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?

10 Comments

  • I had come across this article http://www.hindu.com/mp/2008/10/02/stories/2008100250980100.htm in the Hindu metro Plus, Trivandrum and was aware of the Freedom Walk. Anoop is a friend of mine too.

    Speaking in terms of free software alone , Anoop and zyxware is doing a fine job. They have hosted install-fests, free software banner events and have helped people with linux, blogs and other things. Good! In terms of free and libre software , that is how change shall come about.

    In terms of environmental issues and the like, what we need are massive campaigns initiated by the Government, big corporates and social organizations. The docu ‘the Inconvenient Truth’ by Al Gore and co for example had a profound effect. We need more visibility and awareness, at a very large scale if progress on that front is to be achieved. European countries are moving towards green energy by means of political will. Whereas we are heavily dependent on conventional and often times unclean energy.

    We have a long way to go on this.

    And freedom in society is a far cry; just finished reading the story of two honour killings in and around Noida! Two girls were shot dead by their cousin for ‘going’ to see their respective boyfriends.

    To be frank and to the face , the Freedom Walk can do too little to address these problems we face. Nevertheless I hope that the indefatigable will of the freedom walk-ers will contract into administrative machinery sooner or later. That is when visible change can be brought about. It all boils down to political will.

    Kudos to the tremendous endeavour of the freedom walkers, Kudos!!

  • This appears a little bizarre to me. Whats the real point these people are trying to make. That a walk will somehow makes people enlightened. I feel they could use their time to better use. And I simply don’t understand the fuss about Freedom in software. Whats really wrong if police stations use software made and marketed by Microsoft. Don’t they use jeeps manufactured by Mahindra. Is Mahindra a ‘free whatever company’. I think we should try to embrace something by the merit of what it does. Not because it somehow appears to be ‘cool’. If there is merit in switching over to using Linux in KSEB ,its definitely warranted, not to advance a political agenda. It seems Kerala is all too obsessed with the politics behind Linux than Linux itself. Our Chief Minister is leading the way, making a clown out of himself. I’m sure he doesn’t have an inkling of what open source means, but ‘open-source’, ‘free’, ‘libre’ sound like cool words aint they ?

  • I have to agree with Paul on the software part. If you are good enough, then develop another OS to challenge Windows! Had Windows not been there, the PC would have been a Premium Computer instead of Personal Computer. So many people would not have used softwares like document creators and spreadsheets.

    As for environmental issues, the European nations contribute more towards a green environment than the Americans. In India, most of the major cities are heavily polluted. Probably small steps like using a bicycle instead of car or bike to travel short distances need to be adopted.

    Another step is lessening the usage of plastic bags. Mini hydroelectric projects can be encouraged instead of going for so many thermal plants which cause lot of pollution. Hope activities like the Freedom walk have some positive effect on the public minds regarding the issue of freedom in all spheres.

  • Here’s my two cents’ worth, typed out in the comfort of my room while the walkers plod on in the sweltering heat our dear motherland is clothed in.

    The point of the walk being to attract attention to, and increase awareness of the issues being addressed, I feel it can be augmented by ensuring that enough people know about it beforehand, especially since only 3 people are involved in it. On the other hand, a much larger number of people walking would also be a solution to the problem of inadequate publicity.

  • Vishnu mentioned political will. Wonder what he thinks of Paul’s point “It seems Kerala is all too obsessed with the politics behind Linux than Linux itself”, which was echoed by Karthik.

    I feel that the walk will spread awareness — the talks in schools and colleges will spread the word — however small the venture. People joined the walk for brief stretches, at various points along the route.

    The ones enlightened will be the freedom walkers, I hope. Though all of you see this as a few (guys) teaching their worldview to the many, I still feel that the walk is actually a few learning the worldviews of the many.

  • “Can Kerala connect with Keralam?”

    Yes, it can. If the walkers decide to earn their living expenses doing labor with their hands, like people in Keralam do, they certainly would make the connection. If not, this exercise would help only to reduce a bit of baby fat from their preppy bodies.

  • It is not the walk itself, or the stated purpose of the walk that is the most important thing here.

    An effort like this warrants encouragement and suport purely from the point of view of a few who could easily have chosen much easier paths for their daily lives taking time out to learn the views of the many who they share a language and a state with, and trying to understand their concerns within the umbrella (multicolored or not) of the mission of their walk and beyond. What would be more interesting is how this experience shapes their lives, and the lives that they impact in the years to come.

    To quote a few lines that we repeated probably thousands of times while in school, that I slowly start to understand as the years go by:

    “to give and not to count the cost,
    to fight and not to heed the wounds,
    to toil and not to seek for rest,
    to labor and not to ask for reward,”

  • The walkers’ stated aims are in the tone “We-know-this-and-we-will-tell-you”. The way the walkers use the word “connect” is different from the way Anand and I use it here; they seem to mean networking and contacts-building. And in that vision, other people and organisations are tools for furthering the walkers’ vision. Were the walkers really in learning mode, I wonder (despite my best optimism).

    If I wish to connect with Keralam, should I do role-play (as Tharakan seems to suggest)? Suppose, I’m travelling across the state to learn about people…should I use the media to draw attention to my travel, or should I silently go about it?

  • If in learning mode, its usually nicer to have it more low key. If you’re interested in folks learning from your experience in real-time, or chronicling it, you can always blog it. Take a look at Nipun and Guri’s blog about the walk they did some time ago at http://nipun.charityfocus.org/blog/parchives.html.

    I’ve seen quite a few folks start with a different sense of “connect” in their minds, but more often than not, by the end of a journey like this, they learn more and get a lot more fresh views and perspectives than they had ever thought possible at the start.

  • hello ashok,, do not know if u remember me,, i was in 89 batch sslc ,, roshan’s classmate,, could u give his ph number and also your ph number and e mail id.

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