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The Daily Fix: India’s recommended net neutrality rules strike a blow for online freedom

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The Big Story: Web master

There may be no better proof that the Indian telecom regulator has recommended stringent net neutrality regulations than the sight of telecom companies being annoyed by the new rules. Although not all internet service providers have been opposed to neutrality, the idea that all data must be treated equally, telecom companies by and large have wanted the freedom to speed up or slow down the internet as per their whim and bottom line. The new recommendations, issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and expected to be turned into mandatory rules by the Department of Telecom, strike a blow for internet freedom.

The recommendations suggest that any sort of “fast lane”, through which an internet provider might deliver say Netflix faster than YouTube, be prohibited. By the same note, the recommended rules also would not allow providers to slow down or manipulate access to any sort of website. Significantly, the recommendations call for the setting up of a multi-stakeholder committee that would monitor and assess net neutrality violations, which is the layer of bureaucracy that the telecom companies are most miffed by, saying the regulations should come with a “light touch”.

The timing of TRAI’s recommendations are particularly significant, since they come just days after the United States announced that it would be repealing rules to protect net neutrality. TRAI chairman RS Sharma, speaking at a press meet, said “the overarching thought that we had was for a country like India, internet is an extremely important platform... Therefore, it is important that this platform be kept open and free and not cannibalized... We have given these recommendations to ensure internet remains an open and free platform in our country.”

Those words are heartening and the recommendations should be celebrated. Just two years ago, social media behemoth Facebook tried to enter the Indian market with a product that it claimed was philanthropic but effectively violated neutrality. The American company’s efforts were met with stiff resistance from a number of activists who mobilised a huge Save the Internet campaign, that successfully fended off lobbying to pressure the government into a commitment towards neutrality.

That campaign has now paid off. There will be more battles to be fought: As the internet becomes even more central to people’s lives, there is no doubt that big businesses will want to manipulate it to protect their territory at the cost of others. But for now, Indians should be satisfied that, at least on paper, India’s net neutrality rules are far stronger than America’s and are among the most stringent in the world.

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Punditry

  1. “We also tend to forget that even the Congress in Gujarat has not been qualitatively different from the BJP: The “allegation” of it being pro-Muslim (a major theme in memes and videos) is laughable in the face of emerging research and critical memory,” writes Rita Kothari in the Indian Express.
  2. “By year five, from an epidemic dream of alternative politics, AAP had become a more modest hypothesis,” writes Shiv Visvanathan in the Hindu. “Yet it created a sense of excitement among people across India. There was a magic to the idea which almost has an existence parallel to the travails of the actual party.”
  3. A leader in Mint argues that India needs a better direct tax system that would help the government rely less on indirect taxes and make the entire process more equitable.
  4. TK Arun in the Economic Times, says that the policy goal of dealing with non-performing assets should be to minimise the haircut that banks take, since that effectively means losses for taxpayers.
  5. “Diseases thought to be multi-determined (that is, mysterious) have the widest possibilities as metaphors for what is considered socially or morally wrong,” writes Amulya Gopalkrishnan in the Times of India. “So every era brought its own anxieties to bear on cancer: the Victorians blamed overcrowding and cities, rather than tobacco. Recently, we’ve viewed it as a disease of consumer capitalism run amok, worrying about non-stick pans and artificial sweeteners and hair dye and microwaves and cellphones.”

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Don’t miss

Aanchal Malhotra writes on how her book of Partition memories brought together two families from different sides of the border.

When the family first bought the bungalow, it was in rough condition, retaining only the original sofa sets, a writing desk, the dining table and cane chairs. By 1956-’57, they had restored it enough to be lived in. In fact, the two brothers remember buying a can of green paint to revive the vibrant colour of the house’s exterior. They laugh when they recall playing ping-pong on the dining table, proving its sturdiness. They also remember a chowkidar named Biaju, who had continued on from Mian Afzal Husain’s time. And so much like Husain’s family, the Bedis too began to use Kehkashan as a summer home.

When I come home from this meeting, I search through the notes of my interview with Fiyaz Ali. Written in my untidy scrawl are the words “Kehkashaan – father’s house” and “given to Sikh family”. And poignantly sitting at the bottom right corner of the page were a string of words I’d never paid attention to before: “…my father always said that everything of his had remained in India.”

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.