Monday, March 15, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Towards bridging the ubiquitous digital divide

Published: March 15, 2010
Updated: March 15, 2010 16:42 IST BANGALORE, March 15, 2010

Towards bridging the ubiquitous digital divide
Deepa Kurup

'Namma Debian', the localised version of the Debian GNU/Linux
operating system, was released at this slum computing centre. Photo:
Special Arrangement.
Even tech-savvy computer users often fail to grasp the concept of Free
Software, or fathom the philosophy behind it. However, in this
non-descript slum settlement located diametrically behind the
high-rise IT office buildings on Bannerghatta Road, there is
remarkable clarity and awareness on Software freedom.

Tucked away at the end of a crowded lane, the Ambedkar Community
Computing Center (AC3) hosted an unusual programme on Sunday evening.
A motley crowd of software professionals, free software enthusiasts,
students and residents gathered to create music, share information and
perspective, and officially release 'Namma Debian', the Kannada
version of Linux distribution system. 'Namma Debian' is the localised
version of Debian GNU/Linux, a popular and stable free operating
system -- that runs your computer and comes bundled with a set of
programme utilities that are all from the Free, GNU/Linux stable.

The evening was marked by festivities. The crowded gullies came alive
with music and dance. While a local music troupe led by a resident
Arul got the crowd dancing to popular Tamil songs, a group of four
young girls lit up the rickety stage with some folkish music., And
then a 10-year-old boy, dressed like a magician, charmed the audience
with a short talk on his views on the importance of education, his
speech punctuated by several quotes from the Holy Quran and the
Bhagvad Gita.

Raghavendra, a student and a FOSS volunteer described the evening as
"thiruvizha", a Tamil word for celebration. "It was beautiful to see
residents enthusiastically participating in an event – conceptually
still distant to them -- with a hope that at least it would benefit
their children someday," he said. This community initiative started by
four software professionals may not have solved the daily issues
related to urban poverty and subsistence that people in these area
grapple with, but it is a step toward bridging the ubiquitous urban
divide, at least in the realm of the digital world.

"Namma Debian" was released by G. Ramakrishna, editor of a monthly
magazine Hosatu, by handing over the same to the eldest woman in the
community. Mr. Ramakrishna spoke passionately about the "human spirit"
and how it can conquer the worst of circumstances. This was followed
by a brief demonstration of 'Namma Debian', running through games,
image manipulation tools etc. This distribution has been localised by
the Free Software community in Karnataka, comprising software
professionals and volunteers from several organisations.

Shedding light on another issue, Vidya, who suffers from partial
visual impairment, spoke on the issues that the visually impaired face
while using computers. Demonstrating various technical issues with the
proprietary tools she uses, she also spoke about the fact that
accessibility tools (such as screen readers and related software, all
in the proprietary domain) are extremely expensive. At the end of her
eloquent talk, members of the FSMK (Free Software Movement of
Karnataka) committed themselves to working towards solving these
issues by developing better, more accessible and free tools or
software in this domain.

This event is among a series of programmes in the run up to the
National Free Software Conference, slated to be held in Bangalore on
March 20 and 21 at the Central College campus, Bangalore. The Hindu is
a media partner for the event.


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