Rural communities in India are often underserved by the mainstream media. While there is a public discourse surrounding the issues they face, this dialogue typically takes place on television, in newspaper editorials, and on the Internet. Unfortunately, participation in such forums is limited to the most privileged members of society, excluding those individuals who have the largest stake in the conversation. This paper examines an effort to foster a more inclusive dialogue by means of a simple technology: an interactive voice forum. Called CGNet Swara, the system enables callers to record messages of local interest, and listen to messages that others have recorded. Messages are also posted on the Internet, as a supplement to an existing discussion forum. In the first 21 months of its deployment in India, CGNet Swara has logged over 70,000 phone calls and released 1,100 messages. To understand the emergent practices surrounding this system, we conduct interviews with 42 diverse stakeholders, including callers, bureaucrats, and members of the media. Our analysis contributes to the understanding of voice-based media as a vehicle for social inclusion in remote and underprivileged populations.
Shubhanshru Choudry last night won the Index On Censorship Digital Activism award for this initiative.