussion on his legacy. I am sad to say that he has passed away last night and will be cremated today. This post offers a short snap shots […]

Obituary to a great soul: T R Vishwanathan (TRV)



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A report by the Dy. Commissioner, and SP Palamu indicates that police in Palamu is not serious about pursuing Lalit Metha’s murderers One of our colleagues, Lalit Mehta, was brutally murdered  in Palamu, Jharkahand recently.  A sloppy report has prepared by the Deputy Commissioner and the SP, Palamu indicates that the Jharkhand police is either insincere in pursuing the murderers or actively protecting them. Lalit was in the process of organising a survey on NREGA along with Jean Dreze and a band of volunteers. Instead of pursuing the murders, the report casts aspersions on the survey team and even goes […]

Jharkhand police: Enquiry or cover-up in Lalit Mehta’s murder case?


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In one of the worst cases of attack on an NREGA activist, Lalit Kumar was murdered this week in Palamu Right from the word go combating corruption in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has been a major agenda of activists of the Right to Food Campaign. Needless to say, it brings activists into conflict with the vested interests that are deeply rooted in India today. This week in Palamu, a young and committed activist – Lalit Kumar – was murdered, perhaps a result of his actions to secure the poorest of people their rights. I am reproducing an […]

Murder of Lalit Kumar, NREGA activist in Palamu, Jharkhand




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Comparisons are often drawn between the New Deal in USA and the Employment Guarantee Act in India (NREGA). One programme of new deal comes close to NREGA – Civilian Conservation Corps The Government of India passed the all-important National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in 2005 (for an intro click here). Whenever I mention it to my friends in USA the first question they ask me is, “is this like the new-deal”. The new deal has many similarities with NREGA, but is a much wider concept. NREGA is a programme dealing exclusively with labour-intensive, unskilled work. Employment programmes under new […]

America’s New Deal & India’s Employment Guarantee Act


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Good introductory video on using right to information to combat corruption by Arvind Kejriwal Arvind Kejriwal has been at the heart of an inspiring campaign to combat corruption by using the right to information. He spearheaded a campaign in Delhi along with many other groups that popularised the use of right to information. Arvind got the Magasassay for his work. The videos below contain a talk he gave on using RTI, which I think is a good introductory material for people with an interest on how it could be used, and what it means.

Fighting corruption using right to information: Arvind Kejriwal’s talk


It looks like Government of Bihar has launched a Right to information call centre. Personally, I think this is a great idea, though I dont know how it works at this point. If found a video about it in You Tube that has been widely televised. This is a eight minute clip about that appeals to different groups of people to use it, and gives an idea about how it could be done.

Right to information call centre in Bihar: Video clip



Many talks and interviews with well known people are now available online. I’ve put together a series of them that I have specially enjoyed. To see the rest, click here Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop from South Africa is one of the towering figures of the world today. His role in removing Apartheid from South Africa is well acknowledged. He also received a Nobel peace prize for his role in 1984.  Bishop Tutu is a very powerful speaker, story teller, and a jovial person. But between his stories and jokes he gets serious and makes touching appeals. His sense of hope […]

Touching talk by Desmond Tutu: Nobel Laureate from South Africa


Many talks and interviews with well known people are now available online. I’ve put together a series of them that I have specially enjoyed. To see the rest, click here I bumped into a page called the best of google videos at hub pages dot com. The list of videos is interesting and varied, and it’s growing. You may wish to check it out at hub by clicking here.

Best of Google Videos at Hub Pages