Arjun Venkatraman: The Modern Day Adivasi

Arjun Venkatraman photo

On a Saturday morning we set out to a small village called Halekote in Devarayandurga of Tumkur district from Bangalore. In those 65 km, we experienced a shocking shift- from concrete jungle to dense forest, from a hundred malls to no shops, from cluttered houses to sparsely scattered homes, from no air to breathe to plenty of oxygen, from Google Maps to depending on verbal ability, and from rich schools to one roofless small school. Unbelievably, one thing here was more advanced than what we left behind, the technology! A smiling couple welcomed us and soon we were taken aback by those wires, computers and Raspberry Pi (what was that?!) placed on top of a makeshift table-like structure; all this in a mud house. Presenting you an interview of a man who happens to be an Ashoka Fellow, who knowingly or unknowingly is playing a crucial role in the Indian Prime Minister’s “Digital India” program, Mr. Arjun Venkatraman. [Read Arjun Venkatraman Biography]

From Kabul to Indonesia

I graduated from Dayanand Sagar Institute of Technology and afterwards, following usual norm, starting working as an engineer. After sometime, I shifted base to Silicon Valley, USA {San Francisco Bay Area, California} with a high paying job and was in a constant maze, thinking that I was at the top of my career. One fine day, thanks to the influence of three generations of social entrepreneurs in the family, who were social workers trying to change things in villages, I packed my bags and decided to shift my base to the villages. This journey has taken me to a lot of places. I have made numerous friends living in Kabul to Indonesia.Arjun Venkatraman photo

Modern Day Adivasi

I arrived here at Janasthu Hackergram in Halekote with 8 trunks, along with my wife, Deepta, who happens to be from Delhi. We then occupied an abandoned home. Mostly after a year here, we will leave this place with those 8 trunks again. And hopefully by then, some things will change for the better in these 5 villages. You can call me a modern day Adivasi! When I retire, say at 60, I dream to build 40 such Hackergrams. When I work, I feel like I’m investing on my retirement plans! Jokes apart, I really wish that someday these villages that I worked on/with will welcome me with open arms.

HackerGram- Keep Calm and Hack Things

HackerGram was conceptualized from the Hindi words- Hai (resources are available), kar (let’s do it), and gram(village). The Raspberry Pi that you’re seeing here is an Internet of Things device and is acting like a server to wireless mesh set up in this village. People cannot afford or think of computers or internet here. But, everyone has a TV. We gave away Raspberry Pis to some of the homes and the fun began!

Raspberry Pi acts like a CPU and transforms their TVs into computer desktops. These devices are donated along with the keyboard and mouse by the supporters of Janasthu. This means we have successfully set an intranet in the village that sadly suffers from constant power cuts. We can impart education to the kids here through this system, who otherwise have hardly any teachers to teach. We are trying to get these villagers to build basic amenities necessary for a living and make them self-sustainable by opening up a world of new possibilities to them.

Meanwhile, an amphitheatre, some toilets and solar panels are getting built here. And I am learning to speak in broken Kannada to reach out to all the villagers.

Citizen Journalism- Of the Villagers, By the Villagers, For the Villagers

Other face of HackerGram is Citizen Journalism; a platform that enables villagers to air their voices- Swara. Many success stories, especially in naxal affected areas, around the Swara ecosystem consists of villagers (reporters who send out the message using either SMS or calls or missed calls), government officials (for whom it is a nightmare to reach out to villages), and moderators (who keep picking these incidents reported by villagers and help them out). One incident that I remember fondly is of a water hand pump issue. The water hand pumps were not at all being delivered to these villages, even after it was sanctioned; thanks to the heavy bribe that was being demanded. Villagers burst out their anguish that gained enormous support and hand pumps were delivered, installed and started working in a month!

Quicky bytes:

Silicon Valley or the real Valley: Real valley any day. Who wants to leave behind the luxury of visuals, healthy air and food, calmness, peace, and serenity?

Secret of Adivasi: Heart to learn, adapt, appreciate, and improve.

One thing you constantly prove: Rural India has the power to change for the better

One thing you make fun of City Dwellers for: Their sleeplessness and investments- thanks to their never ending and ever increasing EMI’s!

One thing you miss being away from the City: McD burgers and coke, since both my wife and I are city bred; we grab and hog them whenever we visit a city!

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KnowYourStar is an NGO working in education sector leveraging technology, storytelling and volunteerism. Our Passion-to-Profession interactive tool helps students unlock their true potential and leads them to explore viable future options through stories of role models & education roadmaps. To support rural/underprivileged students, KnowYourStar proudly runs Mentor India. We have published our own curriculum in a book called – Mitra Pustak.