Sometimes it takes a make-believe “reality” television show to highlight some of the fundamentals of Indian society. A show, The Big Switch, places slum-dwellers and BlackBerry users side-by-side. Most viewers will agree that this scene could only be conjured up for TV.
Sociologist Jürgen Habermas emphasized the importance of vibrant discussion in public spaces for a truly engaged democracy. But many of these spaces in India—whether in English or vernacular newspapers, or on social networking sites, for example—are limited to specific communities of citizens. It’s hard to imagine upper-class Indians and slum-dwellers engaging substantively with one another.
Some social scientists have decried the decline of civil society in the digital era. Yet, maybe we can find space for inclusive public debate in the most unlikely of sources— such as this reality show, where at least a handful of Indians from very different backgrounds engage with one another in a prolonged way.