Image by Rezwan

Overcrowded passenger ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, Bangladesh

The World Cup Goal-E Project

This street in Bangladesh has a colorful world cup celebration

New Chum Hill Ruins

Remnants of Kiandra gold mine at New Chum Hill, #nsw #australia

August 31, 2014

A Home-Grown Campaign in Bhutan Is Giving Refurbished Shoes to Thousands Who Need Them

olunteers concentrating on how to recycle the shoes collected during the collection drive. These will soon be sent to corners of Bhutan for distribution. 500 pairs equals 500 smiling faces. Image used with permission.
Volunteers concentrating on how to recycle the shoes accumulated during the collection drive. These will soon be sent to corners of Bhutan for distribution. Image by Help Shoe Bhutan. Used with permission.
A campaign in Bhutan led by a Bhutanese entrepreneur is collecting used shoes and cleaning them to distribute the footwear to those who cannot afford a decent pair. Help Shoe Bhutan has so far given shoes to nearly 1 percent of the country's population of 740,000.

The story begins with Sandeep Gajakas, an engineer from India, who founded the concept of shoe laundry. Gajakas saw that some people did not make an effort to clean their shoes. If they expect someone else to do it for them, then it is certainly a feasible business model. In 2003, he started India's first professional footwear laundry and refurbishing service for all types of footwear in Mumbai. So far, its ShoeVival franchise has expanded to 10 cities in three countries.

Young Bhutanese entrepreneur Dawa Drakpa brought ShoeVival to Bhutan in 2011. Bhutanese blogger Passang Tshering narrates what happened next:
His parents had sent him to get a degree in BSc Nursing from Bangalore [India], but to their disappointment he returned from Mumbai with a shoe laundry franchise, and without the degree. Unimaginable, but that's the strangeness of destiny. [..]

Overnight he turned what was earlier perceived as 'dirty job' into a sexy profession.
help shoe bhutanDawa Drakpa writes in his blog about the initial struggles and how his venture started the social business called Help Shoe Bhutan. Drakpa saw a lot of shoes in a trash yard and thought a good portion of them could be recycled and reused. In rural Bhutan, many children walk for miles without decent shoes to go to school. Farmers often work the field without wearing shoes because they cannot afford footwear.

The old shoe collection campaign began in September 2011. In Drakpa's words:
The intention was clear-
1. Collect as many old shoes.
2. Revive them.
3. and finally distribute them among the people who cannot afford a decent pair of shoe.
Help-Shoe Bhutan distributes 500 pairs of shoes at Blind school in Merak. Image used with permission.
Help Shoe Bhutan distributed 500 pairs of shoes in Merak, a settlement in the far east of Bhutan, in Trashigang District. Image by Help Shoe Bhutan. Used with permission.
Drakpa recalls how many Bhutanese organisations, businesses and individuals came forward to help the effort by providing funding or just a helping hand. The cleaning and repairing of the shoes cost as little as Nu. 80 (US $1.30) per pair, a service Drakpa's Shoe Laundry business is providing. Bhutan Dragons Motorcycle Club joined as a distribution partner to deliver the shoes to rural areas that needed them. He narrates how its members rode together in a charity ride in cold and foggy weather to distribute the footwear and other items in Samtse district in southwest Bhutan.

A little girl with a pair of recycled shoes during distribution in Ghasa. Image used with permission.
A little girl with a pair of recycled shoes during a distribution. Image by Help Shoe Bhutan. Used with permission. 
The first distribution was in March 2012. Drakpa writes:
The distribution team reached there around 3pm. And the children started standing in queue. Even at this moment, i was not very sure how those shoes will be accepted. [...] There were different kinds of shoes- adults, kids, flip flops, boots, leather shoes and the list goes on. [...] Help-Shoe Bhutan took 221 pairs of cleaned and repaired shoes.

Kids came one at a time to try out shoes... They were very excited, we could clearly see that the kids and adults as well were choosing their shoes even before their turn came to try out their shoes. Soon kids and adults rushed towards the shoes and the view looked more like a fish market. Having said that, it was indeed a honor for us, the distributing team.
The signs of joy of getting a pair of shoes to walk during distribution in Zhemgang district, one of the poorest regions in Bhutan. Image by Help Shoe Bhutan & used with permission.
The joy of getting a pair of shoes to walk in during distribution in Zhemgang district, one of the poorest regions in Bhutan. Image by Help Shoe Bhutan. Used with permission.
The Help Shoe Bhutan team also distributed shoes to Zhemgang, the poorest district in Bhutan. Drakpa recalls:
We made it a point not to miss a single person leave the room without getting a pair of shoes. The distribution began with Bardo Tshogpa calling the names according to the house hold names. There are 68 households in Bardo gewog. And approximately 300 people. The charity goods include shoes, clothes, toys, New blankets, sweets, biscuits etc.
The first campaign, which ran until May 2012, distributed about 1,300 pairs of shoes. Help Shoe Bhutan's second campaign was launched in June 2012 by Her Royal Highness Princess Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck with a plan of distributing 2,000 pairs. The initiative is ongoing, with the total number distributed as of May 21, 2014, standing at 5,996.

Distributing partner Bhutan Dragons Motorcycle Club had distributed 742 pairs of shoes in Pemagatshel. Image by Help Shoe Bhutan. Used with permission.
Distributing partner Bhutan Dragons Motorcycle Club had distributed 742 pairs of shoes in Pemagatshel. Image by Help Shoe Bhutan. Used with permission.
Whats next for the campaign? According to its Facebook page, the team is going to high schools to train the students how to clean and recycle shoes. A post on July 24 mentioned:
We are just trying to empower the students themselves to take care of their own shoes.
It is often said "give a man fish, he will feed for a day. Teach him how to fish, he will start a fish shop and feed his neighbourhood"
You can follow the project via its Facebook page.

Happy kids with recycled shoes. Image by Help Shoe Bhutan. Used with permission.
Happy kids with recycled shoes. Image by Help Shoe Bhutan. Used with permission.
The post was also published in Global Voices Online.

August 21, 2014

Watch How Conversations Between Strangers Help Bridge the Divide Between Indians and Pakistanis

Screenshot from the AIB Video
Screenshot from the AIB Video
Over the years, India and Pakistan have seen a number of efforts trying to break the perpetuated animosity between the two countries. On India's Independence Day on Aug. 15, 2014), Indian comedy collective All India Bakchod (AIB) gave it another shot, releasing a video that features ordinary Indians talking over the phone to strangers in Pakistan.

In this video strangers from India and Pakistan speak to each other over the phone. They talk about what Indians and Pakistanis perceive about each other, learn about their personal lives and hobbies, find common grounds between themselves and congratulate each other on the Independence Day of both the countries.

The bad blood between India and Pakistan dates back to 1947, when the British partitioned India into the Dominion of Pakistan (later Islamic Republic of Pakistan and People's Republic of Bangladesh) and the Union of India (later Republic of India) primarily along religious lines, to stem growing tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The divide devastated both countries, and their relationship to date is often strained, marred by wars, border disputes, military stand-offs and a continuing conflict over Kashmir.

If you still are wondering why such effort is necessary to reduce the notion of animosity between citizens of both the countries, then just gloss over the YouTube comments on the above video.

Indian blogger Farzana Versey offered her nuanced reaction to the video:
Will this bring people on both sides (we are not even speaking about the two nations) closer together? This was a ‘controlled’ atmosphere, and even if comments were not censored it was understood that the conversation was to be light. What we see is one reality – the coffee shop or corner store one. The young even on campuses are politically aware and most certainly come with a bagful of stereotypes about the other. It does not negate the awareness about Bollywood, cricket, or food. Yet, all of these can be politicised on the day there is a clash of films, a match or a culinary competition.
She also provided her verdict:
Love it…just don’t take it as the whole truth.
The post was also published in Global Voices Online.

August 19, 2014

Google Is Tracking and Recording your Location

Elizabeth Flux at Junkee.com uncovers a truth many of us smartphone users fail to realize. By allowing our smartphone to find out our location we are letting services like Google maps to record our movements. Here is a typical map of movements you will find from here:

Image courtesy Junkee.com
If you login at this site with the same Google login you use for your smartphone you will be able to find your Data updated daily. You will be surprised with some of the entries and wondering did I actually go there? Apparently due to loss of network coverage and the GPS not being turned on it records approximate location values. So don't rely on it to be used as a proof of something or an alibi.

Some of you may find that there is no data. And yes you did not turn the 'location services' in your phone on. So knowing this give you an advantage - you can be visible or simply switch your existence off from such services. The problem is that many apps and services (like Google now or Nike+ Running App) works only if you have the location services turned on.

So will we be able to control dissemination of our information? Apparently there is hope as you can delete your Google location history and you can opt out from location services.  

August 18, 2014

Journalist and Democracy Advocate Ahmed Rizwan Abdulla Missing in the Maldives

Poster for the missing journalist of Minivan News. Image courtesy Facebook page of Minivan News
Poster for the missing journalist. Image courtesy Facebook page of Minivan News. Click Image to enlarge.
Prominent Maldivian journalist, blogger and human rights advocate Ahmed Rizwan Abdulla went missing Aug. 8, 2014. He was last seen waiting for an early morning ferry to travel to Hulhumale Island from the capital Male. It is not known whether he boarded the ferry.

The 28-year-old, who works for online news site Minivan News, is an advocate of democracy and free speech and a prolific social media user. He is one of the first Maldivian bloggers and writes on many subjects, including religion, politics, and the environment. Rizwan's last tweet from his account @moyameehaa went out at 1:02 a.m. in which he reported seeing local movie star Yoosuf Shafeeu at the ferry station.

His employer Minivan News reported that Rizwan had been the target of some online intimidation and had been followed from work in recent months.

Dhivehi Sitee blog described Rizwan:
His online persona has the name of ‘Moyameeha’. He has vast empathy, and a good sense of humour; his #ferrytales entertain many. He is knowledgeable about how centuries old Maldives’ national and religious identity has been hijacked by fundamentalists within a short span of just over a decade.
Rizwan is also vocal against hatred in the name of religion and has not been shy about criticizing the Maldives Islamist Adhaalath Party and other political parties, often pointing out the hypocrisy of their scholars and politicians. When Maldivian supporters of militant group Islamic State (IS) flew their flag at the surf point in Malé last month, Rizwan tweeted a photo:
Political unrest has plagued Maldives since its first democratic presidential election in 2008. The young democracy climbed on Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index immediately following the vote to a peak of 51 in the ranking. After the alleged ouster of President Mohamed Nasheed, however, and journalists considered to be his supporters were threatened and attacked, the country plummeted to its latest ranking of 103.

The instability has lead to a rise in gang violence. On Aug. 3, 2014, 15 Maldivian journalists received an anonymous SMS threatening them for their coverage of the gangs in the wake of street violence which has seen at least one death and a number of injuries. Rizwan was not threatened by SMS, but covered the news and tweeted about it:
Threats continue to be a reality for many journalists in Maldives. An analysis from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission in last May revealed that 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while 5 percent reported being threatened on a daily basis. As many as 30 percent of journalists said they weren't keen to report these threats out of fear.

Sunni Islam is the official religion of the entire Maldives population, as adherence to it is required for citizenship. Many in Maldives are polarised with extreme religious views, evident in the hateful comments on this article about Rizwan's disappearance from Minivan News, Maldives reputed online news site and Rizwan's employer.

Amira, another blogger from Maldives, feared the worst:
I can’t help feel pessimistic about his going missing given the death threats that has been going around on journalists critical of the gang operations in the Maldives. He is highly critical of the religious extreme groups that has been getting a strong hold of the Maldivian culture and society. I can’t help but think that something has really gone wrong and his life has been endangered. I hope I am wrong. But it is difficult to explain a missing person of his calibre on social media. It is difficult to explain a missing person in the tiny island nation. It is difficult to be positive given the recent stabbings that has been reported in the Maldives media back home. I am sitting far away from home and yet I feel a dread and fear travelling up my spine.
The blogger requested that other outspoken journalists take extra care for safety and always share the whereabouts with family members and close friends.

Many on Twitter expressed their concerns:
More reactions can be found under the hashtag #findmoyameehaa.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on the Maldives government to speed up the efforts to find Rizwan.

The post was also published in Global Voices Online.

August 12, 2014

Killers Roam Free After Brutally Murdering a Defender of India’s Untouchables

protest inaction of the authorities in the rape case of Bhagana village, Haryana. Image by Rajeev R Singh. Copyright Demotix (11/5/2014)
Protesting the authorities' inaction about a rape case of Dalit women
in Haryana. Image by Rajeev R Singh. Copyright Demotix, 11 May 2014.
Almost 25 percent of the Indian population belongs to the Dalit caste, a stratum regarded as outside the social hierarchy. The country's government has increased its efforts to protect minorities like Dalits and indigenous peoples (known as Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis), but these groups continue to face discrimination, exclusion, and acts of communal violence. In recent years, a grassroots team of "Video Volunteer" correspondents began recording and reporting crimes against Dalits across India. In a recent post, Video Volunteers' Communications Coordinator, Kayonaaz Kalyanwala, revealed:
Statistics from different sources reveal that crimes against Dalits are on the rise. The State Minister for Employment Guarantee Scheme, Nitin Raut made a statement in May 2014 that, compared to previous years 548 more cases of atrocities were registered in Maharashtra during 2013-14.
On the morning of May 17, six people attacked Sanjay Khobragade, a Dalit rights activist from the Kaulewada village, in the Gondia district of Maharashtra. The reason for the brutal assault was a caste-based dispute about land. Khobragade was sleeping in his courtyard when when assailants set him ablaze, dousing him with kerosene. Khobragade succumbed to his injuries 6 days later at the Civil Hospital in Nagpur, Maharashtra. Khobragade recorded a video testimony before he passed away. (A warning to readers: this video contains graphic imagery.) Based on Khobragade's statement, police arrested 6 men. The suspects have strong political connections to the ruling Bharatya Janata Party, however, and managed to fabricate a story that Khobragade’s wife, Devakabai, and her so-called paramour, a poor rickshaw-puller named Raju Gadpayle, killed him when he discovered their affair. As the men Khobragade fingered for his murder went free, police arrested his wife and Gadpayale, torturing them until they confessed to the crime. Today, the 6 men Khobragade named in his dying declaration are free on bail, while his wife remains in jail.  Khobragade's son, Pradeep, has launched a petition titled, "My Mother Didn't Kill My Father. Investigate the Murder of Dalit Rights Activist, Sanjay Khobragade," which says, “We all know that by killing my father, the ‘higher-caste’ community wanted to set an example that Dalits should not speak up." Video Volunteers has highlighted discrepancies in the police investigation of Khobragade's murder:
It seems, the police and District level administration have conspired to cover up this case of Dalit atrocity and have therefore carefully plotted to highlight this as a murder plot hatched out of an extra-marital relationship.
Nilesh Kumar, a researcher at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, has studied a fact-finding report by the NGO Round Table India and concluded:
The Dalit woman, her body, her character has always been an easy target. In cases of caste atrocities, it is always a Dalit woman who is worst affected. A similar pattern was seen here. To shield the real accused, the police targeted Devakabai. They wove a fictitious story and accused her of having an illicit relationship. A 48-year-old woman was accused of getting sexually involved with her 41-year-old neighbor. The police, cleverly, got a few villagers from the dominant caste to testify in its support.
According to Round Table India, Khobragade lost his life over a dispute about land. He was involved in leading Kavalewada's Dalits in a campaign to build a Buddhist community center on land the government granted them in 2012. Members of the area's "higher-caste" Hindu community have opposed this plan, wanting instead to build their own temple on the same spot. If life for Dalits and other "undesirables" is ever meant to improve, the public will have to take a greater interest in horror stories like Khobragade's. Unfortunately, India's mass media has devoted very little coverage to his brutal murder. If laws and constitutional protections alone were enough to absolve Indians of untouchability, Sanjay Khobragade would be alive today.

The post was first published in Global Voices Online

August 06, 2014

Students in India Have Developed a "SmartCane" for the Blind

Screen Shot SmartCane
Screenshot from the video explaining how SmartCane works
The marriage of two technologies can achieve awesome things. Students at IIT Delhi are certainly making an impression with a new invention, the SmartCane, which enhances one of the world's oldest instruments—the walking stick—by adding SONAR, a technique used to navigate and communicate underwater, to help visually impaired people to walk independently.

One out of every three blind people in the world (an estimated 15 million) lives in India. There are approximately 2 million blind children in India and only 5 percent of them receive any education.

Visually impaired people face no shortage of problems in India, where disabilities can be especially challenging. Pedestrians are often forced onto the street, as sidewalks are cluttered with vendors, animals, and other obstacles. Blind people typically use canes, of course, but the traditional cane cannot detect objects higher than one's waist. Inventing an affordable and simple tool to aid the visually impaired has been a priority for many researchers across the world. Innovations like Roshni, also developed by students at IIT Delhi, are promising, but suffer from various logistical issues that make large-scale production impractical.

Professor Meenakshi Balakrishnan, a computer engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, lead a team of researchers and students to develop SmartCane, which emits ultrasound waves to detect nearby obstacles and vibrates to warn the user. It was officially launched last March. SmartCane copies the skills of animals, like bats, which also emit sonar calls into their surroundings and guide themselves using echoes. The vibration is much better than an audio alert, moreover, because sound may not be audible on noisy streets.
Unlike a similar British innovation, the $985-USD UltraCane, the SmartCane is affordable at just INR 3000 (about $50).

The video below depicts a typical day in the life of a SmartCane user, portraying the various challenges one faces:

The field stage validation trial of Smartcane was conducted among approximately 150 users in 6 cities in India of which almost all are now regular SmartCane users. The training/learning material for SMartCane is available for download in Hindi and English in different formats like epub, daisy, braille, clear print, etc.

According to the Facebook page of SmartCane, the device is being provided to the under privileged visually impaired in Punjab for INR 400 only under the Partial Subsidy Scheme aided by the National Donation Pool.

Right now the SmartCane is available to the user from a network of over 16 welfare organizations for the blind across 12 states in India. Here is a video of a SmartCane use of a College girl:

The Better India magazine lists some user comments:
“It is a very useful device because earlier with a regular cane, I quite often collided with vehicles like truck, tractor or bus. This was because my cane would pass beneath these big vehicles and I would collide abruptly. I have got injuries on my forehead due to such incidents. With this device I get a pre-warning of such dangerous obstacles through vibrations. This also helps me in detecting street animals such as a cow.” - Ketan from Ahmedabad

“It feels great to be able to move around alone. I no more take help from people to move around. I now enjoy being all by myself. Family and friends now have the confidence in me that I can travel independently without getting hurt or injured.” - Indrani from Mumbai
Recently, celebrities like Bollywood Actress Vidya Balan have come forward to publicise the SmartCane.
As the SmartCane's publicity grows, so too will its user base hopefully expand, putting this ingenious new device in the hands of more and more people.

The post was first published in Global Voices Online

August 04, 2014

Overcrowded Passenger Ferry Sinks in Bangladesh; 2 Dead, More Than 100 Missing

Bangladeshi rescue workers search the waters where an overloaded ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the capital Dhaka. Image by Fahad Kaizer. Copyright Demotix (4/8/2014)
Bangladeshi rescue workers search the waters where an overloaded
ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, 30km from Dhaka.
Image by Fahad Kaizer. Copyright Demotix (4/8/2014)

A passenger ferry capsized in Padma river en route to Mawa in Bangladesh, some 30 kilometres south of the capital Dhaka. Strong currents led to the accident around 11 a.m. Bangladesh time on Monday. The vessel was over capacity at the time with at least 250 people on board.

Efforts are ongoing to rescue the passengers from the river. At least two people have died, and more than 100 are reported missing according to latest reports.

The moment the ferry capsized was captured by an unknown person on a mobile phone from a nearby vessel. The video was uploaded to YouTube and Facebook by a number of users like RisingBD, and it went viral.

The rescue operations are being hampered due to strong currents and big waves in the Padma river. The rescuers are yet to identify the place underwater where the ferry submerged.

Bangladesh has been struck with these kinds of repeated tragedies during monsoon season in recent years. The reason includes poor design and quality control of as many as 10,000 vessels plying in the country and overloading of passengers, especially during festival (Eid) time.

Diaspora Blogger Haseeb Mahmud reacted cynically on Facebook after hearing about the disaster:
A ferry has sunk. We will soon hear the news of the deaths of more than hundreds of people.

What will happen:

- A rescue effort with limited resources
- A new issue to post about on Facebook after the Eid holidays. Statuses, events, fund collection.
- Human chain in front of media cameras in Shahbag

What will not happen:

- Build a proper quality control mechanism for the vessels and a controllable traffic system. A long-term citizen movement is required to achieve this system (not the usual sporadic press conferences or fund collection by NGOs).
- No extra budget allocation will be made to increase safety in inland water travel.
- A lot of the bodies will never be found. Worse, we will never know who they were, not even their names.
- No one will be prosecuted for negligence or be deemed responsible

Bangladeshi onlookers gather near the scene where an overloaded ferry capsized in the Padma river in Munshiganj

Bangladeshi onlookers gather near the scene where an overloaded ferry capsized in the Padma river in Munshiganj. Image by Fahad Kaizer. Copyright Demotix (4/8/2014)

Twitter user À Muse Dë Erato accused local TV channels of airing the launch capsize video over and over for increased viewership:
The post was first published in Global Voices Online.