Richard Stallman, widely acknowledged at the pioneer of the free software movement, visits local community computer centre and gets impressed.
The Ambedkar Community Computer Centre is situated in a slum area in the New Guruppanapalya, off Bannerghatta road, Bengaluru. In this IT city of multinationals, it is only one of the many slums in the interiors of Bangalore that is not well known outside.
On the 13th December, the slum had a unique visitor who is well known in every part of the world as the founder of the Free Software Foundation. Richard M Stallman's visit turned the attention of IT professionals and media persons to the otherwise not-so-well-known slum.
The Ambedkar team with Stallman. Pic: Aravind.
Ambedkar Community Computing Center (AC3) is a center set up in the slum area of Guruppanapalya by members of Stree Jagruthi Samithi, volunteers from AID (Association of India's Development) and by some Free Software volunteers working in IT industry.
The idea of setting up the center was to equip the poor children in the nearby area with the basic computer skills, using quality software, which is available free of cost and shareable. The center uses free software tools on the GNU/Linux platform to teach and impart computer knowledge to children.
The effort is now showing results and the children have made enormous strides in their knowledge of computers. One of the children, Mani, a 9th standard student, has created pictures using the Free Software tool GIMP. His pictures received a raving response at an exhibition conducted during the Free Software National Conference held in Cochin this November.
Amazed by Mani's pictures, Stallman agreed to visit AC3 and interact with the children for a few minutes.
Stallman opening a gift, P Sainath's 'Everybody loves a good drought'. Pic: Aravind.
During his visit, Richard Stallman inaugurated Mani's painting exhibition and released a book written by the children about their experience in the slum computing center. Sarasu, who is a resident of Guruppanapalya and teaches children in AC3, made a presentation about the centre and its work with the poor.
Stallman also made two corrections to the presentation. He emphasized that free software is not just an alternative, but it is the right one. He also added that it is not just about a few success stories, the initiative itself is a great success story, as the computing center is doing a great job.
There were also cultural events from the inhabitants of the slum. After the events, Stallman interacted with the audience, mostly residents of Guruppanapalya and addressed their questions.
Here is an extract from Stallman's speech:
"I am honoured to be here in the community computer center that is in the name of Dr B R Ambedkar. I have read about Ambedkar and I was inspired by the work he has done for the Dalit people in India. There are many issues among the poor and marginalised in India that are more important than using free software. But, free software is one of the tool that helps the poor and Dalit to resolve some of the issues they are facing. The poor can't afford proprietary softwares and free software helps them to access computers. While proprietary software companies are like the colonial rulers who exploited the masses, free software is freedom and liberation. Ambedkar Community Computer Centre is a model for the other parts of the India in such a way that it gives access to computers for the poor without compromising the freedom. The Ambedkar Community Centre is doing a great job by empowering the poor with knowledge of free software."
It was a memorable experience for the people in slum area, the people who are part of the Ambedkar Community Computer Centre and the children who are the students of the center. They were all inspired by Stallman's visit to spread the free software message and also taking the center to next level. ⊕