The Power Of One Plus Many

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Street cred After garnering a significant number of online signatures, most petitioners take their cause physically to the people or to decisionmakers. Photo: AFP
Street cred After garnering a significant number of online signatures, most petitioners take their cause physically to the people or to decisionmakers. Photo: AFP

Not just individual campaigners with a pet cause, even the rich and powerful have found change.org to be the perfect vehicle to get mass support for their causes.

Take Rajeev Chandrasekhar, independent Member of Parliament from Bengaluru. He recalls, “Change.org came to my attention when I was looking for ways of reaching out, creating awareness and mobilising support from a larger group of online Indians on a range of issues.” He felt elated when his petition for the voting rights of the defence services brought forth an edict from the Supreme Court asking the Election Commission not to curb the voting rights of soldiers. His petition had the weight of 65,000 supporters behind it.

Thanks to the edict, soldiers are now in the category of general voters and will be permitted to vote from their posts, however remote. Explaining that this was his effort to make universal suffrage a reality, Chandrasekhar explains, “As I was aware of this deliberate infringement of the basic right to vote for our soldiers and their families, I tried my best to use persuasion and advocacy with the government in 2013.” However, having met with opposition in the face of an “apathetic bureaucracy”, Chandrasekhar took the path of online mobilisation through change. org, which helped in getting a large number of citizens to support this issue.

Another one of his petitions that is trending is an appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to create a roadmap for keeping children in this country safe from sexual abuse. And these are just two of the causes he has promoted on the site.

Chandrasekhar, who ran a successful business in an earlier innings, has more resources at his command than the ordinary citizen, for whom this may be the only lifeline. The latter are discovering that online campaigning is a more lucrative method to gain more supporters and generate wider awareness. “Mobilising people online has proven to be easier than mobilising them offline,” claims Pradeep Raj, an activist for the rights of the differently abled and a para-athlete.

Raj first came to know about change. org when he signed a petition on the Bhopal gas tragedy. He then went on to start many petitions for differently abled citizens, including sportspersons. One of them was a petition for the Disability Rights Bill to be tabled before the general elections of 2014. Raj initiated another petition two years ago against the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) for not allowing parents and coaches of para-athletes inside the Games Village of the London Paralympics 2012.

The activist did taste success. “I started the petition asking the government to act against the PCI after the debacle during the London Paralympics,” he says. “Within 24 hours, there was a showcause notice to PCI and strict action was taken against them.” This victory was no doubt won because he had over 9,000 supporters.

Again in 2014, the PCI was not included in the annual recognition of National Sports Federations (NSF) as per a ruling of the sports ministry. Earlier this year, Pradeep Raj started another petition again — against the PCI this time — to increase representation of differently-abled people on the board.

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