Flix Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 05:30
The BBC documentary on the December 16 gangrape in Delhi not just gave an insight into the mind of a rapist, but also of the lawyers defending their appalling crime.   Their controversial statements, which seemed to justify the crime, sparked off outrage.   It is then that Raghul Sudheesh (26), a Bengaluru-based legal journalist, along with a few law students from Delhi started a petition demanding stringent measures against the two men. The support to his petition was overwhelming.    “I thought I’d get 500 to 2,000 signatories. But the petition has received over 3 lakh signatures till now,” says Sudheesh.     Raghul Sudheesh   In the past few years, there has been a phenomenal surge in number of online or digital petitions. “Two-three years ago, we had just a few thousand users. At present, we have 22 lakh users,” says Preethi Herman, Country Lead, Change.org India.   According to Preethi, people are just beginning to explore the platform of online petitioning and that the phenomenon has kicked off a social change movement.   “Online petitioning gives people a platform to channel their emotions regarding something they feel strongly about into a demand. It is a sort of community building around a common cause,” says Preethi.   Though the number of online petitions seems to be going up, with causes varying from women rights, animal rights, local infrastructure and freedom of speech, a common question that often arises is whether these result in any tangible outcome.   Preethi gives the example of Jyoti Gupta, a Delhi-based woman who lost her husband and three-year-old child to a horrific accident in 2014.   Video of RNYDa4w7A6s   Gupta launched an online petition addressed to the Prime Minister, seeking his intervention in bringing about better infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists along with increased enforcement of laws.   Her cause got a lot of traction on social media and was also reported by the media simultaneously. A few months later, the transport ministry drafted the Road Transport and Safety Bill 2014 which, if approved by the Cabinet, will replace the existing Central Motor Vehicles Act.   “In Jyoti’s case, what seemed to have worked in her favour was just over a month after her tragic loss, Union Minister Gopinath Munde also passed away in a road accident. This gave a thrust to her petition,” Preethi says.   But not all petitions are successful in achieving their goals.   After two children were sexually abused in their schools in two separate incidents in Bengaluru last year, Maithreyi Nadapana, a mother of two and a politicaly party member in the city, started an online petition. Her demand was that parents too should get a representation in the committee of officials formed by the government to monitor the implementation of safety guidelines in schools.   “Though it created awareness, the petition failed to have any concrete effect. The government does not really care, and thousands of signatures do not matter to them,” Maithreyi rues.     Image for representation   But what makes one petition more successful than another?   HR Venkatesh, former Director of Communications, Change.org, explains the kind of petitions that are more likely to be successful.   “Firstly, the petitioner should be committed towards his cause. Secondly, if the subject of the petition is newsy, or is in public interest, it is likely to be driven by media pressure. Thirdly, we don’t know the alchemy of why certain things go viral,” he says.   The number of signatories, according to Venkatesh, however does not always depict how successful the petition has been or the effect that it has had.   “If your petition is about an infrastructure issue in a local region, the only people who will be interested in it are the residents of the area. And one can’t expect thousands of signatures for such a campaign. The majority of campaigns usually reach their goals with less than two signatures,” he adds.   According to Sneha S*, a policy researcher, the petitions that are successful in making the government take notice are usually the ones that are backed by a power group or an organisation that has the “reach.”   “Besides, any campaign may not start as an online petition. And once the petitioner gets through to the concerned authorities, there is still a lot of work to be done. The officials might say they’ll look into it, but it is up to the petitioner to follow up and keep the pressure intact,” says Sneha.     Image for representation   Though it might be too early to comment on whether the traditional form of campaigning is slowly being replaced by its online counterpart, one of areas in which the latter form does stand out is in its reach.   Amnesty India International believes that ground level and online campaigning goes hand in hand, but that online tools have the power to have a wider reach for connecting with people.   “With social media users growing by the day coupled with prolific use of internet, online petitions are one of the best methods for an NGO to reach out to maximum number of people who care, by investing minimum resources,” Diya Deb, Campaigns Manager, Amnesty international India told The News Minute over email.   There also seems to be a general assumption that since the platform is online, the campaigning too is happening online. “This is not true,” says Preethi. “The issues that the petition raises are grassroots problems that people face in real life. Online has just made mobilizing easier,” she adds.   (*Name changed to protect privacy)