List of Active Projects
Legal and Social Research
Ever since its inception, Rakshak foundation has been constantly engaging in reviewing bills under consideration in the Parliament on various issues affecting the policy level initiatives in the social sector and submitting well researched opinions and recommendations on the same for the consideration of the decision makers.
We would like to continue the practice and keep bringing to the attention of the policy makers of the country, various issues and perspectives affecting the lives of the masses. We further strive to initiate policy changes by publishing our research and organising policy debates and discussions on important issues.
We invite interested volunteers to join our research team and experience being part of the team drafting well researched and robust recommendations on crucial public policy issues having the potential to shape a bright future for the country.
Accountability and Responsibility in Journalism
The state of Journalism today is similar to that described by the Irish poet Edward Eggleston as “Organized gossip”. It reports everything that people would be interested in rather than everything they should know.
Since it has become a mammoth industry with turnovers running into hundreds of crores, it is dominated by the old economic principle of demand and supply. However, basic duties such as reporting truth and informing people about both the sides of the coin are something that cannot be compromised at any cost.
Journalists have to be honest fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information; ensuring accuracy, objectivity, balance and fairness. A Journalist should be free of any obligations, whether political or corporate.. Speaking of corporations, there is no denying that Journalism and reporting like most other professions need significant capital inputs and sound business sense to survive. But, this is a profession where the stakes are much higher because it is a profession which has the power to create opinions and to shape a nation’s present and its future. Journalists must maintain dignity in expression and be sensitive while reporting on critical issues.
They should be accountable to their audience as well as to each other. Moreover, Journalists should have a commitment to promptly correct any mistakes or expose unethical practices that they may come across.
It is important to keep Journalism independent yet honest and responsible. Attempts at self-regulation do not appear to have been very successful.
We need to start with small steps like putting draft proposals on Journalism’s best practices out in the public domain on the internet to spark discussions. These discussions could be organized by way of internet polls as well as by public events like discussion panels with eminent Journalists and known public figures. We need to research best practices in journalism in other democratic countries and create proposals which are simple to understand and yet broad enough to be effective. We will also need volunteers to engineer enough buzz on these issues in the Journalist community and the public to bring about meaningful debate at local and national level.
Promoting Responsible Citizenry
Like the common saying goes, there are three kinds of people: those who “make” things happen, those who “watch” things happen and those who “wonder” what happened. And though we would all like to believe that we fall into the first category, in terms of citizen participation most of us are very far from it. It is necessary to make a critical analysis and decide whether we are actively helping make the changes that we demand, whether we take interest and keep ourselves up to date with what goes on in our community. Do we care to critically examine voter lists for any omissions or errors and take steps to get them corrected? Do we vote? And when we vote, is it based on an objective analysis of issues and the candidates’ stand on issues and their character and capabilities? The idea that people should participate in planning, implementing and managing cities has gained wider acceptance among local governments and development agencies. It means a readiness of both the government and the citizens to accept certain responsibilities and roles. It can also mean that the value of each group’s contribution is acknowledged, appreciated and used. The honest inclusion of citizen’s representatives as “partners” in decision-making, makes for successful participation. For Citizen’s participation to be truly effective, it is necessary for the people to be involved in all stages of planning, design, implementation and evaluation of an urban program or project. The very success of a project may sometimes depend on the degree of participation of the beneficiaries.
Improving Quality of Life – Infrastructure, Traffic, Pollution and Basic Necessities
With growing population in India and the resultant strain on the resources, natural as well as man-made, along with the stiff competition to acquire them, the quality of life for the common man deteriorates with every passing day.
Citizens experience a wide disparity in the quality of, and access to, infrastructure and services. While the urban elite and middle class enjoy 24 hour electricity and water supply through individual investment in generators, private wells, storage tanks etc. The urban poor are left to cope with frequent power cuts and intermittent or non-existent water supply. Overall, the lack of high quality infrastructure, security and services hinders cities’ ability to become engines of inclusive, sustainable growth.
The Economies of scale and success stories of community based development of resources and services are well known. Individual investments for catering to the personal needs for these resources and services is intrinsically inefficient and wasteful both monetarily and on the resources of nature. The origins of municipalities and other local governing bodies lies in these very fundamentals of pooling the resources of the community through contributions (via. local taxes) to create and maintain the essential services for all. But, with explosive unplanned growth in urban population, poor public oversight and rampant corruption there is a complete breakdown of this local governance. No solution for this state of affairs will succeed without involvement of local population into the process to renovate and rebuild the existing systems. The success lies in our ability to gather enough attention from the public on this and initiate a strong dialog at the local level. We are in a better position today to reach the masses by employing the technological innovations of social networking and the internet. This effort has to be first started and perfected at the major cities where people are better connected with modern communication mediums of mobile and internet. Once perfected it can be replicated across the country for other cities.
We should invite researchers to engage in projects and develop innovative solutions to most important challenges in the areas of space constraint in cities, public transport, safe drinking water, sanitation, public safety and security, energy efficiency, waste processing, pollution and institutional reforms. We must involve the local population, they being the most important stakeholders, in all discussions on the proposed solutions and the implementation strategies.
Improving Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency of Public Offices
The recent expose of scams and unethical collusions has raised serious questions on the quality of governance in the largest democracy of the world. If it is the Government of, by and for the people, how are the very people being cheated or deceived.
We at Rakshak aim for improved efficiency, promote professionalism and help in setting high standards of transparency and accountability in public life. Apart from a lot of public offices and their officials who serve the public poorly, there are many who do their duties honestly and efficiently. While it is important to publicly expose and criticize those not discharging their duties, it is equally important to encourage the ones who are doing it right. We at Rakshak seek to build a system that provides a collective voice to the common man.
A system where a common man can record his suggestion for improvement, a complaint of a government official or a government department or a note of appreciation or encouragement for a job well done. In order to achieve it Rakshak is trying to build a system which is well architectured and integrated with popular modes of communication such as internet, mobile telephony. Rakshak is actively engaging with those in the public administration and the ministry who support the cause and are willing to partner with us. We invite volunteers to join our team to define and build a system that is extremely user friendly, well integrated and massively scalable to handle millions of records and be simultaneously accessed by millions.
We also seek researchers to review the practices and existing infrastructure in public offices and propose practical measures to achieve the goals of transparency, efficiency and freedom from corruption.
Nationalism, Social Responsibility and Civil Society
Education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. The role of education in facilitating social and economic progress is well recognized. It opens up opportunities leading to both individual and group entitlements. Education, in its broadest sense of development of youth, is the most crucial input for empowering people with skills and knowledge and giving them access to productive employment in future.
Education should also prepare the children to be the rightful future citizens aware of their social responsibilities and equipped with the skills to effectively participate in furthering the common social good. Imbibing the young minds with proper ethical values, imparting skills of team work and leadership and learning to do creative things individually and in groups have to be an essential part of a holistic education. Building social skills at an early stage of education is essential so that our youth entering the colleges can handle the sometimes difficult dialogs involving the religion and the socio-economic structure. Education should also enable them as individuals later in life to rise above their differences of caste, religion or economic status and help them arrive at consensus on issues important for the growth of the nation. A comprehensive education curriculum needs to familiarize the students at the appropriate stage with the political process and the practical insight into the structure of government and its functioning. This will enable them for greater and effective participation in the political process by taking leadership role in the society. Improvements in education are not only expected to enhance efficiency but also augment the overall quality of life. The objective of national education should be to develop an army of proud and independent Indians striving for innovation, creativity and excellence in all walks of life. The education must fill the youth with a spirit of supreme confidence in themselves and in their nation with an awareness that he/she has something to offer to the country and to the world.. We invite volunteers to join out team researching on the education curriculum at the primary schooling all the way to the high schools and identify the gaps that exist at various stages. Development of such a comprehensive curriculum either from bottoms up or by way of augmenting the existing one has to be done in stages. This multi-stage approach is required so as to build consesus on need for a change in the current curriculum as well as to demonstrate the tremendous benefits of introducing it at the school level.
To start with,we have tasked our volunteers to evolve a complementary curriculum such that it can be introduced to students in a workshop setting allowing the students to benefit from its diverse content. We are also developing ways to measure the benefits of such workshops to the students in instituting the kinds of skills that the proposed revolutionary curriculum aims to bring about.
Promoting positive aspects of our culture and society
India has made tremendous strides in the last 2-3 decades in the fields of communications which include radio, television, mobile telephony and internet access. We now have our own communications satellites, a vast network of mobile services and hundreds of TV channels which reach at least 90% of our population. Perhaps, as a result of the almost explosive and seemingly uncontrolled growth in the number of TV channels over a relatively short period of time of 10-15 years, the sole motive has remained maximization of profits and earnings from advertisement revenue. In a cut-throat race for increasing the TRP which are linked to earnings from ads, the stress has been on serving to the viewers the sensational and often what is base and vulgar. A vast number of TV serials base their stories and themes on deviant or abhorrent behavior in the society or purport to depict the fanticised life-styles of a minuscule super-rich section of the society. The cinema industry is indulging in the same behavior for producing a majority of their films.
India has a rich culture. Many religions and faiths have prospered together in harmony. There have been conflicts too but good sense has always prevailed. TV can be an instrument to promote the harmony in the society by emphasizing and educating the masses with what is good and positive in each faith and what good work is being done by the followers of each faith. Numerous individuals and organizations are doing exemplary work by way of philanthropy, by educating the underprivileged, by helping the poor, sick or the destitute which must be highlighted to encourage others to devote some of their energies for the good of the society. The heroic deeds by individuals in everyday life need to be similarly broadcast to the public. There are many public servants who are doing good honest work and are putting ‘good governance’ in to practice. These individuals must be invited on TV to speak about their approach to work which will encourage their co-workers to follow similar practices and it will foster a bond between the public and the public servant.
TV is a powerful medium whose power and capability to positively impact the thinking and behavior of the masses has remained untapped and largely forgotten. TV is a visual medium which can benefit even the illiterate. We at Rakshak wish to help evolve suitable controls and policies through discussions, public debate on various fora, researching best practices elsewhere and tailoring them to the local and national needs and getting the TV channel functionaries involved in all such discussions. As a condition for permitting the use of radio-waves for transmission, the TV channels can be required to devote a certain proportion of their total telecast for programs which provide the citizens with facts, information, knowledge of local issues, opinions of thinkers, experts and respected members of the society. Citizens need to be informed and educated about their rights, they need to be informed the phone numbers of various services, procedures to get a problem addressed with clear accountability of public servants, to be informed of clear steps and procedure to submit an RTI application or a complaint in a Consumer Forum and so on. TV needs to be utilized on a much larger scale for spread of education amongst the underprivileged children and youth and for adult literacy through regional language programs. Various Departments and Ministries have large funds budgeted for public information which can be put to good use for promoting the aforesaid activities/programs on TV.