The gandhian approach to ict


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ICT and Mahatma Gandhi

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The gandhian approach to ict

  1. 1. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 1 The Gandhian Approach to ICT Anurag Gangal Professor and Head of Department, Political Science and Director, Gandhian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Jammu, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, India. Gandhi has never been a system builder. Modern ICT never existed in his time. Yet, Gandhi has a very clear cut approach anent information and communication technology especially as a practical-idealist and mass-communicator and leader. As an alert mind, he has always expressed his opinion on contemporaneous issues from time to time including media, press, journalism and newspapers etcetera. Information and communication technology (ICT) is the very basis of diversified concurrent global exchanges of expression at almost every level ranging from an individual to village panchayats, town and city dwellers etc. This cycle of modern instantaneous communication channels goes much beyond a metropolis, cosmopolis, megalopolis and necropolis. Even – literally speaking – sky is not the limit. This is the space age. This entire paraphernalia has now become a global village. Each information and communication apparently runs at a much faster speed than luminosity or light. An E-mail reaches from Leh in Ladakh to Toronto in Canada at the click of a button with a load of attachments to the tune of about 100 megabytes per second! As such, a unique and unprecedented world information and communication order has emerged. Reaching the target audience at an instant with relevant and qualitatively effective communication through an excellent presentation is indeed the aim of modern information and communication technology. Gandhi's Handwritten Message after Dandi March, Source: Government of India, Publications Division, Gandhi, CD ROM; and also The Hindu, 24 August 2011
  2. 2. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 2 A momentous message in one’s handwriting – as mentioned above – is at least as effective as it is through a means of modern ICT. Gandhi’s ICT strategy lies in his nationwide travels through trains and marches on foot. They were certainly as impact creating as any other modern tool of communication or maybe even more. He – as a journalist – also wrote in his own tabloids and other newspapers. His writings and speeches at his prayer meetings created not only desired impact but they also established an unseen link between Gandhi and his audience and masses at large. This type of personal link is often amiss in modern ICT order. The message in a communication must not only reach the target but it must be easily grasped by all concerned. Merely collection of information does not serve the purpose of communication. Impact, quality, speed and nature of purpose in a communication matters a lot. In this age of globalisation and information technology, where does Gandhi’s information technology (IT) stand in the form of his Dandi March (and his other movements)? At least one aspect, among others, is common. Aim of both is to reach millions of human minds meaningfully. Most interesting part of Gandhi’s writings and utterances is his unbiased views and prognosis despite being significantly and, at times, vehemently critical. His writings are not only bias-free but also away from political and ideological tilt. A few paraphrases of his writings may be worth seeing here. Why this exercise may be attempted in this essay? The reason behind this context is to see the nature of present day angular and slanted stories and writings in the modern media tantamounting to a tilt in favour of the developed countries and elites even in this so-called age of knowledge and globalisation. Essence of Gandhi’s writings and Gandhian philosophy may be brought forth to see its nature and feel its impact: Gandhi had said that the Western civilisation is a “nine days wonder” and it is on the path of self destruction.1 For him, modern or Western civilisation is more dependent on its outward projections such as its glamour, ostentatious ways, mechanisation, top heavy technology, “irreligion” and “Satanic” nature, superficial standards of knowledge in terms of its external requirements of automation, efficiency, more of technical education and use of modern information technology (IT) along with populism, globalising values and ethics of a civil society, good
  3. 3. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 3 governance (?) and ever widening canvass of dependence on Internet and Intranet including the massive sensationalism of penetrating media etcetera.2 Modern ICT is also seen, even by present-day authors and critics, to have polluted minds of children leading to dangers of societal non-conformities, incohesiveness and disintegration. It is also infected with more intense and subtle inherent regional global biases primarily in favour of the rich urban populations and developed nations although the racial bias appears to be slightly on a reduced trend since the beginning of the twenty-first century especially in view of the emerging and rising Asia in international politics.3 Such biases are clearly examples of exploitative and not-so-human nature of ICT today. Can such an inherently disordered system of exploitation and biases be allowed to persist and prosper in the name of globalisation and needs of modern ICT? One major reason behind such misuse of modern ICT appears to be the very nature of modern technology in its inherent rapid and paradigmatic obsoleteness and constant replacement of one technology over another almost every three months. One laptop bought today becomes nearly redundant after next quarter of the year and its essential hardware parts alongwith its original software will not be available after six months of its purchase! There is no permanent relationship between human beings and bits and pieces of modern ICT. How can this technology contribute to ‘knowledge’ then? Knowledge is permanent and not ever changing. Knowledge is what we feel and what we see as a visionary person who has received ‘education’ as against merely employment and examination oriented technical and vocational skills and training. Modern technology, it seems, is blind to semantics and bent upon syntax! How long such a trend can continue? In view of ‘obsoleteness’ characteristic of ICT, civilisational aspects of human living will be going towards extinction in a few years time because quick fix and short-term relationship patterns will be infusing human minds and nature through technological orientation of skills and techniques. Otherwise, living a fulsome material life will not be possible. The fundamental pillars of a civilisation reside in its character building, moral strength, cultural diversity, equality among its citizens, least power to the State, decentralisation of political and economic power, suitable education, near full employment, social security and balanced development and education system. One civilisation must not impose its nature and salient features upon other civilisations through domination and
  4. 4. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 4 exploitation. A civilisation must be nonviolent. Without nonviolence, by definition, a civilisation cannot be called as such. Civility is a must for any civilisation and it must not be borne on sleeves only. It must be truly human. Brute and somewhat not-so-human type of modern technology and exploitative ICT are necessary for dealing with certain special circumstances of widespread terrorism and gross violation of human rights. Yet, it is a must to curb these sub-human aspects of modern ICT and technology especially in order to keep alive the fundamental quest for knowledge leading to self-sufficient life styles. For Gandhi, fundamentals must not change. Gandhi is also in favour of technology although he is generally known as a vehement critic of modern technology. An individual’s primary place in society can never be replaced by any other component of any type of system and order. From a human person in an individual, Gandhi moves on towards the establishment of a stateless society – devoid of the brute force of the institution of the State. Gandhi does not actually succeed in this effort. Hence he compromises for a predominantly nonviolent parliamentary democracy with the provision of trusteeship for welfare of the downtrodden and high level of political, economic and defence related decentralisation.4 ICT is indeed necessary even in this Gandhian vision of limits to information technological order. Its not just press and newspapers that constitute ICT today. The entire media and other constituents have also emerged in the category of modern information and communication technology. This widespread scope and instantaneous nature of ICT has never been there earlier in Gandhi’s time. Information, communication and knowledge have not only become household connotations but also highly specialised areas of human exchanges. These are now available to all those who can easily afford it and learn it without much of difficulty. Its a user friendly world of ICT now. It was not like this during Gandhi’s life. This accessibility factor of modern ICT is the real cause behind globalising world today. The accessibility and instantaneous factors are also becoming real threats to societal cohesiveness and ethical health of inhabitants of this spaceship earth. Some balancing treatment of these factors is required in the interest of larger humanity. It is here that the Gandhian conceptions of truth, nonviolence and non-stealing etcetera are needed to apply to global network of ICT today.
  5. 5. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 5 There is need for evolving a new world information and communication order in the new millennium as well on the Gandhian lines. The most significant aspects are questions of morals, ethics, character building, non-exploitative and cooperative approach, individual centred focus with continuous reform, regeneration and knowledge based education of the individual moving its way up to other levels from villages and cities to nations, regions, international arenas and the common global contexts. This has to include the Gandhian social, political and economic decentralisation also. Such a new direction to ICT networking is needed. Otherwise, human and societal degeneration will follow suit in addition to near complete self-destruction of humanity in the years to come. Dangers of ICT through electronic and print media in terms of media and advertising consumerist exploitation has increased several times in recent years in comparison to what its condition was during 1970s to 1990s. The twenty-first century has brought forward more complex and subtle ways not only of media and cultural imperialism but of hidden blackmailing and individualised exploitation and massive money minting by media houses and their media executives, anchors and correspondents. Sensationalism, planted stories with an angular slant and business orientation has lately become the order of the day for print and electronic media both. For example, the unethical ‘sting operations’ and hidden cameras are becoming sources of corruption in the acts of ‘media policing’ and so-called investigative coverage via modern tools of ICT.5 The near universal standards of globalisation may have brought “homogenisation” and “glocalisation” with satellite communication and other tools of ICT yet the modern media and Internet continues to threaten familial and societal health for adults and children both. Therefore, exploitation of masses through ICT is still on though in a different way even in the new millennium. A disturbed social order is having its repercussions on political and economic order among nations as well. Even in the new millennium, the wealthy nations still control international institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD or World Bank) and G8 as well. International media houses like British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) etcetera are also therefore tilted in favour of nations controlling these global institutions in general.6
  6. 6. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 6 The new debate of the millennium is therefore emerging in the form of a general question: How communication can be mobilised to support economic, political and social change instead of pejorative tendencies under the influence of its overt and covert controlling agencies and institutions.7 This is what Gandhi also wants. Accordingly, localised, decentralised communication involving the local masses in the act of dissemination of information leading to ever new avenues of purposeful employment on the basis of principles of non-exploitation, cooperative effort, truthfulness and duty bound commitment in ICT is required. All this has to be done with a sense of service to the masses and not from the diehard business viewpoint of profit and profit alone. This is practically possible if a serious thought is applied to this perspective especially because masses are in millions and billions. A visionary social, economic and political leader is necessary to understand this obvious reality. Gandhi also proposes to encourage local languages and dialects as against merely English. Above all, Indians must not just continue with the European and American systems permanently. Europeans and Americans keep changing and upgrading their systems yet we – in emerging countries -- keep adhering to their cast-off systems, structures and practices.8 In other words, the individuals must learn to live with their original nature while realising that modern education generally inculcates a dominance-dependence relationship, related values of democracy and socialism and principles of cut-throat competition and mutual jealousies. This system has to be replaced by a value based Gandhian system or notion of self-sufficient and non-exploitative ICT. The Gandhian pattern of ICT would largely remain immune to the manifold manipulations and sensationalism of the modern elite- dominated media that thrives generally in large scale anonymous societies. Such a Gandhian framework will be conducive to the Afro-Asian and Latin American (AALA) aspirations for a non-exploitative and free (erstwhile nomenclature of) New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) even in the new millennium.9 Moreover, below the poverty line (BPL) people in villages and cities are still unaffected by the ICT. These are the non-literate masses who cannot afford time and money to devote to modern means of ICT though howsoever cheap they may be today. This non- literate and BPL population has never been reached even by the Indian and foreign press as well. Indian press indeed has never been a mass medium. It always remained circulated
  7. 7. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 7 among the landowners, bureaucrats, industrial executives, politicians and intellectuals. Such sections of populations constitute the elite and not masses. Hence, an in indigenous system of ICT is needed on the Gandhian lines of being non-exploitative and cooperative not only in India but throughout the AALA countries. Such a system has to be based on truth, fearlessness and localised self-sufficiency. It must also focus on rural masses, their entertainment, diversified education and local issues of immediate popular and need based interest. The ICT that is functioning currently is not what is required for uniquely placed culturally, historically rich and economically emerging countries like India for such information and communication system is mainly those of the advanced countries. India must acquire its own system according to its needs and cultural peculiarities and nuances.10 Which tools of ICT are suitable for what type of population groups? Such questions must be examined properly and methodologically. For instance, Desktop Printing (DTP) may not be so popular in non-literate masses. Satellite Television may perhaps be more popular there. Similarly, at such places, instead of FAX, need for very cheap and simple mobile phones may be felt more intensely. Hence, these types of geo-social logistics are required for deciding the usefulness of different type of ICT for a particular area. This will regenerate people’s confidence, trust and interest. The inherent Western bias in ICT system will also be neutralised to a great extent through localised and decentralised use of ICT. The question of Western bias against Afro-Asian and Latin American (AALA) nations vis-a-vis flow of information and knowledge through ICT is also very much alive today. It has not died down as a result of so called passing away of the erstwhile nomenclature of NWICO. The essential problems of the NWICO days are still persisting relating to latent and overt exploitation by the advanced countries.11 Indeed, varied and different biases against emerging countries are there in the ICT sector. ICT also has detrimental effect on hoards of unskilled labourers and workforce because they cannot be absorbed in related areas of work immediately until the unskilled is also transformed into skilled human resource.12 The workforce of emerging countries is indeed more susceptible to ill effects of this dimension of ICT due to widespread illiteracy and dearth of technical knowhow. Modern ICT is like a machine and not a human being having a palpitating heart and mind.
  8. 8. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 8 ICT as an effective instrument of the process of globalisation is also not so much concerned with the shape of a political system in a country. It will function equally well in any type of a political and economic system having required technological base.13 Despite this aspect, ICT has been used as a powerful tool for propagation of democratic values in the world. Yet, ICT system is numb to human sensations despite being sensational in effect today. The worldwide ICT market is fast growing in almost every country. Yet its growth is not as widespread as it is in the advanced and big nations of Australasia, America, West Europe and Asia. Inherent economic, political and social susceptibilities and weaknesses in other regions and countries prevent the equitable growth of ICT. The technological base necessary for ICT cannot be fully afforded by several poor nations.14 Some of the least developed countries (LDCs) just cannot go for modern ICT. There is little to be gained from access to global, or even local, digital information resources if the skills to select, interpret, and apply the information are absent or very poorly developed throughout the population. The capacity to generate, distribute, and share information about local resources and activities is as important as access to distant digital information....A synergistic relationship between investment in the technical components of the national information infrastructure, and in people, enables learning to take place which can benefit all sectors of the economy and society. The LDCs encounter these potential synergies from a position of poverty and existing wide inequities in the distribution of technology, access to electronic networks, and the capabilities to use them....The constraints to achieving the goal of harnessing ICTs to development priorities in the LDCs in terms of building the national information infrastructure are different from those in the industrialised countries or the wealthier developing countries.15 These vicissitudes of ICT need to be shown some special consideration if the modern trend towards ICT and so-called knowledge revolution has to sustain as a tool of service to mankind. Otherwise, ICT and its related corporations, institutions and agencies will perish soon. If ICT industry has a market for future, then it is in the vastly populated countries of the world and not so much elsewhere. The Gandhian prescriptions of morality, truth, service, social health and cohesiveness, nonviolent caring norms, dignity of the individual and non- exploitative perspectives are writings on the wall. These must be applied to ICT not only in emerging nations but all over the world. Otherwise, there is no long-term future for modern ICT industry. Globalisation also depends on the successful continuance of ICT movement.
  9. 9. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 9 Doomsday for fast globalising world will arrive the day ICT comes to a naught. Only future will tell whether the current patterns and upsurge of ICT is fraught with perennial portents and healthy prospects or not. Mahatma Gandhi is also known as a past master in mobilisation of masses through his communication skills based on honesty and commitment to people. He learnt from his illiterate mother his lessons in human rights. For him all rights flow from one’s sense of responsibility to civil society and inherent morality of social norms. Rights must as such be protected against any type of might through nonviolent means without even an iota of cowardice. Even Ali Mohammadi has quoted and explained Gandhian values in the area of information, communication, knowledge and technology.16 The protection, promotion and defence of morality of human rights in the field of communication rests with people and civil society. They must remain alert to see that global communication delivered to them fulfils and serves the requirement of their dignity, individuality, liberty, morality and equality. It will be well to recapitulate the main tenets of the Gandhian approach to the ICT as discussed and stipulated in aforesaid analysis. Its major points of foci accordingly are: i. Communicating to establish personal link with audience and masses. ii. Direct communication to impart information. iii. Nationwide travels for dissemination of information. iv. Long marches on foot for involving and knowing the masses. v. Regular daily meetings with masses for interaction and information dissemination. vi. Contributing to newspapers, tabloids, blogs and television etcetera on daily basis. vii. Unbiased and objective views without malice towards anyone. viii. Vehement and realistic criticism where necessary. ix. Honest and truthful communication for building mutual trust with people. x. Communication without sensationalism. xi. Self-reliant communication system. xii. Moral and ethical uprightness. xiii. Simplicity of communication. xiv. Self-disciplined conduct. xv. Generating global and permanent sympathy in favour of right against might. xvi. No profiteering. xvii. Service to poor masses. xviii. Real knowledge to people. xix. Nonviolence replacing use of brute force. xx. Self-sufficiency. xxi. Encouragement to communication in local languages and dialects. xxii. Non-exploitative nature of communication system. xxiii. Employment generation. xxiv. Least possible automation.
  10. 10. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 10 xxv. Automation not at the cost of employment to masses. xxvi. Individual centred communication system. xxvii. Focus on welfare of rural masses. xxviii. Utmost attention to dignity of the individual and dignity of labour. Balancing the existing ICT global network in favour of the emerging countries and their society and economies on the path of Gandhian philosophy is like launching a peoples’ movement for justice. Major cornerstones of the Gandhian approach to information and communication are mentioned above in a nutshell also. It is said that any movement for establishing such a Gandhian network can never be sure when or how efforts in this direction will succeed. Things are planned and work is done for success, but the level of commitment does not depend on immediate gratification. One has to “continue rolling that boulder up the hill, even when the chances of victory seem distant, believing that the cause of justice and peace ultimately will prevail”. The modern Western notion of ICT revolves around materialism and massive consumerist culture through multimedia, information technology, modern education, globalised networking and liberal market economy with international corporate norms and functioning. Gandhi calls all this as immoral. Western critics have also now started realising limitations and inherent follies of the current globalised ICT patterns. Gandhi could predict and analyse them about a hundred years ago though somewhat differently and in a larger civilisational context. Just look at the visionary nature of Mahatma Gandhi’s perception of the national and global affairs not only in his own time but also much beyond. Gandhi has been the most successful leader of the masses for accomplishing their rights and freedom and independence. Such a leader is needed again for showing the world the path of freedom, equality, justice, nonviolence and truth. Even Plato had said, “Until philosophers are kings or the kings and princes of this world have the power of philosophy, cities will never have rest from their evils.”
  11. 11. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 11 References and Notes 1 M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, twentieth reprint, 2008, p. 33. 2 M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, twentieth reprint, 2008, pp. 4, 7-9, 25-38, 80-84. Harijan, 16 November 1939. Ram K. Vepa, New Technology: A Gandhian Concept, New Delhi, 1975, p. 70. M. K. Gandhi, From Yervada Mandir, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1933, pp. 96- 97. Harijan, 29.04.1933, p.2. 3 Sumit Roy, Globalisation, ICT and Developing nations: Challenges in the Information Age, Sage, New Delhi, 2005, p. 114. Danny Kruger, Access Denied?: Preventing Information Exclusion, Demos, London, 1998, pp. 12- 13, 16-17. Peter J. Fourie, (Ed.) Media Studies: Media History, Media and Society, Juta & Co., Cape Town, 2008, Second Edition, p. 384. Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly - Working papers - 2008 Ordinary Session (Second part), 14-18 April 2008 - Volume III, CoE Publishing, Strasbourg, p. 44. 4 Mahatma Gandhi places an individual at a prime spot in the social, political and economic setup in society. There is a widespread misconception that Gandhi stresses “de-emphasis of individual self in pursuit of higher goals.” David P. Brash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies, Sage, California, 2002, p. 05. Individual’s self-knowledge is the highest goal and the best instrument to bring inner, national and global peace and development for Gandhi. G. N. Dhawan, The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1957, Chapters 03 – 07 and pp. 312 – 351. Young India, 17 June 1926; Harijan, 22 June 1935 and 15 September 1946; M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1938, p. 08, Preface by Mahadev Desai. See also Raghavan Iyer (ed.), The Moral and Political writings of Mahatma Gandhi: Truth and Non-violence, Volume – II, Oxford, London, 1986, p. 181. Gandhi is against “destructive” and “exploitative” mechanisation only. Robert Jackson and Georg Sorensen, Introduction to International Relations, OUP, Oxford, 1999, pp. 206 – 212. See Nicholas Crafts, “Globalisation and Growth in the Twentieth Century”, IMF Working Paper, WP/0044, Washington DC, April 2000; However, for Gandhi, globalisation “is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves ….. But such swaraj has to be experienced by each one for himself.” G. N. Dhawan, as above, p. 281. The three pillars of this one and integrated global world are: (i) It should be nonviolent, (ii) It should be non-exploitative and cooperative and (iii) It should be based on the reform, regeneration or education of the individual, and work its way up to the international and global level. See M. K. Gandhi, Nonviolence in Peace and War, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1948, Volume – I, pp. 28, 308 – 310, emphasis added. See also The Hindu, New Delhi, 05, 06 and 07 January 2003. There is need for set global standards and well-established norms under the dynamics of ICT. Global Education Pattern (GEP), Global Ethics and Justice (GEJ), Global Values (GV) etcetera are required to be evolved at regional and global levels despite evident diversity of society, language and culture in the world. Only then ICT can really lead to the Gandhian ICT for oneness of humanity and the world. This will be a distinct move towards justice and dignity of the individual away from dominance and exploitation. Even the current agenda of research in international politics is moving towards studies on establishing “justice” in global society. This is how a movement to bridge the gap between ethics and material development appears to have already begun. See Robert Jackson and Georg Sorensen, Introduction to International Relations, OUP, Oxford, 1999, pp. 171 – 174. Anurag Gangal, New International Economic Order: A Gandhian Perspective, Chanakya, Delhi, 1985, Chapter – II, pp. 34 – 64. Also V. T. Patil and D. Gopal, Politics of Globalisation, Authors Press, Delhi: 2002, pp. 07 – 21. 5 Robert S. Fronter and P. Mark Fackler, (Eds) The Handbook of Global Communication and Media Ethics, Blackwell, Oxford, 2011, Chapter 27. 6 William B. Gudykunst and Bella Mody (Eds) Handbook of International and Intercultural Communication, Sage, London, 2002, pp. 326-328.
  12. 12. Anurag Gangal, The Gandhian Approach to ICT 12 7 Don W. Stacks and Michael Brian Salwen (Eds), An Integrated Approach to Communication Theory and Research, Routledge, New York, 2009, p. 174. 8 See Chapter VIII of Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule as cited earlier. 9 Charles W. Kegley Jr., World Politics: Trends and Transformation, Wadsworth Cengage, Belmont, 2008, pp. 328-330. 10 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Educational Foundation of Nuclear Science, Chicago, Vol. 51, No. 4, July 1995, pp. 42-44. 11 Shirley Biagi, Media/Impact: An Introduction to Mass Media Enhanced, Cengage Learning, Boston, 2011, pp. 366. 12 William H. Dutton (Ed.), Information and Communication Technologies: Visions and Realities, OUP, Oxford, 1996, pp. 19-23. 13 Joseph S. Nye Jr, Power in the Global Information Age: From Realism to Globalisation, Routledge, New York, 2004, pp. 200-205. 14 Robin Mansell and Uta When (Eds), Knowledge Societies: Information Technology for Sustainable Development, OUP, Oxford, 1998, pp. 19-21. 15 Ibid. pp. 100. 16 Ali Mohammadi, International Communication and Globalisation: A Critical Introduction, Sage, 1997, p. 117.