If you will humor me for a moment, when I was in my second year of college, I was part of the Extra Mural Lecture team. Over the academic year, we invited people from different facets of life to give talks and inspire students to look outside the confines of our campus. One of the speaker we had invited that year was Mr. P. Sainath and for various reasons, I ended up not going to his talk. I then got an earful, from a lot of people, praising the talk and balking at my absence. So I wasn't going to miss him a second time when he came today, to deliver the pre-conference talk.
Right off the bat, he talked about the mass migration happening in rural India towards urban and metros. He talked about the number of farmer suicides over the last 20 years and he talked about the amount by which the number of full time farmers had fallen while, at the same time, the number of part time agricultural laborers increased. He talked about the shrinking communities in rural India and how this is a massive information loss, in terms of local traditions, languages, cultures and wisdom as such. He talked about the about the death of languages and our incompetence in trying to record the rich and diverse languages spoken across the Indian subcontinent. It was surprising for me to see a man with numbers on the top of his tongue, statistics such as the average monthly wage for a person and the change in agricultural credit over time. I guess being a journalist for 35 years, more then 20 of them spent covering poverty and the people at bottom of the barrel burns such numbers into the back of one's head.
He then moved in to his main theme of the talk, the People's rural archive of India project that he started, a project trying to document the vast diversity of rural India. I will not be able to do justice to the website in words and I suggest you spend a couple of minutes on it yourself. He gave brief accounts of the various stories they have on the website, a glimpse at their gargantuan effort to try and document the 'everyday lives of the everyday people'.
After the talk, I naively asked him what technological advancement he thinks would help in documenting the lives of rural Indians. He told me that the barrel of a gun can be used to stir a pot but it doesn't do a good job at it. He is betting on the advancements in internet and mobile coverage in rural areas to be a driving force behind his efforts with the website.
India is far from perfect. There are those of us who don't concern ourselves with the day to day problems of the others. There are those of us who acknowledge it but all we do is argue, debate and talk about the problem. There are a few of us who look for solutions and debate their feasibility. Then there are the very few who document everything, doing instead of just thinking.