Tactical Tech interviewed Chinmayi S K, founder and member of The Bachchao Project, who shared insights into the work and initiatives of the organisation.
Tactical Tech: How do you imagine a different digital future?
Chinmayi S K: The digital world should be safe and inclusive for everyone, a place for anyone to express themselves in the way they desire and connect with people who would appreciate them. I hope there are lesser barriers to usage and there is greater accountability towards each other in these spaces.
TT: What are the mission and the main goals of The Bachchao Project?
Logo of The Bachchao Project
CSK: The Bachchao Project is a techno-feminist collective. Our main goal is to help people develop and use Open-Source technologies that can advance the rights of women and LGBTQIA communities.
People who build technological frameworks are largely disconnected from the communities that are using them. There is little understanding of the issues at hand; similarly, there is no effort to make the technology palatable to the communities. Our work is to reduce this gap.
TT: Could you tell us more about the projects developed by the Bachchao Project
CSK: Our work is mostly based on community needs and much less on developing projects. This year our work has included:
1. Training women and non-binary trainers in India in safety and security online. This has been our second cohort. For these training sessions, we use the "safe sister's methodologies". This is a part of our ongoing work in supporting and equipping women and non-binary persons against online harassment.
Poster of the Safe Sisters India Fellowship Program 2023-2024, Image courtesy of The Bachchao Project.
2. Working with underrepresented communities to support research and learning about the impacts of internet shutdowns in these communities. We just released a study report on the impact of internet shutdowns on GIG Platform workers in India. We are currently working with a media organisation to build an SOP of work during Internet Shutdowns. This is a part of our ongoing work on access to the internet and internet censorship.
TT: Could you please tell us more about the collaborative work that The Bachchao Project has developed in the frame of the partnership with Tactical Tech?
CSK: Our partnership with Tactical Tech started with the intent of bringing The Glass Room to India. We successfully did that in 2019 when we hosted The Glass Room exhibition as part of an Art Exhibition in Central Bengaluru. Since then, our partnership has matured to build pieces for The Glass Room which are rooted in issues that are relevant to India.
We built The Many Hands on your Intimate Data. In this piece for The Glass Room, we looked at the various applications related to sexual and reproductive health data. Sexual Rights and Reproductive Rights are important for women and non-binary persons. These are central to our existence and are part of a battle we continue fighting every day. But unfortunately, when it comes to providing usable, safe and secure technology platforms for people to monitor or manage their health or live their lives to the fullest, there is little to no work done here. There is much work done around menstruation apps, and we acknowledge that. But, for those who identify as women and non-binary persons, menstruation is only one of the many variables that are relevant to us. There is more to our lives than just periods. So we examined what little platforms were there in the market to support our needs and looked at how they placed us at risk. At the time of this work, and even now, we don’t see many safe and secure platforms talking about these needs. Hence, we built this piece to be futuristic and focused on ways to look at problematic patterns.
Animation created with the support of SIDA. Research by The Bachchao Project. Poster design by Tactical Tech, animation by Klaas Diersman.
When we built the “Data: Public, Private and Beyond”, we were able to work with artists to build very critical pieces. The methodology of this event, though inspired by The Glass Room, was mostly built in-house by The Bachchao Project. But without Tactical Tech and Sida‘s support, this would not have been possible. The three pieces that we could build as part of this partnership were:
See No Evil: Cameras have become a part of our everyday lives in India. They are increasingly found in more public spaces, introduced for the purpose of security and monitoring. It is necessary to think about the usage of these cameras in our public spaces and what they mean for our lives. The sculpture explored the concept of langur being the camera. Langurs are often mischievous and have no concept of boundaries in urban spaces. This was a representation of how a camera is as good as those who operate them.
Image courtesy The Bachchao Project under CC-BY-SA
Watching You Watching Me: A zine that explores a queer individual’s life through the lens of digital everydayness.It spoke about the interaction of individuals with data collection by platforms and their subsequent use in the Indian ecosystem. It talks about their journey from being a consumer of data on platforms to turning into data for predatory lending apps.
Bodies of Dissent: This booklet explored the behaviour of visible and invisible disabilities on dating apps. Their relationships to bodies and other people’s perceptions of visible and invisible markers of identities of their bodies.
Image courtesy The Bachchao Project under CC-BY-SA
TT: The event “Data: Public, Private and Beyond” was a unique initiative that engaged Indian artists and creators and set a precedent for other organisations working in the field. Could you please share some insights into the event, its concept and its implementation?
CSK: Data: Public, Private and Beyond is a result of active collaboration. When we hosted the first The Glass Room in 2019, several conversations with participants made me realise that it’s super important to include work that is relevant to India for participants to relate, this led to a longer conversation between me and the Tactical Tech team on how the exhibitions we build can be more relevant. It took us four years to finally build a program to engage artists and researchers for India-specific art pieces. It started with building a poster as part of The Glass Room collection. Then, we built online events which used The Glass Room posters to host a relevant conversation for India. The journey had a lot of learning lessons for us and is still ongoing. Data: Public, Private and Beyond looked at the usage and collection of public and private data in India and what it means for a person’s autonomy, privacy and security. It was very inspired by the Glass Room. But we wanted to have a wider variety of artwork, not necessarily posters. We were very interested in building art that could be taken in a travel bag to be showcased in different parts of India and the world. We invited pitches from artists and researchers with this brief.
Poster of the event Data: Public, Private and Beyond. Image courtesy of The Bachchao Project
Many of the pitches we received were generic in nature, and we were looking for nuance or singular experiences. Some of the applicants fit what we were looking for right away. But with other promising artists, it took a few brainstorming sessions. We wanted the final pieces:
1. To be based on research on digital rights in India.
2. To have the experiences of the artists themselves in it.
The team was involved in some of the art concepts for the exhibition but did not get involved in the physical making of the art piece. For this, we trusted the artists. The artists added visual and tactile elements to the pieces, which turned out as highlights of the exhibition. We often don’t use these forms in our communication of digital rights. This was a learning for us.
TT: The event “Data: Public, Private and Beyond” contains a multidisciplinary approach that involves technologists, artists, and creators, among others. Why did you apply this approach? Do you think it is something that other organisations worldwide could replicate or scale?
CSK: The issues of digital rights and digital platforms are usually articulated only in policy frameworks. But the issues need multidisciplinary approaches. Some solutions can be devised for digital rights issues from platforms and policies, but there are also solutions through informed adoption by users. The use of all of these approaches is necessary for building safer and more inclusive platforms. In India, we see a disconnect between those who build platforms and those who use them. The platforms are either built by people outside of India or by people who don’t do enough research on their usage. Also, informed usage of platforms and advocating for rights is only done by a few users.
There are considerable barriers to having the privilege of spending time to understand technology platforms and having knowledge of evaluation for oneself, especially in the parameter of privacy, safety and security. It's only fair that the information about rights and suitable platforms is in formats everyone easily understands. This is where artists and creators can provide alternative approaches to communication. Knowledge needs to be passed not only in long-worded essays, but it needs to be passed in as many ways as humans interact with their surroundings, eg. In tactile forms and audio-visual formats.
So, it is definitely something that other organisations /communities can replicate. In fact, the scope can be as narrow or as broad as they would like and have various outcomes.
TT: Could you please share a piece of advice for other organisations or individuals looking for creative and innovative ways to engage their audiences in data and media literacy conversations?
CSK: This is a necessary exploration for any organisation / individual . But like any exploration, it has its own risks and benefits, and we would advise people to venture with an open mind.
TT: What comes next for The Bachchao Project? Are there any upcoming projects you would like to share or highlight?
CSK: We hope to use our experience of Data: Private, Public and Beyond to build a bigger effort around art as a way to communicate our digital rights issues. In the immediate future, though, we will continue to provide community support through research and trainings. We are working on something exciting around platforms which we will release later this year or early next year.