Give the government a jhatka, virtually
Jhatkaa.org, a new website, founded by social entrepreneur Deepa Gupta, urges citizens to shake up the system, regard democracy as going beyond casting a vote and hold those in power accountable to the people
We can’t just complain and expect things to change, we must be ready to put in the hard work that is required to transform our lives and our country,” says Deepa Gupta. And the 25-year-old, who plans to dedicate her life to the campaigning website Jhatkaa.org she recently set up, really does put her money where her mouth is.
Jhatkaa, claims Gupta, is based on the hypothesis that a lot of people have access to digital technology, which she intends to use to mobilise citizens to hold people in power accountable and bring about social change.
The change Gupta aims to achieve is based on a set of specific values. “We aim to transform the public narrative on citizenship and democracy so that people no longer accept corruption and our social problems as inevitable, and instead understand their role in shifting systems to make our democracy functional,” says the Bangalore-based social entrepreneur.
“Think about how you can join a leader, organisation or fellow citizens who are working for something you agree with. If we spend less time focusing on how things are broken, and invest more time in building solutions we wish to see, we’ll be able to celebrate the progress that is really happening in India and be able to bring about the change we want,” says Gupta.
The organisation, still in its nascent stages, takes on two to three campaigns at a time. “We’re currently running a campaign to hold Bruhat Bengaluru Mahangara Palike (BBMP) (Bangalore’s municipal corporation) accountable to fix the roads in the city, and are working on a separate campaign to lift the ban on cycles and non-motorised transport (NMT) in Kolkata that denies many people access to their primary form of commuting (not to mention its the most environmentally friendly way of commuting). We’re working in collaboration with some activists and NGOs for both these campaigns, which are being run on mobile phones,” says Gupta.
The website, still in beta stages, is currently hosting an online petition against the Cambridge and Oxford University Presses, who have sued Delhi University and a photocopy service provider. The idea is to urge the two firms to ease their copyright laws so that poorer students are given access to the best education possible. “The petition letter and signatures will be submitted to the OUP and CUP in Delhi and in the UK. We will see what their response is and communicate it back to the supporters. If, at times, the next steps aren’t obvious, we will take a poll or ask our members what we should do.”
Gupta, who most recently helped the world’s largest petition platform, Change.org set up shop in India, believes that digital campaigning is still very new in the country. “It is an evolving field and I’m willing to take risks and try out new things,” says Gupta. Thanks to a seed investment through donations made on a crowdfunding site, she was able to launch Jhatkaa in September this year. But she spent the last two years setting it up and figuring out how to engage people using digital tech.
“Jhatkaa for me is a project of a lifetime. To build a progressive India we need to be thinking in the timeframe of decades. It’s hard work. Any successful movement has taken decades to succeed, and we see our work as contributing to that,” she signs off.