change makers (from left) S.Srivishnu, Abhay C.R., R.Rajpandian & Prathap Nandagopalan Photo: S. Siva Saravanan.
A city group takes the campaign against corruption to the social networking site. Parshathy J. Nath reports
In April 2011, when Anna Hazare caught the attention of Delhiites, he also impressed two engineering students from Kumaraguru College of Technology, Prathap Nandagopalan and Abhay C.R. who decided to do something about corruption in Coimbatore. “We identified with the Lokpal campaign and related it to the reality around us,” says Abhay.
Abhay wanted to do something about the drainage near his residence, while Prathap felt strongly about the rubbish being dumped in the wetlands. They both felt government apathy was something that ought to be tackled. Supported by their friends, R. Rajapandian and Emil Selvan, they created a Facebook group called ‘Änti-corruption supporters in Coimbatore’, in August 2011,where ordinary citizens of Coimbatore could voice their grievances. It worked like a charm.
Members rose dramatically. Soon, the group organised their first offline event—a human chain rally that began from the Avanashi flyover and finished at RTO Office on Anna Silai. It was an anti corruption protest.
Prathap mobilised the crowd. “We got in touch with the heads of the eco-clubs in different colleges. We convinced the students to join us and stuck posters on the campus walls.”
The campaign was a success. Around 500 members fasted, recalls Abhay. And around 3000 college students, from above 20 colleges, turned up. Abhay had to wait for hours in the police station to seek police protection. “It was learning experience for me. I now know how the bureaucracy works and the right procedures to organise a rally,” says the 24-year-old.
The group now has over 11,000 members, including social workers, the corporation commissioner and assistant commissioners.
The Facebook wall is filled with anti-corruption memes and posts on safety tips for women who commute during the night. There are status updates, exposing corrupt government officials. “When someone posts an update about a corruption case or an illegal activity, the group “admins”, give them contact details of the authorities they should approach for help. Many prefer to message as they prefer to be anonymous,” says Abhay. The group also posts updates on civilian grouses such as proximity of TASMAC shops to residences, pollution, etc. The group has dealt with over 20 cases of corruption till now. The most vocal section is the residential community, says Abhay. “We received a complaint where the residents of an area were wrongfully charged by the electrician to replace an electric meter. It was the corporation’s duty to meet the expense.” The team guided them to the councillor and commissioner and the problem was solved.
In another incident, Prathap and his friends photographed a truck driver, dumping garbage into the Kolarampathy Tank. “When we confronted him, he confessed that he was paid by a private company to dump the waste. The matter was brought to the notice of the collector. The vehicle was seized and the corporate officials were fined Rs. 60,000, the very next day.”
Selvam, Abhay and Prathap make it a point to meet up at least once in month. “We do not want to restrict the group to its virtual presence. We are trying to make it more efficient by creating smaller wings, in the outskirts of the city,” says Prathap. They also team up with other anti-corruption groups and NGOs for their work to be more effective. They also act as mediators between poor kidney patients and charity organisations that offer free dialysis service.
The young team wants the Facebook page to serve as a strong data base for information on Coimbatore, for the future generation. “We also want to use the forum to create debate on elections. However, we do not want to stand for any political party or get into electoral politics,” says Prathap. “Our aim is to create good leaders.”
(Visit the group at http://www.facebook.com/groups/175027962507489/)