game on

Could the virtual world of Pokémon Go be used to help rich Indians see real struggles of the poor?

If users could be made to hunt for Pokémon characters in slum clusters and fair-price shops, maybe the elite would become more aware of those on the margins.

I spent the period between January and March reading about the rise of the welfare state in many parts of the world, especially in England, where it was cemented in the 1940s and ’50s. An important thread in my reading was around the evolution of a consensus – fragile and difficult, though it may have been – across conflicting sections of society.

One factor, among many, that led to the creation of the welfare state in many parts of the world was World War II. In the case of England, it brought home the fact that when the bombs fell, they would not distinguish between the rich and the poor and that everyone was in it together.

Another side plot related to the consensus and World War II was that in September 1939, a few days before England declared war, 3.5 million children were billeted, or housed in safer places, away from the cities that could be targeted by bombers. This meant that poor London kids went to live with posh families in the rural England and so on.

Among them were children who refused to drink milk, because they had seen a cow being milked and thought it was urine. Other children were unaccustomed to using toilets, so they would soil the carpets of affluent. For the first time, England's rich encountered the conditions of the poor, and to some extent, this helped them develop empathy towards their condition.

Closer home

In theory, India is a welfare state, one in which the government is to play a key role in the well-being of the people through provisions regarding health, education and the like.

However, the hostile atmosphere in which the debate on a welfare state in India is conducted is quite striking. The lack of empathy is among the powerful elite is bewildering – for instance, most recently, viewers and readers accused media of politicising the issue when they reported on Dalit atrocities in Una, Gujarat, where four Dalit tanners had been publicly flogged by self-styled cow protection vigilantes.

I wondered about this lack of empathy among Indians who have made it towards those who are struggling.

One reason for this seems to be that they are shielded from the harsh reality of a large part of the population.

We live in our busy little bubbles. The media, caught in the race for TRPs and controlled by corporations, is not able to adequately perform the role of information sharing. Social media, which can potentially be more democratic, is sadly not within the reach of ordinary people.No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald, on American whistleblower Edward Snowden, I was struck by one remark in the book. Greenwald says that for Snowden (and apparently, for others in his generation), video games have played an important role in the development of a moral compass.

Game on

When Pokémon Go – a“location-based, augmented reality game”in which players are alerted to virtual Pokémon characters in their vicinity, using GPS – hit the headlines and generated wide discussion, I wondered: couldn't the developers use the game to draw privileged Indians out of their air-conditioned bubbles and be forced to confront an ordinary Indian’s life?

Couldn’t the characters be hiding in bastis and settlements rather than in Delhi’s malls, forcing players to (wait-wait-wait) for DTC buses to get there and walk among basti residents as they queue up for water suppliers? Or maybe, Ivysaur could be tucked under one of Delhi’s flyovers so that players can see the variety of people and activities they shelter?

What if a judge (who is hooked to Pokémon Go) could be dragged to a Public Distribution System outlet to catch Butterfree, so that he can see that biometric authentication based on Aadhar numbers, instead of reducing corruption in the system, is actually opening the doors to it?

Couldn’t Charmander appear in a local anganwadi, say, in Odisha, where children are fed nutritious eggs and provided pre-school education?

In Uttar Pradesh, Zizagoon could hide in a local government school, where a privileged Pokémon Goplayer shows up to see a teacher pacing the classroom, a cane in hand, or where a Dalit child is beaten up without reason.

What if Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist were to sit in a field levelled by labourers who worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, so that gamers may see that “gaddhe khodna”, (or digging holes, a term that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had used last year to criticise the United Progressive Alliance's flagship scheme) can be productive in some contexts?

The lives of others

The possibilities are endless. These are just some of the wide range of experiences in store for privileged people if the game was slightly tweaked. In some places, we see how government interventions are working, and in others, they might be a disaster.

Many members of the online troll armies feel embittered and cheated as tax payers.As the trolls try to swell their armies in search for Pikachu, they may have a chance to see that sometimes, tax money is put to good use. And when it isn’t, who knows, this may compel them to engage in more constructive ways?

Though the social media campaign to by Syrian activists to tap into the popularity of Pokémon Go may not to go too far in saving the war-torn country's children – the economic interests in dropping bombs are stacked high against Syrian babies – perhaps the game may help in pushing some Indians out of their cosy cocoons.

Could Pokémon Go do for us in contemporary India, what the billeting of kids did for England during the Second World War?

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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.