Online portal Change.org has launched in India in Hindi and is allowing people across the globe to support causes they care about
A new way of bringing about change by supporting causes that are close to your heart is by signing internet petitions. Activism through social media and the internet, where it is easier to reach out to hundreds of people, has taken off in a big way the world over. Change.org, which has been active since 2007, is one of such platforms. Its Hindi version was officially launched in India on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, 2 October this year, opening the digital campaigning space to 500 million Hindi speakers the world over. Gandhi’s oft quoted “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” is well known and Change.org aims to provide a platform to make this happen.
Three million people in India already use Change.org. This also happens to be the number of monthly active users in Australia. Available in 14 languages, a petition on Change.org Australia achieves victory at least once a day. Globally, this medium of change has 110 million users.
So how does this medium work?
“Anyone can raise a petition on Change.org and it is free. The incredible response of people using this platform in India, the diversity of issues being raised and some notable wins, has been inspiring,” explains Preethi Herman, the Country Lead of Change.org in India. “It is very similar to Facebook or YouTube in that there are broad terms of service and community guidelines, such as not inciting or promoting hate and violence.”
Offering some local insights to Indian Link, Preethi says that she has seen some major themes emerging on Change.org in India each year. When the platform first opened up a couple of years ago, it was dominated by issues of corruption. A year later it was issues relating to safety of women such as better street lights and abolishing the insensitive ‘two-finger’ medical procedure after rape. More recently, child sexual abuse petitions seem to be trending. The ethos of the country certainly seems to be mirrored in the petitions for key issues.
Many have criticised such armchair cyber activism, but there have been significant successes which cannot be discounted.
Detractors of this medium say that “liking” a cause on Facebook, commenting on a post or signing an online petition may not change the world, but Change.org petitions have certainly made a difference for many in Australia and India. “Change.org makes it all happen real-time and more people can engage actively with democracy and governance” says Preethi in support of this medium.
Six months ago in Australia, Vaishali Kanabar rallied successfully through Change.org to keep a kids playground at Parramatta Park open. There were 250 supporters for her petition which proved sufficient for the Parramatta Park Trust to agree to keep the playground open until a replacement was built.
Over to India, where Laxmi, an acid attack victim at 15, used Change.org to get over 29,000 people to sign her online petition asking the Indian government to regulate the retail sales of acid to prevent future attacks. The government made an announcement that it would issue guidelines requiring a valid proof of identity to purchase acid and requiring shopkeepers to be licensed for sale of acid. All this in seven days.
In another example, Alina Tiphagne from New Delhi used Change.org to get over 63,000 supporters for her petition to mandate a seven-year background check for Uber drivers. This followed the rape of a young woman in Delhi by a Uber driver with a history of sexual assault. While Uber had a strong policy on background checks in the US, it wasn’t in place in India. The petition brought Uber to its knees and they have committed to thorough background checks, document verification and police re-verification of their drivers.
Sikhs participating in basketball rejoiced when over 69,000 supporters succeeded in getting the International Basketball Federation to scrap its discriminatory ban on wearing headgear.
A petition in Australia which asked Malcolm Turnbull to decriminalise the use of medical cannabis for people with terminal illness, garnered over 248,000 supporters. The good news for Lucy Haslam from Tamworth who ran this petition on Change.org for her 24-year old son, who needed cannabis to manage the pain and nausea from cancer treatment, was that on 17 October, the government announced their support.
With internet access and mobile phones reaching far and wide the vast expanse of India, Change.org now leverages the power of the internet among the Hindi speaking populations in India too. While some may argue that political engagement by clicking a few links promotes the illusion you can change the world, Lucy and Laxmi would certainly beg to disagree.