Until I got to Hyderabad in the early morning of January 24, I didn’t know much about the Swecha* Freedom Fest. All I knew was that we would talk about Defending the Free Internet (DFI) and free software.
Several ThoughtWorkers spoke at the event including our Chairman Roy Singham, Ola Bini (creator of programming languages Seph and Ioke), Nagarjun K, VP, and political and technology consultant Zack Exley. ThoughtWorks’ friends included human rights lawyer Renata Avila and software activist Dmytri Kleiner**, among others. I knew this was an opportunity I shouldn’t miss.
Arriving early at the venue, wherever I looked I saw posters and quotes from some of the most inspirational people in the world – Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara and Mahatma Gandhi. There were also many memorials and remembrances of my former colleague Aaron Swartz. After talking to some of the organisers and volunteers, it became clear that this was not going to be like any other event I’d attended. And it was definitely an eye-opener.
Over the course of the morning, approximately 2800 students showed up; more than five times the expected turnout! It wasn’t just the number of people that amazed me, it was their willingness to travel from different cities and towns to be a part of the event, their knowledge of and passion for free and open software, and their thirst to learn more that really impressed me.
During the talks, students were engaged, curious, eager to learn, and not afraid to ask questions. At the end of the day, they surrounded the speakers to have in-depth conversations. It was heartening to see such passion in such a young group of people. What was even more heartening to see was that there were as many – if not more – women than men at the conference!
It’s hard to describe what it was like to be there. But I will try. I learned, for example, about encryption and open source alternatives to the popular communication tools we use like Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook, etc. One point that was driven home was that software can’t protect you if your hardware is compromised, and vice versa. I learned about the Zapatista movement in Mexico and the sacrifices people from across the world have made in their fight against mass surveillance. And in learning so much, I realised just how little I knew, and it was humbling.
I came away feeling hopeful for the future. If the Free Software Movement can extend its influence as strongly in other Indian states as it has in Andhra Pradesh, there’s no end to the possibilities.
Swecha is an organisation that was founded in 2005 (in Andhra Pradesh) to build a vibrant community of software users, students, academicians, and software professionals/developers. determined to provide quality software built on the guidelines of the free software development model.
** Dmytri has now joined ThoughtWorks as a Lead Analyst, focusing specifically on DFI and New Economies..