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Raqs Media Collective on Mon, 24 May 1999 22:55:48 +0200 (CEST)

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We have launched  SARAI, a  website on a modest server that outlines our
proposal for a new media space looking at contemporary urban culture &
politics. We invite you to visit the site and send us your comments. 
The url is www.sarai.net.
We are giving a overview of the SARAI project below.

Send your feedback to dak {AT} sarai.net and/or to raqs {AT} vsnl.com &
rsundar {AT} del2.vsnl.net.in

Looking forward to lots of responses to our ideas

Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Jeebesh Bagchi & Monica Naurla (Raqs Media
Collective, New Delhi, India)
Ravi Sundaram & Ravi Vasudevan
(Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, India)
Of the Urban Cultures & Politics Programme Centre for the Study of
Developing Societies, Delhi 
in Collaboration with Raqs Media Collective, Delhi

Sarai : (sary, sho-rai) n. (Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Persian,
Turkish) an enclosed space in a city, or, beside a highway, where
travellers and caravans can find shelter, sustenance and companionship; a
tavern, a public house, a meeting place; a destination and a point of
departure; a place to rest in the middle of a journey.

- ABOUT Sarai

Sarai, the new media initiative is an attempt to create an open and lively
space for a bold and imaginative re-constitution of urban public culture,
especially in a South Asian/Asian context, with strong global links. As a
space and a network, it will connect  different forms of new as well as
established media practices, theoretical interventions, research,
education, and activism.

Sarai sketches out a wide-ranging series of activities, starting from next
year. Given that our effort is to put into place what we think will be one
of the first non-commercial new media cultural ventures in India. The idea
is to design a cluster of activities that offer the possibilities of
innovation, dynamism, and cross-fertilisation.

We are partial to a constellation of activities, that can account for the
diversity and specific conditions of South Asia, and also its complexity.
There will be a place for both solid academic research into new areas as
well as new creative outputs by media practitioners; workshops and
seminars, regular activity at our publics space, building links to  the
local community in the city of  Delhi, in India and South Asia as a whole.
There will be a regular print output of our work as well as an innovative
education programme and outreach activities.

In order to ensure that new media activity is not ghettoized into an elite
space, we have had to imagine a variety of diffuse public strategies.
Sarai reflects in its scope and ambition, the open, international and
hybrid form of the new media themselves and yet at the same time,
challenges the inequitable distribution of information and communication
technologies within and between cultures in the world today.  We see the
Sarai initiative as a catalyst that will necessarily lead to a
multiplication of many smaller new media initiatives at various regional
and local levels all over South Asia.


1. To become an alive and integral part of the new urban culture and
emerging civic consciousness of the city of Delhi/New Delhi. Sarai is
meant to
become a major player in the shaping of the urban culture and political
imagination of the city of Delhi/New Delhi in the future.

2. To create a place where people can interact across geographical,
cultural, disciplinary and professional boundaries through a variety of

3. To collect, store and make accessible images, sounds and textual
material  that reflect contemporary urban culture and politics.

4. To demonstrate the validity of low-cost & low tech methods and
strategies in media and communication practices, with a commitment to
public participation and access.

5. To establish a  hub of networking amongst new/old media activists, a
centre for creating and exhibiting original work and a clearing house for
innovative ideas in the South Asian/Asian region.

6. To become an equal partner of new media initiatives at an international
level, and a contributor to the content of emerging/new media cultures
across the world.


Concretely, the Sarai initiative will -

1) Host websites, on-line discussion forums and news groups

2) Provide free and public access internet facilities and off-line/dial-up
connectivity, aim to create & maintain a non-commercial server and
encourage the generation & dissemination of alternative software &

3) Host visiting media practitioners and scholars through a fellowship
programme. Provide supports to students and young media practitioners &
researchers with stipends and seed grants.

4) Conduct exchange programmes for scholars, artists and media activists
on an international scale

5)  Provide impetus for new forms of critical and engaged reportage of
urban and industrial spaces and experiences.

6) Hold seminars.

7) Conduct workshops and short term courses.

8) Generate regular, inexpensive print versions of on-line discussions and
debates as well as seminar proceedings. To edit a journal with a focus on
new media and contemporary urban culture.

9) Curate exhibitions, support the creation & exhibition of new
multi-media works, films and performances, and work towards the creation
of community radio broadcasting culture in the near future.

10) Design and develop an accessible archive of the materials generated
through this programme.

New Media in South Asia

The term 'new media' is a product of the 1990's, and refers to the various
practices that emerged from the various interfaces of data, image, and
sound that travel through  new, high-speed electronic networks and the new
computer technology. While the creative mixing of various media was also
true of older forms like the cinema, the 'new media' is informed by speed,
the cheap and easy access of creative tools (computers, networks) by a
larger public, and most important, dynamic possibilities of public and
private interaction.  Electronic mail has spread world-wide, the
world-wide web and the internet  have been held out as examples of
phenomena that will change the next century. Outside the space of the
electronic networks, new forms like  multi-media, electronic music and
cheaper forms of electronic transmission have a more ubiquitous presence.

New Media practices in the West have taken as a given the existence of
large, high-speed electronic networks, private ownership of computers, and
an increasing body of work being done, 'virtually', i.e. on the World
-Wide Web itself. There is, in fact a large new media public space quite
distinct from the large commercial map of the internet. This public space
includes artists, web-page designers, activists, NGO's, on-line journals,
art-installations, and millions of users, who lend their energies to
dynamise these publics. In many parts of Europe and the US, local town
councils and foundations help fund non-commercial new media projects which
will generate a critical body of work and improve the quality of urban

The scenario here in India is very different. Public discourses in the
media and
state have in recent times drawn attention to this region's large software
and info-tech potential. In reality, the networks are limited in reach
with low band-width, computer ownership, is limited to a small part of the
population. In this scenario the new media public space that has emerged
in the West is non-existent here.

However if access to virtual electronic space is not the only defining
feature of new media practices, we begin to see a very different situation
here. <<One can say that the  'new' in South Asia refers to dynamic
to put together an interface of various old media's like radio, music,
television with new computer and phone technologies, which have
transformed the face of everyday life in urban South Asia for millions of
ordinary people.>>   It is this specific historical character of
the contemporary India that gives new media here such an interesting and
dynamic character, which is not limited to the web and electronic networks

Consider for example the spread of hundreds of thousands of Public Call
Offices (P.C.O's) or human-operated phone booths all over  India that have
put into motion a new experience of space, time and communication for
millions of people. Many of these public  spaces also function as computer
shops which provide a number if facilities to customers which include
multi-media, and increasingly, e-mail and the  internet. This is an
emerging electronic public culture, which is slowly finding  the terms of
its reference.

In addition the `contemporary' in South Asia is a highly media-tised
space, where television, music, cinema a re constantly speaking to each
other in ways that were never done before. Both the speed of the
transformation of the old  medias, as well as the new modes of
(pirate, semi-legal and legal cable) is significant. <<It is this cluster
of cultural practices that establishes the terms of the 'new media' here,
not simply access to the web.>>

However, the development of the space created by new media technologies
here has been rigidly circumscribed from the very beginning by the state
and by market forces. The internet, for example is already seen as a
resource to be harnessed for commerce, and a territory to be policed by
the state, not as a public space for information, education and self
expression The notion of an on-line community arising from a free exchange
of ideas, images, information and expression is something that has to be
struggled for and protected in the Indian/South Asian context.

support, suggestions, questions, comments & criticism are welcome!

website :
e mails :
dak {AT} sarai.net 
rsundar {AT} del2.vsnl.net.in
raqs {AT} vsnl.com

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