Thursday, February 05, 2009

A draft FOSS manifesto for Indian political parties

With elections approaching in April 2009, it was time to create a draft FOSS manifesto for Indian political parties. This is a first draft and I have written this keeping in mind that most Indian politicians would not be familiar with FOSS. hence, the usage of simple language that anyone can understand. If you feel that any section here needs improvement, please let me know. Comments/suggestions welcome.

A draft FOSS manifesto for Indian political parties

The Free and Open Source Software community in India calls upon political parties to make FOSS usage and promotion a central part of the IT, e-government and education plans in their election manifestos. FOSS is software which is liberally licensed to grant the right of users to study, change, and improve its design through the availability of its source code. The open, inclusive and participatory nature of FOSS is a natural fit for the vibrant traditions of Indian democracy. Since software is the foundation of the knowledge economy, India's IT infrastructure should be built on FOSS and not on closed, proprietary software systems.

We believe that encouragement of FOSS will result in:
  • Development of the domestic IT industry
  • Creation of jobs
  • Encouragement of skills development and upgradation
  • Enable localization of software to Indian languages
  • Reduction of India's dependence on monopolistic proprietary software vendors
  • Encourage the usage of open standards
  • Bridging the digital divide
  • Rapid modernization and computerization of India's education system
  • Technology upgradation of India's Small and Medium Enterprises
  • Efficient usage of budget outlays for e-government
  • Faster technology development through Collaborative Innovation
We call upon political parties in India to support the Indian FOSS community by:
  1. Encouraging the use of FOSS in Indian education system. This will inculcate the virtues of collaboration, sharing and participation in children from a very young age and make computerization of schools affordable.
  2. Eliminating proprietary software from the education syllabus and making the syllabus vendor-neutral, thus giving teachers and students the choice of software that suits their budgets and needs.
  3. Using FOSS in e-government to the maximum possible extent and ensuring that government tenders are open and do not favor proprietary software vendors. All software developed with tax-payers money should be released under a FOSS license to encourage collaboration; and the sharing of code and best practices.
  4. Mandating the usage of open standards that are free from royalties and vendor lock-in so that the interaction between the government and citizens happens in a free and open manner befitting a democracy.
  5. Encouraging freely shareable, FOSS based knowledge repositories like Wikipedia in Indian languages.
  6. Encouraging the usage of the collaborative model of FOSS in scientific research. Science thrives on collaboration and the sharing of knowledge. The current trend of privatizing knowledge leads to secrecy in science and reduces collaboration. We must use the FOSS model based on collaboration, community and shared ownership of knowledge to spark a renaissance of knowledge in India.
  7. Eliminating software and business method patents that have lead to huge amounts of litigation in developed countries. Indian traditions have held that knowledge grows by sharing and diminishes when hoarded. Patents on software and business methods grant undue monopolies on ideas and prevent independent invention and the sharing of knowledge.
India has one of the most youthful populations in the world and it is important that they have access to the tools with which the information society is built. The freedom to modify the source code, the ability to share knowledge and build communities make Free and Open Source Software the best, long-term model for India's development. We therefore urge all political parties to encourage the usage of FOSS for India's development.


Anonymous said...

I had personally contacted few politicians to make Linux as official OS of the state (gujarat in this case). They were impressed but failed to understand what FOSS was. They don't care for what people are not interested. Majority of PC users here never knows that they are using pirated software. Even a politician laptop had all pirated software.

I agree with u on many aspects but i am still waiting for a powerful linux that we would have after a year (e.g distros with powerful desktop like kde 4.4 and gnome 3.0, easy to use package manager, liberal patent law)

Dr. Asfak Motiwala

Vic said...

Unfortunately, the Mumbai LUG list does not apparently permit posts from Yahoo! addresses for some unknown reason (it was globally blocked, I think, due to some problems with spam, and the action taken is reminiscent of similar actions taken by the government periodically - ie, throw the baby out with the bathwater).

I think you have missed a less obvious but important aspect of the FOSS platform, which is that the provision in the patent and copyright regime to enable 'ownership' of software, has created an artificial situation where ordinary people are criminalised - many of them unwittingly - in order to create monetisable assets for a few businesspeople, a very large number of them foreigners.

What makes this situation much worse is that it has not evolved through intelligent debate within the country, but has merely been copied blindly from mistakes made by the US Patent Office, due possibly to collusion and illicit support from the giant foreign industry created in the new environment in that country. Even today, India, considered to be a software giant internationally, actually commands only about one per cent of the global software trade, thus indicating that such rules and laws favour foreign business interests.

May I suggest you either include the text below, or modify the clause on copyright to reflect this point:

Remove provisions for patents and copyrights on computer instruction codes, and amend rules that allowed registration of licenses for such code, thus eliminating litigation, disputes and the waste of public money on prosecuting so-called offences in the past.

Similarly, you may want to include one additional clause on open publishing:

All material developed in Indian institutions of higher learning and research using public money must be made freely available, and published using non-proprietary formats. Public funds should be earmarked for translation of such documentation into all languages listed in the Schedule to the Official Languages Act, 1963, and a calendar of dates set for completion of such work.

Venky said...

Dear Dr. Asfak: I am happy to hear of your efforts. Linux usage is right now restricted to the early adopters, but will soon enter the mainstream as it becomes more usable. In the meanwhile, do let us work together on the advocacy of open source software.

Vic: JTD from the Mumbai GLUG has also suggested some changes. I will go through all the suggestions and incorporate them in the final text due in the next couple of weeks.

pitchblack said...

Frankly, you as an individual are not capable of shouldering such a responsibility (no matter how commendable and worthwhile the effort). You require the support and and help of a community that's actively involved in such an effort. Like for eg. your local Linux users group. Please excuse me if you're already a member of such a group, but you've not indicated that either! Also forums involving members of the IT community and the industry.

As regards the points in your draft, I whole-heartedly agree with the same.

Shayon said...


Just thought of adding a by-line. FOSSII is organizing an event called Open Source India: Tech Days 2009 in Chennai Trade Center, from March 12, 2009. Would you care to write about it?

Moreover, OSI is also hosting a tweetup in Chennai, on March 12, 2009, and what more, there is also free beer, on the house! :-)

Chipcat said...

Dear Sir,

We, at the Indo Italian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (IICCI) shall be receiving a multi-sector delegation shortly from Promos - The Special Agency for the Milan Chamber of Commerce in November.

One of the companies that is a part of this delegation is Aesse , who want to deepen their understanding of the Indian market and are looking to find companies and players of same size to partner with and network with similar companies. They would like to meet companies working, first of all, in the Open Source Software (OSS) sector, companies which create new specific applications to be used in the open source platforms. In this case they are (as CNA which represents the companies) playing a kind of "political campaign" in Italy, in order to support the convenience and benefit of open source softwares (OSS).

For this reason, we were hoping to set up a meeting with you, who might be able to give them an insight into the OSS sub-sector in India.

If you would like to meet with Aesse based on relevance, please do let me know if we could arrange a meeting at your office or any other place to your convenience on Thursday, 12th November / Friday, 13th November, 2009.

Sincere thanks,
Pankaj Chipalkatti