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   Cell Phone Nation
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
30 Jun 2013
ose incredible nine years, between 1993 and 2012, that empowered 900 million people with wireless connectivity; it is a tale of technology transfer that generated a cascade of new occupations and jobs; and it is a saga of crony capitalism that subsumed five of the ten telecom ministers on charges of corruption. It is an unfinished but absorbing fairytale of a country coming of age, from one telephone per 165 persons in 1991 to nearly two mobile connections per person in 2012. Cell Phone Nation offers an interdisciplinary analysis on how 'boundary between impossibility and possibility' got blurred and what helped people 'attain that was long denied' to them.

The mobile phone may have provided access to global flows of knowledge and mobilised social movements but it has altered local cultural practices and challenged gender relations in a country that is not only unjust and unequal but immensely complex too. Yet, for every increase of 10 per cent in mobile penetration the State Domestic Product reportedly grows by 1.2 per cent. Mobile phone has become an empowering tool in the hands of millions of Indians who otherwise may not have been part of an accelerating economy.

While providing a comprehensive account of how mobile phones have changed lives, aurhors Robin Jeffrey and Assa Doron do not lose sight of the likely health and ecological implications of radiation emitting mobile towers which have mushroomed across the country's vast landscape. Curiously, the impact of mobile towers on survival of house sparrows and honey bees is anything but shocking. Future generation may have to pay a price for the telecom revolution (and its leftover e-waste) currently underway in the country.

Despite its flip side, mobile phone has been a great equaliser in a country beset with caste and class diaparities. But will it alter the well-entrenched hierachy prevailing in the society or can it surmount physical barriers to transform the power structure? Or, will the power of cheaper mobiles only be used to make sexual harrassment and economic crimes easier? The authors raise such compelling questions in a racey narrative that is lucid, edifying and engrossing.

Cell Phone Nation
by Robin Jeffrey and Assa Doron
Hachette India, New Delhi
293 pages, Rs. 499.

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
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