Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Adam Hochschild interviewed by Katherine Maher, June 16, 2017/hi
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ADAM HOCHSCHILD: I want to end by giving you an example today of something again that's not a new technology, but an example of using some existing technologies for disseminating knowledge in what I find very excitingly different way. And it's the most interesting leap of this sort that I've seen in the last few years, because it's not happening in the United States; It's not happening in Europe; it's something that's happening in the rural south among the very poorest of the poor. It's a project-- I wonder if any of you are familiar with it-- the People's Archive of Rural India? OK, let me tell you about it.
The situation in India is, of course, as you know, is that it's a country with a huge amount of poverty in it, especially rural poverty. More than 800 million Indians are making their living on the land as landless laborers working on somebody else's land or as very small farmers with minuscule plots of land themselves. They are politically lacking power and they're ignored by the country's mass media. You never see stories about farm life on TV, and this is a country where the majority of people are still living on the land. Until a couple of years ago, the daily newspapers in India-- India is a country with a lot of newspapers because it's easier for people to get print than it is for them to be able to afford a computer or TV-- and all the staffs of all the daily newspapers in India, both in English and in the many other languages there, there was only one correspondent who spent full time covering agriculture and farm life.
He's a friend of mine. And a couple of years ago, he quit his job with the newspaper to start this quite remarkable project. Because he realized that with a smartphone-- and these are now cheap enough so that many people in India's rural villages are starting to have them-- you can download or upload almost anything. So he and a bunch of friends created a quite remarkable web site that is partly curated-- in the sense that everything that is finally posted is seen by and approved by one of the editors-- but it's mostly popularly generated where it asks for contributions from people-- contributions of photographs, of film, of written stories, of data-- and there are guidelines for how you can contribute this material.
It also asks for people to contribute translations. There are, I believe, so far at least 12 languages on this site, and some items you have a choice of up to 12 languages in which you can read or view or listen to that story, that film clip or whatever it is. And the translations are contributed by people remotely donating their labor to do this. Everything that's posted is under a Creative Commons item.
And it's exciting to me to read the kind of material there, because it is something which-- and I can tell you this from my own experience because I've lived in India for six months-- it is stuff that is absolutely not covered at all by the nation's newspapers, TV, bloggers, or anything else. Here are the kinds of things that it posts-- there are text and photo stories-- and almost every story is illustrated-- about issues affecting farmers. There's been a huge wave-- the death toll is now in the hundreds of thousands-- of Indian small farmers who've committed suicide because they have gone deep into debt and not been able to repay it.
Articles about drought; articles about what happens when global warming means rising sea levels and there are farmers who are farming land that's only a foot or two of sea levels. There are portraits of people, again, in a variety of media-- text, photos, film, audio; people in different kinds of rural occupations-- well drillers, weavers, camel grazers, migrant fishery workers, the people who climb coconut trees, 50 trees a day to lop off the coconuts and harvest them, a guy in a rural area who lost a child to a car accident and in response has created his own ambulance service with his motorcycle.
There are stories honoring crafts, some of which are dying out, some of which are still practiced. For example, a marvelous visual piece-- film and audio-- about people building a traditional kind of wooden boat in the state of Kerala in the south, and when you have four or five workers working on a boat-- they're all hammering nails because it takes, you know, 20,000 nails or something to build one of these boats-- they have developed certain percussion rhythms with their multiple hammers, so it sounds like a bunch of drummers practicing. There is a portrait gallery of thousands of faces from across the country, closeup faces of people in rural areas, farmers, you know, housewives, weavers, people whose photographs would never be on TV, in a national newspaper, anything like that. There is a huge collection of traditional songs sung by women in one part of the country as they use a stone grinding mill to grind rice flour or grind turmeric. Scholars began collecting audio of these songs 20 years ago, now they've got a place where they can post them. And it can be added to by people today, adding video as well as audio of the women singing these songs.
You can get on this site and with your smartphone in an Indian village, you can search by the part of the country you're in, by the district, by the village you're in, and most important of all, I think, is you know that if your face, your song, your village, your occupation is on there, that people all over the world can see it and they can see it in a variety of different languages. I think the implications of that is that it's something enormously empowering, and when people can begin seeing their faces and their words on a screen in this way, in a way that's not just a Facebook post but in a way that they know is directed towards a wide audience, I hope that is something which will encourage them to believe that they have as many rights and as much importance as somebody whose face or song is seen on a national TV screen.
So why don't I stop right there and I would be glad to hear your comments, questions, any thoughts that this provokes on your part.