An Indian social media operates without internet

CGNet Swara is a voice portal for community stories operated via a toll free number


October 8, 2018

/ By / Kolkata

CGNet Swara - Connecting India offline

CGNet Swara – Connecting India offline

In the Gondwana region (Central India), CGNet Swara is the only social media that is popular amongst the locals. The project has been extremely successful especially considering that the population has almost negligible access to the internet.

With approximately 500 million internet users, India has the world’s second largest population of internet users after China. Yet, compared to the 1.3 billion population of the country, the percentage of people having access to internet is just 40 pc.

There is a huge potential for growth in the sector. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook has been lobbying for the “Free Basics”, a programme that aims to tie up with internet service providers and mobile network providers to offer a set of free web services. However, the plan was highly controversial across India and the world and the Indian internet regulatory body struck down the project in 2016.

As the debate over the Indian internet was brewing across the country’s major urban hubs, the Gondwana region in central India which comprises of tribal communities from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra saw the rise of a new social network that operates entirely offline.

The network is called CGSwara and is the brainchild of  Shubhranshu Choudhary. It acts as a voice portal for community stories. Only 3 pc of the Gondwanans have access to the internet while 33 pc have access to mobile phones. CGNet Swara operates on a simple mobile call-in system known as the Integrated Voice Response (IVR).

For the local community betterment

In order to connect to the network, the users have to dial, hang up and then wait for a callback. This helps in saving up on mobile bills. Once the return call has connected them to the system, they can press “one” to submit a story and “two” to listen to the day’s highlighted stories. There are eight stories everyday and they are all fact checked and published by a small team of editors.

Choudhary had created the network back in 2010 with the help of Bill Thies, a researcher working for Microsoft. He had realised the need for such a network when he came back to his native place after having worked as a journalist for the BBC.

In the eight years following its inception, CGNet Swara has helped its users air their grievances and their problems. Some hope to publicly embarrass the officials to spurn them on to their duties while others hope to find someone amongst their fellow users who would help them with their issue. It is reported that the platform has only recently in September logged over one million calls and published more than 10,000 reports. News reporting which was the service’s primary feature during its inception included everything from cholera outbreaks and resolving payment disputes to sharing news about village affairs. The network has only recently evolved into social media. Amongst its other services, it also features poetry and folk music.

The people of Gondwana have been besieged by Maoist insurgencies since 1967. The movement has taken over 10,000 lives and was partially fueled by a number of long-ignored local problems. This included a lack of basic services and amenities, such as educational opportunities, medical care, and land ownership. Choudhary hopes that in time his invention would make a difference in the people’s lives.




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