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2010 March 9 [Tuesday]


At the recently concluded PyCon-2010, there were some discussions about diversity, women, etc... I suppose, much of my energy would have been saved if I had published this mail earlier or even blogged about individual sexist behaviors i've experienced within the Indian floss community. Na, its not fear, rather why would I want to think about evil creepy stuff on a personal space like my blog!? However, during various discussions, I realized that many folks dont know what you experience on an individual level on $random-foolist (or off-line harassment) within the floss community, unless you talk about it...Talking is the first step....

Hi $PersonsName,

As I write this mail the words "Out the creeps publicly" uttered by a devel (who shall go nameless) comes to my mind and hence i'd prefer to not be anon and back my words under the pseudonym 'svaksha'. Do feel free to trim my long train of thoughts and I wont be offended if it does'nt make it to your article as /self is too late in all probability :) -- my mental resources are wound up around a lexical parser atm.

Initially when i used to hear all the women speak about their experiences i took comfort in the fact that i am not alone in hoping for change. But i had not factored in the possibility that change is tougher when "clueless new idiots" follow in the steps of "sexist old timers". Over the years the attitudes towards diversity still remains sexist, especially within the Indian community where cronyism is normal.

My observations are largely India-centric salted with some experiences on international lists and sans a timeline ...

The usual personal mails asking for personal details under the guise of "i want to volunteer" or guised as a personal interview (since when did marital status become relevant to floss contribution?). Another peculiar one was a guy writing emails in different scripts despite my requests that i didnt understand them. It was when i requested a friend to translate them that i realised why -- personal questions in a non-english script meant fewer people would know he was asking personal questions.

Then there was this instance of a jerk trying to crack into my server when he became aware of my gender. I was happy with the anonymity --- Very very few folks (i trusted) knew my location and real name but that changed when I founded the Ubuntu-Women project, was termed a "militant feminist" (a pejorative term for Feminazi?). 

This pejorative was echoed in the Indichix (LC-India) mailing lists in 2008 to avoid answering the question of 'controlling a woman's group by proxy' - hmm...cronyism and elitism is gender-neutral ;-) These personal attacks descended into personal life queries (hint:: the coffee, splenda thread) by one Indian male who subscribed to a grrls-only mailing list by pretending to be a woman. So much for the "cultured_Indian"! 

Other experiences include, an smtp header spoof of my mail id to send a sex-related email to Ubuntu lists ; an indian gentoo devel in his interview wanted to be stuck in a lift with me even while he admits to never having met me. Another was the death threats from "mikeeeeusa" on DW which went off-list ~~ IIRC around 5 women were the initial targets but Clytie (an AU contributor) had threats sent to her teenage daughter too.

http://eaves.ca/2009/07/06/structurelessness-feminism-and-open/ has a point I could relate to viz.elites and cronyism -- both of which are true as far as the local Indian floss community is concerned. I've heard past incidents of getting cronies to use social engineering (a bully's crony will pretend to be your friend and find out where you work, etc..) and use pressure tactics (complaining to your superiors/boss@work --the easiest way to bully an individual who fears losing his/her livelihood) to silence disagreeing voices -- This may probably not be sexist as it happened to an indian male (who shall remain anonymous) floss volunteer, but i'm writing this to highlight a deeper and more serious problem within the fragmented Indian floss community.

Pretending to support women racks up the good_publicity_karma (hence commercially lucrative via corporate sponsorship for privately controlled commercial conferences pretending to be a community event) while one can continue to be being elitist and deny decision making power via "cronyism" (the elites will use red herrings and out-shout newbies or anyone who disagrees with them with cries of "show me the code") on the side -- a very subtle game that is hard to decipher on a superficial level.

However, when subtle aggressiveness is reserved for the local community members only very few folks outside that circle are aware of it. This small subset of highly aggressive Indian men will never exhibit this negative attitude on the international project lists and irc channels where they _do_ participate, because it will permanently damage their reputation. This is never good for business or landing a job in future. Also, international lists and irc channels have lesser bystanders[0] taking care of SEP[1].

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somebody_Else%27s_Problem]

If readers are thinking its a malaise with the whole Indian community or a cultural baggage, its not. There is a lot of positive stuff happening thanks to many individuals who are polite and respectful and dont feel threatened by (wo)men. There are many men and women who continue their good work on an individual basis but unfortunately they are relegated to the  back-burner by pompous self-promoting jerks. I'm personally hoping to see a truly open community initiative like LCA or debconf (and others like it) happen in India.

Regarding including links and threads, i am undecided. The marketing gimmick "bad publicity is still free publicity" is another reason why I prefer to avoid blogging too much about negative behavior as it can acquire a cult-like halo and an easy way to fame for other men or newbies, especially when they see peers getting away with it. While technical misdemeanors (like a ddos attack,...) are punished quickly i've not yet heard an a$$hat being ostracized or boycotted from the community and this despite there being discussion and more discussion and protests about the said negative behavior.

Besides, the online world is so small that there is the danger of forming a mental picture of an individual and getting over-familiar via blogs, twitter, irc, lists, etc... Its possible that judging folks during real life meetings based on these preconceived assumptions is another cause of social behaviour problems.

I dont have any magic answers and have always believed that community action is the best way to solve the problem. Yet, getting women to speak-up openly against the negative attitude is a lot harder, especially when they feel they will not get any support as the lone voice, statistically speaking.  Few folks will want to waste their time tackling a regular barrage of red-herrings and logical fallacies. Example: Using the term "we" is purposely misinterpreted as taking over control and using "I" is interpreted as "the problem is singular in nature" and since _one_ person is statistically too small to figure in change, the status quo continues --This tactic works very well in situations when no change is desired.

Y'all probably are aware of all this so i'll stop as i've got to leave now.


As you've probably guessed, the above was my mail sent to a private un-archived women-only list. I'm also reproducing (with permission) an exchange with another floss contributor who wrote after he read the above e-mail:

Devel: And you cant have a community of human beings and donkeys right? That's why I refuse to believe most of the Indian FLOSS communities are communities at all. I dont care and I dont bother.

Me: That is the scary bit...everybody stops caring. When I stop caring its just downhill then. Somewhere we have to make an effort to build the community, sustain it and grow.

Devel: You have to make sure the community is worth it. [emphasis mine]

Wow, that last line really hit me hard and brought me to my senses. His thoughts were echoed by another person, "dont beat your head against a wall, it will bleed".
Both said words that I cannot forget.

Do some people behave differently in public and in private? Yes, my (Indian) floss experience proves this is true. Pretense is an individual's negative attitude and India is not exactly famous for the way it treats its women-folk. That these negative social attitudes magnify themselves on the internet is not at all surprising because evils minds will learn to use tools like tor and fake email id's/online profiles to stalk women online. They dont have the courage to do it in the open with their real identity and face the ensuing repercussions.

Why expect women to say *Stop harassing, stop stalking* ? Given the low female participation, women are an even smaller percentage in the existing scheme of things and the lack of space to speak up within projects is another crucial point that gets overlooked.  Instead of telling women how to adjust to sexist bullying, men within a project must learn to speak up if they wish to see change. Most times that action is taken against those who manage to offend those in power, else in floss communities sometimes one can get away with any negative behaviour with zero repercussions.

In my years within most Libre software projects, the common thought that surfaces is the expectation that "change is slow" because positive results with respect to reducing sexist behaviour takes time. I disagree.  Is it that women have to be offended with negative attitudes or sexism for action to be taken? Why cant a lone individual (irrespective of gender, nationality or any other criteria) say "stop being a jerk" and get tons of community support. If there is a lack of community support, its due to apathy and a lack of firmness and strong action with low tolerance to negative behaviour by every person involved in the floss community.  This is not as easy as typing this blog entry was, since it needs impartial and strong leadership qualities. 

If we dont want a gesellschaft instead of a community where people care for others, then attitudinal change on an individual level is the need of the hour. FOSS Communities are mostly made up of individual people who use the same technology they create and although women (add foo-group of choice) are a subset, they should not be the diversity tokenism card for spin doctors trying to prevent a PR disaster!

2009 July 3 [Friday]

linuxchix-india moves to india.linuxchix.org

Its been some months since LCIN got a new home on Ketan's server and moved to a wiki at :

LC India Chapter website : http://india.linuxchix.org/
Planet : http://india.linuxchix.org/planet
Mailing list : http://mailman.linuxchix.org/mailman/listinfo/indichix
IRC : #indichix on the server irc.linuxchix.org

Well, Terri updated the official chapter page for India, so its high time Radha (i need your blog uri please !?) and Kadambari who completed the move and admin the server with Ram and Ketan helping them all along, got due credit. Thanks a ton folks - y'all r0ck :)

Lazy /me should have blogged about it earlier but i've been preoccupied with stuff. After wrestling with it for ages I finally started putting down my thoughts on all the linguistics stuff on a second blog earlier -- gee, i hardly have the patience to scribble on this blog and here i am creating another maintenance blackhole. *sigh* what was i thinking !!

Atm, in all probability it will remain a private space for me to distill my thoughts from the pen and paper khichidi which was turning me scatter-brained each time i ask someone for their opinions and thoughts.  Last week, MM and me were out and over-enthusiastic 'me' spent all my cash on some books (not that there are many great publications by Indian authors, but...duh !!), instead of that dress i wanted.

I was planning to attend the fosscomm meet in delhi, mainly as an excuse to meet Hassath, an LC'er with whom i've only corresponded online in the last 5 years. Maybe on Sunday, which gives me a day to extract my money's worth from the dead-tree versions before the trip.

2009 February 24 [Tuesday]

National coalition for Libre software

Nah, I didnt have a free weekend nor did I go out as planned, the crick in my neck and painful shoulder not withstanding. Rather, I spent this weekend attending two Libre software events. I use the term "Libre" to denote "free software" simply because the latter confuses many people into the "i-dont-need-to-pay-money" mode which is very misleading and erroneous description. Hmm... who does not like free stuff but the English word, "Free" != "phukat/muft" and the term "libre" is more close to the Indian translation of philosophical "liberation".

  • LUG meet

It was a meet i was gonna miss but things got sorted and I walked in at 6:30 pm to find the meet was still going on. Err.. imagine listening to Manish for 2+ hours....poor attendees :P ! A coffee break later (which I'm sure the listeners craved by now) Ritesh spoke about DM and we wound up at 9 pm. Yeah, its inconvenient for a lot of folks. Completely agree with kingsly that we need a bouncer to pull speakers off the stage. Any volunteers :-D? I saw a number of new faces, so we are definitely growing. Yippieeeee !

  • National Coalition for Free software

Initiated by IT for change, CIS-India hosted a meetup in Bangalore on Sunday where the objective was to get feedback from different groups working and volunteering in Freesoftware communities. Leaving my friends at MG Road with a promise to return in an hour, I walked out at 7pm :). When I walked in there was a pre-meeting going on and later the room filled to around 35-40 people. Currently many individuals and organizations are acting in isolation and that dilutes the effort so this meet was to find out how we can collaborate and help each other out. COOL !!

Met Kenneth, Radha dropped by, as did Sriram and Kingsly, besides many other folks I had met at different time spans including Prashant from AltLaw forum and 2 more lawyers. Vinay who was taking minutes of the meeting has a complete picture captured in words. I am waiting for Vinays synopsis of  Sunday's confabulations to hit the list:). 

Introductions started and Abhas was perhaps the only company there with the rest of the motley crowd comprising of volunteers and NGO representatives. Each of us spoke about our contributions to Libre software, discussed the challenges we faced and the common recurring theme was lack of support on the ground level. Kenneth spoke about the work NRC-Foss was doing in smaller 2/3- tier cities and how they promote learning and sharing via wiki's, which received a sum total of 3 lines worth of content contribution in the last 2 years of its existence, if i remember his words correctly. Kingsly suggested we should have smaller events all around the year to increase the participation and reach. I had spoken about the lack of women contributors/volunteers in libre software, where I do draw a distinction between people paid to work in Free software and those that do it in their spare time. Both are important but there is a significantly less amount of spare time the non-paid female volunteer gets and that is where the "be nice, be polite" LC philosophy helps in making the transition easy.  While there are many female Linux users, the contributors are definitely a smaller subset of this set.

While encouraging more people to adopt Linux is important, Sebastian and Yann echoed others with "Increase contributors, not just consumers of Linux". They summed this up towards the end but I highlight this here because the first thing a volunteer/contributor encounters is the community which is largely via the mailing lists/IRC and forums. If she encounters a hostile atmosphere where aggressive flaming and posturing is indulged in by a handful of vocal flamers, it is bound to turn this person to be a passive observer, lurk quietly and most people (including men) usually leave quietly, all of which are a loss. Yeah, feel free to disagree that you are immune to nastiness and that assholes should be ignored. Umm...naa, I dont have to tolerate assholes to use Linux/Libre software, much less while contributing my time for free. No one should have to tolerate assholes. Period !! For a change, stand-up to bullies around you and say "Stop being an Asshole". It works.

License issues arose but by and large the most common and recurrent theme in the discussion was the lack of support, with almost everyone agreeing that Linux support sucks, commercial and community alike. They are right, there is no local framework where people can communicate face-to-face. IMHO, a local lug is perfect space to plug this gap. I touched upon why its important to have more local meets and more sessions, install fests aimed at newbies where they can have face-to-face community interactions and participation and this was in the "what do we plan to do" section.  There are probably lakhs of people who dont know how to use a mailing list and/or IRC. Hey, I certainly dont expect my family members to log onto IRC to ask for help and would rather help them out. Nah, I dont think they should not have to RTFM, google or any other bull-shit that one gets to hear from nerdy geeks. Well these are the folks that would solve a Linux problem for their own kith and kin so why not others?  What of those folks who would still be open to trying out Linux but dont have kids to help them out. Suparna was explaining how hard it was for her to make this switch to Linux and she ploughs on because she has nice people around her willing to help her out.

Libre software in Education was discussed and related an incident of ICSE schools treating computer education as a money-spinner. Heck, education has become a "get-rich-quick" scheme instead of the original goal, that of imparting knowledge. Somewhere in the rat race we seem to have allowed education to be overtaken with money and greed. *sigh* !!  There were many good ideas and a number of people signed up to various tasks.  Another suggestion I had was regarding the  the government encouraging small and medium scale entrepreneurs in Libre software (not just the large software export houses). If the manufacturing industry can gets tons of sops for women entrepreneurs why not replicate the same model for women in Libre/Free software which is a great start-up enabler. Besides Tax-incentives, this would also solve the problem of women leaving the work pool after marriage/kids. It will also allow the creation of more jobs and increase the employment rate since Libre software needs a learning attitude more than fancy expensive degrees.  The benefits are many but this needs a detailed analysis, so I'll pen those in a separate blog entry.

When it came to a coalition, most opined that it would be better to have and independent NGO for this purpose and many organisations would not be comfortable to go under any existing banner. For example, FSF-India has a limited agenda and would not be interested in local meet-ups and such like. When the question of signatories was thrown up, I mentioned that since LC and UW are not registered entities, I am not an elected representative holding any office of power so I cannot represent the project legally or aim to speak on its behalf unless authorized to do so. I was just a volunteer donating my valuable time. This was true for many individual contributors who are now welcome into the coalition. It was also suggested that atleast one such meeting be held in Chennai (which KG agreed to do), Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkatta. Sunil was the most gracious host with pastries, samosas, patties, and coffee being served to each guest and we wound up by 7pm, with the post-meeting discussions being very interesting too.

But right now I need to go pen a rant on why I hate this city's one-way roads. No really they suck big time... starting with a nice kick for that idiot auto driver  for giving me directions to Frazer town from Cunningham road, instead of MG Road. Neither do I have that bad an accent and nor does MG road sound like Frazer town. Sheesh, can someone start a "NO Oneway roads" campaign please !!

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