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From publishing for the masses to publishing by the masses

With the arrival of digital tools, people have been freed of the shackles of illiteracy

Parinita Jaaju Shiralige is a nine-year-old. She lives in south Goa with her parents and younger sibling Sufiana. Pari, as she is called, has never been to school. Yet, she must be the youngest publisher and writer that I know. Her visiting card, which she designed and ordered online, proclaims she is a writer, blogger, artist, photographer, traveller and avid reader.

“I write about my hobbies, my life with Sufiana (my sister), art, craft, reading, movie reviews, book reviews, journaling, and more. I’ve been writing for the past three years. I’m really excited, as my next post will be my 100th. I want to make it special. Also, if you’d like to, you can subscribe as well," she told me.

Pari’s blog is called Tinker Earth, and is full of information about the local environment, flora and fauna, her art work that she makes, and also links to her Facebook page to sell her handmade greeting cards.

Meet Vijay Roy and Hemraj Gurjar, who are in their mid-twenties. They both belong to Shahabad block of Baran district in Rajasthan and are part of a core team of about 12 tribal youths, who work on managing digital community centres. They never completed their schooling. Vijay aggregates news and local information, and then generates a ten-page PDF newsletter called Khoj Khabar, which gets circulated as an email attachment and gets published on a website too. Hemraj supplies news material to local journalists through WhatsApp, which gets published in local newspapers.

Sumit is from Narkatiaganj in West Champaran district of Bihar. For three generations, his family has had a garment shop in this small town. He has made a group of his customers on WhatsApp and updates them regularly with photos and rates and other necessary information about new stocks or anything his customers would be interested to know. Besides, he has also joined a political party and created a Facebook page to help widen the party’s network.

In a remote part of Maharashtra, a group of farmers collects and transmits data on buffaloes—minute details of their teeth, skin, gait, price tag, etc—over WhatsApp to close deals.

In Doddaballapura, located in Bengaluru Rural district, a bunch of students has made a WhatsApp group for only one reason: to prepare for exams and use the platform to share tips, images of information culled from books, exam keys, test papers, etc, among group members. Their mobile phones help them click pictures of whatever they want to share and a data network subscription enables them to share these with members of the group.

Umar Farooq is a bhapang (string instrument) player in Alwar. His knowledge of dying folk art, music, stories and instruments of the Mewar region made him turn to digital media. Farooq and his brothers are on a quest to put the entire folk history of the region online so that people can read, listen and watch.

Digital tools are being adopted by anybody who wants to say or share something. In earlier times, the only way to publish or convey your message was through the written form and thus was dependent on literacy—assuming you could write or read them for people to consume them. Then, gradually, video or audiovisual media came on the scene, but that too was limited to those who could publish content or broadcast them. In other words, publishing and broadcasting have always been a phenomenon where few individuals, companies, and organizations created content for broadcast and publishing.

With the arrival of digital tools, people have been freed of the shackles of illiteracy. We all know that even the poorest of poor has tremendous knowledge, but their ability to share was limited to the oral medium, which the world never recognized as important. Illiterate people for generations struggled to be heard and to make the world listen to them. No more.

Now, even if I live in a village and I cannot read or write, I can share, broadcast and audio-cast using various digital tools, least of them being my camera-enabled mobile phone with a data connection. No wonder platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, podcasts, SoundCloud, Flickr and Picasa have given an opportunity to every man on earth to have his say.

Publishing is changing—from being in the hands of just few, it is going to the masses. We are certainly heading into the era where the masses are publishers—a happy migration from the era where a few were publishing for the masses.

End note: We have a network of 150 community information centres across 60 districts in 22 states and all of them are in remote areas. In all locations, our primary modes of sharing notes, updates, photos and the status of the centres are WhatsApp and Facebook, which empower us to hire the least educated person to run a centre if she can pick up digital skills.

Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chair of Manthan and mBillionth awards.

He serves on the board of World Summit Award and is co-author of NetCh@kra—15 Years of Internet in India. His Twitter handle is @osamamanzar.

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