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Long Walk to Freedom: Cherry Mathew

Long Walk to Freedom: Cherry Mathew

Photo: http://www.freedomwalk.in/photos/image/173

Cherry Mathew (1995 ICSE) is walking from the northern-most district of Kerala to the southern-most.

He is a member of Freedom Walk, a project led by Anoop John, who along with Cherry co-founded Zyxware Technologies, an infotech company in Thiruvananthapuram. The project website says, “Freedom walk is a project aimed at spreading the message of ‘Freedom in Society’, ‘Freedom from Environmental Issues’, and ‘Freedom in Software’ and to promote activism around these freedoms.”

The Walk began from Kasargod on Gandhi Jayanti, and is scheduled to end next week at Thiruvananthapuram on Children’s Day.

When I met the walkers last month in Kozhikode, much of our talk revolved around the third freedom — freedom in software, by which they mean the use of open-source software. In Kerala’s government schools, children are taught open-source software. Similarly organisations like the Kerala Police and KSEB use systems that run on open-source software. (The Freedom Walk has been supported in quite a few places by KSEB officials.) And yet, the walkers sensed “inertia” among people to migrate from Windows to Linux. From the other side of the table, a government administrator who uses open-source systems at his workplace, voiced the concern that technical support, after installation, was inadequate.

Whether inertia or lack of technical support, the way our discussion was framed, I felt “freedom in software” was a business issue that could be tackled by entrepreneurship, however paradoxical the solution might appear to the anti-capitalism brigade that’s backing the walk. And on that canvas, Freedom Walk can be read as a marketing tool to spread awareness in the market. A fun-walk by a bunch of geeks, cynics would add.

But that’s not the real agenda, I think.

Photo: http://www.freedomwalk.in/photos/image/396

Let us not dismiss the effort because of its multi-coloured umbrellas, its tricolour t-shirts, and its let’s-go-to-the-beach appearance. Unlike the science walk in the 1970s organised by the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (which roped in hundreds), the Freedom Walk has had only three people walking in all districts, and they have been attracting mostly a few tens of people. The size of the dog in the fight is small, but not so the size of the fight in the dog.

In the media, the Freedom Walk has mostly been painted as a walk for freedom in software. The walkers blogged recently, “We were disappointed that the media had stripped out the soul of our message, and reduced it merely to Free Software. The underlying philosophy of ‘being the change you wish to see in the world’ had been glaringly missed out on.”

I think Anoop John’s real goal is to connect with Keralam — to know their aspirations, their problems, their strengths — so that he can do meaningful work in society. That’s why the Freedom Walk, despite its awkward clubbing of socio-political freedoms with technical issues, might find a place in history.

When the walkers halt for the night, in a church or a PWD Guest House, I hope they ask themselves everyday: Can those of us from upper class families connect with those unlike us? Can Kerala connect with Keralam?