In Focus: India’s techno-feminist collective

“Technology is the new frontier now. The Internet is the new battlefield, and so you’re not just merely a technologist now or a digital rights technologist. You are a human rights defender.”

These are the words of co-founder of The Bachchao Project: Chinmayi SK. The Bachchao Project is a techno-feminist collective based in India, following the principles of open source and open communities. They work with gender–women & LGBTQI–and tech groups to build bridges and build useful technology.

Chinmayi reiterates, “when we work with gender groups, we try to help build their knowledge to represent their needs and demands in different spaces.” They started doing digital rights work by looking at the needs of communities, as well as the tools and frameworks that exist. Slowly, they then provided members of these communities with materials and trainings relevant to their issues. She also shares, “we also helped make sure that spaces exist for conversations between gender rights advocates and techies (who built the technologies). Then we started seeing the need to work on policies. Although we don’t work heavily on policies, we do the research that is necessary to make informed consultations on policies.”

The Bachchao Project also writes frameworks that are necessary for technologists to support advocacy groups in building tools that are usable and useful in advancing human rights. Chinmayi added, “these groups also taught us a lot of things that helped us in our journey; and when we do our research, we always involve the communities we work with and work for.”

Recently, they conducted a study and looked at internet shutdowns from a gendered perspective, which they asserts should be considered in policy-making as women are proven to be affected differently.

“We don’t just look at technology in monochromatic lens where you just build apps and websites and just leave it there, we do want to do more work on questioning the technology and examine the reason why they were built. We want to explore alternative ways which actually work better than just building tech. We want to help shape tech and help shape the methodologies & the protocols,” Chinmayi concluded.


The Making Of A Palm Oil Fiefdom

This expose on the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis is the first instalment of Indonesia for Sale, an in-depth series on the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis.

The series, a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, is the product of nine months’ reporting across Indonesia, interviewing fixers, middlemen, lawyers and companies involved in land deals, and those most affected by them.

We are featuring four interviews from the story “The making of a palm oil fiefdom”.

Darwan Ali

Beginning in 1999, Indonesia embarked on an ambitious programme of decentralisation, transferring a wide range of powers from Jakarta to local bureaucracies in the hope of both heading off separatist urges and making government more accountable. District heads, the bupatis, were granted the authority to enact their own regulations, provided they did not conflict with existing laws. They exercised this authority liberally.

During 2004-2005, the Seruyan district chief in Indonesian Borneo Darwan Ali issued 37 permits for large palm oil plantations, collectively covering an area of almost half-a-million hectares, more than 80 times the size of Manhattan.

Between December 2004 and May 2005, Darwan gave 16 of the companies permits for plantations. By the end of 2005, at least nine of them had been sold on to major palm oil firms for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It seems implausible that a series of interconnected people, in many cases family members, would concurrently form companies only to decide that they lacked the capacity to run them. The sole explanation is that they were set up to be sold, endowed with assets from Darwan.

Darwan Ali Companies

In 2006, Indonesia experienced one of the worst Forest burning seasons in memory, as smoke from fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan set off a carbon bomb and blanketed the region in haze visible from space. Deforestation and changes in land use — a euphemism for the advance of plantations — accounted for some 85 percent of Indonesia’s emissions.

In a 2007 documentary on the impact of palm oil in Seruyan, it was shown that how it adversely affected the local orang-utan population and their habitat making them almost extinct.

Here are interviews of some of the people who resisted this massive exploitation and corruption by Darwan Ali’s Family.

James Watt, Farmer

James Watt, a stoic farmer from the lakeside village of Bangkal, had bought into Darwan’s pledge to make the plantations work for the people before his land was taken by the Sinar Mas Group, an Indonesian conglomerate founded by the billionaire Widjaja family. “All we got was oppression,” James told us. “Clearing our land, dumping waste in our rivers. We never imagined it would be like this.” As the companies pushed forth, Darwan didn’t lift a finger. “It was always empty promises with him. I think he saw being bupati as his chance to make as much money as possible.”

Watch the interview of James Watt:


At the beginning of Darwan’s second term, a heavyset, outspoken man named Budiardi was elected to the district legislature with, as he described it, “a mandate to struggle for the people’s rights against the company.” Budiardi came from Hanau subdistrict, where the BEST Group had set up in the national park and in the villages around it. Yet he soon came to the view that it was futile to try to change the system from within. Darwan’s party dominated the parliament; the speaker was his nephew. “It was useless to oppose Darwan’s policies,” Budiardi told us. “The bupati controlled the parliament.”

Watch the interview of Budiardi:

Bambang Yantoko

Dragon Beard

Read the full story here.


Women in Digital Rights Movements

Image Source: Body and Data

This year’s global theme, “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change,” (promulgated by UN Women) calls for the involvement of the experiences and insights of women and girls in the development of technology. With the aim to close-in gender gaps, the campaign hopes to mobilise beyond initiatives that focus on women–it seeks to overturn institutions and narratives that dictate the status quo.

In the recent months, EngageMedia worked with women who are critical voices in the digital rights movement in Asia: Kyal Yi Lin Six, a documentary filmmaker who recently directed It’s Time to Talk; Shubha Kayastha of Body & Data, an organisation that focuses on intersection of gender, sexuality and digital technology in Nepal; and Chinmayi SK of The Bachchao Project, a community that tackles solutions to issues on gender and technology in India.

Watch It’s Time to Talk below:

Women’s Digital Rights in Nepal

“The Internet has become a big thing now in Nepal which wasn’t the case 3 years ago and so it’s important to look at these online issues from feminist & queer perspective, ” says Shubha, feminist activist in Nepal and co-founder of Body & Data.

According to Shubha, as internet penetration is increasing in Nepal, there’s a dire need to address issues that concern women, queer people, and marginalized people specially on access& freedom of expression online.

The Nepal government has been introducing new laws & policies around information & communications technologies which directly impacts Nepalis’ right to privacy & freedom of expression. As a feminist organisation, Body & Data focus on just access to technology and information, as well as control over resources. They also believe that individuals should have the autonomy to choose & decide what kind of information they want to access & what kind of medium they want to choose to express their opinion. Shubha reiterates, “while we’re talking about digital rights, we should not forget about individuals’ agency and autonomy over their own data, over their own body.”

Fighting for Women’s Digital Rights

In the absence of inclusive online infrastructure and policies for women and queer people, Kyal Yi, Shubha and Chinmayi have worked towards mobilising women and their communities to advocate for women’s rights online.

Envisioning a just and gender-equal society, EngageMedia reiterates its unwavering commitment in fighting for women’s rights online & offline.

Happy International Women’s Month!

Watch out for releases celebrating these women (among many others) in the coming days.


Read more: It’s Time to Talk

Featured Filmmaker

Featured Filmmaker: Paradoc

Organisasi: Paradoc

Negeri:​ Indonesia

Pendiri: Linda Nursanti and Mada Ariya Putra

Paradoc adalah organisasi pembuat film yang bekerja bersama untuk menciptakan perubahan sosial menggunakan media audio visual. Dalam websitenya, mereka menyatakan “Video for Change” sebagai tipe kerja utama mereka.

Salah satu video karya mereka yang paling banyak dibicarakan adalah film berjudul “Lakardowo” yang memotret perlawanan warga masyarakat melawan polusi limbah beracun yang membahayakan lingkungan dan manusia dari sebuah tempat pembuangan limbah di Mojokerto, Jawa Timur. PT PRIA yang mengoperasikan tempat ini. Sejak 2010, warga Lakardowo telah menderita akibat kontaminasi limbah beracun. Hal ini juga membawa dampak kerusakan sosial dan ekonomi warga. Anak-anak dan perempuan menjadi korban tertinggi akibat pembuangan limbah beracun ke pemukiman warga ini.

Paradoc telah meraih berbagai nominasi penghargaan atas karya-karya mereka, termasuk nominasi “Film Dokumenter Terbaik” pada Festival Film Indonesia ke-33, Fitur Dokumenter Terbaik (Bekantan Award)” pada Festival Film Lingkungan Hidup di Kalimantan 2018 dan pilihan juri (Lanskap Program) pada Festival Film Dokumenter ke-17 tahun 2018 di Yogyakarta.

Kami berbincang dengan Paradoc untuk mengetahui lebih banyak soal kerja mereka.

Paradoc 1


EngageMedia (EM): Bagaimana Paradoc terbentuk?

Paradoc: Ide nama Paradoc berasal dari Mada Ariya Putra dari kata “paradoks”. Paradoc terbentuk dari kesamaan visi dan misi untuk berkarya bersama di genre dokumenter. Paradoc terbentuk tahun 2016, saat mulai mengalami film dokumenter “Lakardowo Mencari Keadilan”. Saat itu, Paradoc beranggotakan Linda Nursanti dan Mada Ariya Putra.

EM: Apa tujuan membuat dokumenter tentang warga Lakardowo di Mojokerto?

Paradoc: Awalnya dokumenter tersebut dibuat sebagai tugas akhir di Institut Seni Indonesia Surakarta. Seiring berjalannya proses riset, kami menyadari film ini penting untuk mengkampanyekan isu Lakardowo, karena belum banyak media (massa) yang mengekspos masalah di Lakardowo. Film ini juga menginformasikan tentang bahaya limbah B3, sehingga masyarakat bisa lebih kritis menyikapi pertumbuhan industri di sekitarnya.

Menurut kami, pertumbuhan industri tidak diimbangi dengan tempat pengolahan limbah B3 yang maksimal. Masyarakat yang tidak tahu bahaya limbah B3 menganggap limbah tersebut seperti pasir biasa, sehingga banyak yang menjualnya untuk bahan bangunan. (Note: screenshot film yg menunjukkan wujud limbah B3). Pemerintah juga tidak melakukan pencegahan limbah dan tidak menindak pelaku industri yang menghasilkan limbah.
Karena itu, film ini jadi punya misi besar.

EM: Bagaimana tanggapan warga Lakardowo saat mengetahui Paradoc akan membuat film tentang mereka?

Paradoc: Masyarakat sangat welcome namun tetap berhati-hati dengan “orang luar”, karena mereka kecewa dengan janji orang-orang yang ingin membantu mereka. Saya sendiri mengetahui kasus Lakardowo dari LSM Ecoton Indonesia. Niat kami membuat film langsung diterima masyarakat setelah tahu saya mengenal LSM Ecoton.

EM: Adakah pembelajaran yang bisa dibagi pada sesama pembuat film dokumenter dan advokasi, dari proses membuat film tersebut?

Paradoc: Banyak pelajaran yang kami dapat yang utama dalam membuat film dokumenter ini salah staunya adalah perlu adanya motivasi sebagai dorongan dalam proses pembuatan film. Hal ini mirip dengan kegelisahan diri melihat lingkungan sekitar yang kemudian disampaikan melalui karya film dokumenter tersebut. Hal itu akan memberikan nyawa pada film dokumenter sesuai dengan yang ingin kita sampaikan. Dan dengan film dokumenter selain dapat memberikan informasi dan edukasi juga bisa menjadi media advokasi untuk masyarakat, khususnya di Lakardowo.

EM: Bagaimana menurut Paradoc, tanggapan penonton sejauh ini?

Paradoc: Antusiasme yang tinggi dari penonton, terlihat dari banyaknya permintaan untuk mengakses film ini dari masyarakat guna diputar dalam nobar dan diskusi. Sudah banyak
kota yang memutar film Lakardowo Mencari Keadilan seperti Mojokerto, Yogyakarta, Solo, Tangerang, Jombang, Pasuruan, Malang, Bogor, Denpasar serta di Provinsi Aceh dan daerah lain dan ini akan terus bertambah di bulan-bulan mendatang di tahun 2019 ini. Setelah menonton film “Lakardowo Mencari Keadilan” banyak penonton yang ingin bersolidaritas dan mengunjungi langsung desa Lakardowo dan mengajukan diri membantu warga Lakardowo.

EM: Adakah kesan, masukan, atau kritik yang bisa diceritakan pada kami, misalnya dari tanggapan penonton?

Paradoc: Kesan yang kami terima dari penonton, terutama bahwa mereka dapat merasakan emosi yang diciptakan dalam film. Mereka juga baru mengetahui bahaya limbah B3 dan miris melihat kondisi di Lakardowo serta respon pemerintah yang lamban dan banyak pula ingin bersolidaritas langsung ke Lakardowo, terutama dari mahasiswa. Penonton jadinya ingin tahu lebih dari segi personal.

EM: Bagaimana pendapat Paradoc tentang penyebaran video dalam jaringan (online)? Membantu atau tidak? Jika belum, apa yang kiranya bisa mendukung
proses advokasi?

Paradoc: Sangat membantu, dengan melalui jaringan online dapat menjangkau lebih luas ke masyarakat umum. Namun mengandalkan media online saja tidak cukup, perlu diimbangi dengan kerja sama atau kolaborasi dengan suatu komunitas atau kelompok sehingga lebih cepat dan meluas dukungannya. Selain aksi secara online juga aksi di lapangan baik berupa menggalang dukungan melalui media seni (musik, film, gambar), orasi atau demo.

EM: Apa film yang sedang dikerjakan sekarang?

Paradoc: Saat ini kami sedang mengerjakan project “The Ant and The Elephant” yang masih tentang Lakardowo. Film ini bakal menitikberatkan pada lanjutan cerita perjuangan warga Lakardowo di meja hijau. Dan bedanya dari film sebelumnya adalah penyajian film ini lebih personal dan intim. Saat ini kami sampai pada proses produksi. Kami sangat membuka lebar kerja sama dalam pembuatan film dokumenter terutama isu-isu lingkungan.