Harsh Mander is no stranger to the world of activism. A former bureaucrat, he is associated with several causes, including the right to information, minority and Dalit rights, etc. But recently, he was associated with a different kind of activism using the Internet. In October, he concluded ‘Karwan-e-Mohabbat’, a month-long journey, where he met families affected by hate crimes. The campaign, which started from Assam and travelled to Jharkhand, Karnataka, Delhi, UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, was made possible largely through funds raised from the crowdfunding platform, BitGiving. Mander and his volunteers from different walks of life met around 50 families and documented their tales in blogs, etc.
“Our idea was to meet minorities and Dalits affected by hate crimes and show solidarity. We wanted to share their suffering and offer them love and support,” says New Delhi-based Mander. “I had written about my plans to start this journey, but was not sure where the money would come from,” he says. Mander was flooded with letters of solidarity after he shared the idea though a newspaper article in August. “A group of youngsters whom I haven’t ever met suggested that we start an online appeal for funds. They created a website, put up an appeal on BitGiving and even created a Twitter handle for me,” says the 62-year-old. Mander posted updates on his social media handles and people blogged about it. Of the Rs 20 lakh that he collected for the journey, around `10 lakh was raised through BitGiving—the rest came through direct donations.
Talking about the great power of the Internet and social media, he says, “If it wasn’t for social media, we wouldn’t have been able to put up a story at all, as not many mainstream media channels covered the event. Social media provided valuable support in spreading the story.” Mander, the founding member of the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information, however, believes that online activism can only be a supplementary tool. “Nothing can replace the physical presence. Social media can help us spread the word, but real, on-ground activity can’t be replaced through the click of a button,” says Mander, who is currently the director of Centre for Equity Studies, an autonomous research and advocacy institution. “Though social media is a valuable instrument, it can’t and shouldn’t replace the conventional models of activism,” he says.