July 2008 was memorable for Mani, Saraswathi (Sarasu for short), Santhosh and their friends. Teenagers from Sudarshan Layout in Gurupanpalya, a very low income neighbourhood in southern Bangalore, they had inaugurated the Ambedkar Community Computing Centre (AC3) near their homes. Teaching themselves and children around them about the immense possibilities of free software, they aroused the curiosity of its pioneer, Richard Stallman. After hearing about them at a free software conference in Thiruvananthapuram, he visited AC3 in December 2008. Committed volunteers with Stree Jagruti Samiti, AID-Bangalore, Free Software Movement Karnataka and Ambedkar Yuva Sangha who have been assisting them throughout, catalyzed this. (Geeta Menon, Balaji Kutty, Senthil Sundaram, Pulkit Parikh, Aravind Rajaram, Nitin, Ravi et al are among those who started a tutoring centre with the kids which grew into AC3.) Read more
"Each picture tells a tale of a child caught in the limbo of the now and the tomorrow. They are beautiful yet starkly contrasting, innocent yet riddled with hard experience, bleak sometimes but hopeful mostly", summed up Lavanya Devdas who has contributed her might to this initiative along with Balaji, Senthil and others.
Sarasu, in the bottom right frame (of the second photo), is a nineteen year old undergraduate studying Commerce. When she is not at college, she divides her time between household chores and managing AC3 which she co-founded. Exuding confidence and often guiding and helping younger kids, she has broken the gender barrier to independence and education that existed in her family.
Asha (with some of her work below), a seventeen year old pre-university student was always interested in photography but never had access to a camera. She loved this opportunity and plans to continue clicking if possible. "I was keen on depicting how we cope with minimal water supply. I also want to portray the lives of children forced to work", she said. She was excited when I suggested to her to try shooting moving objects to challenge herself and better her skills. Arumugam, a nineteen year old, dropped out of school in his early teens and works in a shoe factory. Although he take did not take too many pictures, he enjoyed participating in this project.
Mani, an eighteen year old high school student draws and paints by hand or using software like GIMP. A co-founder of AC3, he inspires the young and old moving around deftly in his wheelchair or with his friends' help. He has been exhibiting and selling his paintings (like the ones at the end) at conferences that focus on promoting open source software, the politics of copyright, developmental issues, etc. Interestingly, he usually donates his earnings to the AC3 or children in need, despite his own financial constraints.