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Do-gooders on the Net

SEVANTI NINAN

Websites on issues that matter are springing up now that the newspapers and television are `dumbing down'.

WITH television and newspapers both furiously dumbing down, where do Terribly Intellectual Humans or Terribly Concerned Humans go for something that is more up their street? To the Net, that's where. Those who post articles here or set up new websites aren't afraid of length or turgidity, and this is territory where issues is not a bad word. Where Indians are concerned, the Net is the principal medium for non-resident patriots to get all charged up about how the old mother country is going to the dogs.

In a folder labelled web activism in my Outlook Express mailbox, I pop in urls that are sometimes brought to my attention by well meaning people. One such is www.corpwatchindia.org which was launched earlier this year with the help of Indians in the United States and here, to bring an Indian dimension to the U.S.-based corporate accountability group CorpWatch. "CorpWatch India plans to use the Internet as a tool for this new global activism."

Its home page bristles with stories on corporate acts of commission from Bhopal, to a proposed polyvinyl chloride factory in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu that local folk say will increase industrial pollution in the area, to CocaCola's allegedly indiscriminate mining of ground water in Plachimada in Kerala. In a mission statement somewhere the site's founders say "There are many other Enrons and potential Enrons in India today, and we plan to help expose them." You get the general picture.

Sites like this and India Together (www.indiatogether.org) are often joint ventures between concerned Indians here and abroad. The latter lifts stories from CorpWatch and other activist sites apart from generating its own, and worries about such issues as electoral reform, human rights, toxic livelihood and gender insensitivity in sanitation. A newcomer devoted to altruism, U Help India, (www.uhelpindia.org) has an NGO search by state, and an expressive home page which gives a series of depressing pictures and asks, Is this my India? Just below that it gives a series of upbeat photographs and suggests, Let's change the picture!

Inside its documentation is well meaning, but far from complete, nevertheless it lists individuals and organisations in India working to make a difference, and how you can help them.

Doing the same sort of thing on an international scale is a site called Choike, (http://www.choike.org) which calls itself a portal on Southern civil societies.

It carries issues, news and NGO listings. It indexes hundreds of NGO webpages and allows you to search them. Choike is a project of the Instituto del Tercer Mundo, a non-profit organisation based in Montevideo, Uruguay. Choike is the Mapuche word for the Southern Cross.

If you want to get away from do-gooding to just food for thought try these websites which offer links to stimulating reading: www.ideasatthepowerhouse.com, www.codelust.blogspot.com, www.kampo.co.jp/kyoto-journal/kjlinks.html Would love to describe them, but space is short.

* * *

It is a refreshing change, at any rate, from the world of suited and booted gentry that dominates a channel like CNBC. The BBC's India band has come up with an offbeat series called "Business Bizarre" which looks at the unlikeliest of settings for thriving businesses. This is India, and anything is possible. So the series kicks off with how huge sums of money are earned and spent in the process of thronging to worship Lord Venkateshwara at Tirupati. It visits sundry other eminently viable ventures that are barely recognisable as such: the juggling of lunch dabbas in Mumbai, the franchising of loos through Sulabh International, the spinning out of a countrywide branded ethnic snack empire from a namkeen shop in Bikaner, and moving on to self-employment for thousands of women through the rolling of papads.

India is always good for a story, however the ones picked for this series while being well documented are unimaginatively narrated. The figures alone tell a fascinating story, particularly in the Tirupati episode, where the scale of operations in each aspect would be unimaginable to anyone outside this country, whether we are talking of ladoos, or free meals, or dealing with the daily output of human hair from mass tonsuring.

The Haldiram saga was also well mapped, but I did nod off towards the latter half. These are business stories which are essentially human stories, and neither the camera work nor the narration does enough justice to that, at least in the first two episodes. If the title "Business Bizarre" suggests an element of whackiness, it is missing in the presentation. Actually a presenter for all six episodes might have been a good idea, some one who could have brought a touch of humour and wonder to the unfolding tales. The photography is workaday, never evocative, though I don't know why that should be the case. And as for opening montages, I thought those went out of fashion some time ago. Tuesdays on BBC World, 10 p.m..

While on the subject of business programming on BBC World a reader has a gripe about "India Business Report", which scrapped its focus on the week's economic developments from across India in favour of profiles of businessmen and women.

Soft focus ones, one might add, that less than newsworthy business bosses also scramble to be on. "In India a lot was happening on the economic front every week. So when there was a lot to report and debate on what forced them to disband the reporting and started airing the so-called profiles?" asks this viewer, a young lawyer from Khammam in Andhra Pradesh.

There is a two-word answer for that, actually, which is afflicting current affairs programming for the Indian market: dumbing down. And viewer preferences as expressed through television rating points are at least as responsible for this trend as channel programming executives.

Journalist Express: If fellow scribes have not discovered this web resource yet, they should. It gives top stories under a variety of classifications, resources for research, and a "people and characters" category designed for American surfers but of international interest nonetheless. www.journalistexpress.com

E-mail the writer at sevantininan@vsnl.com

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