Centre for Internet & Society

Nishant Shah was a speaker at the PICNIC 2010, in Amsterdam, where he made a presentation titled "Citizens in the time of Database Democracies : Information ecology and role of participatory technologies in India"

The relationship between citizenship and government informatics have historically been shaped through a series of debates around questions of citizenship, security, State-market collaborations, and right based discourse in India. Even before the information explosion caused by the emergence of digital and internet technologies, there has been a strident discourse around participatory democracy and technology mediated governance as  ways of empowering the citizen's access to rights and resources in the country. With the emergence of new technologies of storage, retrieval and dissemination, these expectations have become more visible.  The Indian Government has officially accepted the transition to become a S.M.A.R.T.  (Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsible and Transparent) State, with the rise of  'Netizens' who, in their access to new digital and internet technologies will change the very shape and structure of governance. 

However, as the digital infrastructure develops and new kinds of citizen services and consumption come to the fore, battle-lines are being drawn between stakeholders. On the one hand are those who believe that this might be the opening of a Pandora’s Box for a country like India where a stark digital divide might create great inequality in citizens' access to State services and resources, producing unjust and discriminatory structures based on access, bandwidth and education. . On the other hand are those who celebrate the need for transparency, participation and access to governmentality that these e-governance initiatives usher in, addressing long standing questions of plutocratic governance, bureaucratic systems of denial of rights and widespread corruption.  Both the warring factions draw upon partial data – of failed attempts and projects by different government initiatives to pilot studies initiated by different government and civil society organisations respectively – to make their arguments for and against the emergence of a 'Database Democracy' .premised on participatory politics facilitated by new media practices in the country.

Especially with the current rolling out of a Unique Identity Project (named Aadhar – The Hindi word for ‘Support’) these discussions have become more severe and the arguments have become angrier. It is not only timely but also necessary to examine the ecology of participatory technologies and processes in the country in order to look at the different sides of the debates and explore the role that new media practitioners and stakeholders  would play in efficiently and responsibly establishing a protocol of open and transparent governance structures without compromising either the privacy, rights or safety of the citizens. This presentation explores the project Aadhar as symptomatic of a changing relationship between the State and its Citizens mediated by ICT technologies and stakeholders, to look at the ways in which new Citizenships are being forged in emerging information societies like India.


More news about the panel on Future of Journalism, arranged by the European Journalism Commission, is available at



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