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Net effect: Have a cause, will plead

Free petition sites give you space to pour your grievances on the Internet and an opportunity to find like-minded people from across the world to back your cause, writes Rahul Sharma.

india Updated: Sep 16, 2007 03:48 IST
Rahul Sharma

You want to save your neighbour’s dog, the dancing bear, trees, monkeys or the Ram Setu, go online. Free petition sites give you space to pour your grievances on the Internet and an opportunity to find like-minded people from across the world to back your cause.

Log on and write out a petition and then wait for the signatories to grow. Educated people like to engage themselves with a serious cause. If you put up a flaky, flippant petition, chances are they will sit on www.petitiononline.com one of the better-known sites for petitioners to build a public cause for the longest. But let's be honest. There are people out there who are more than willing to petition the continuation of the comic series Spongebob Squarepants on television. Sometimes they work. Believe me!

So here we are, a billion plus Indians worrying about everything from poor infrastructure, corruption, governments that have plodded and not delivered, political causes that have led to riots and murder on high streets and now a bridge underwater at the country's southern tip that finds a place of prominence on petitiononline.com.

The website claims to have collected more than 56 million signatures on thousands and thousands of active petitions. “We give you the ancient methods of grassroots democracy, combined with the latest digital networked communications, running live and free 24 hours a day,” it says.

Thomas McNamara’s (I have no idea who he is!) petition to the US Department of Justice, urging a review of “events surrounding the prosecution of six Black students in Jena, Louisiana,” topped the list of the top 10 most active petitions on the site last week. It had 277,267 signatories.

The third in the list (I am skipping the second since I didn’t understand the language) with 273,734 signatures was a petition asking the “notorious for being anti-Semetic” Google to remove a few disturbing things that appear when you type in Jew in the search box. The petition said that the first link that opens is www.jewwatch.com. When I typed in Jew on my browser, the first result of the search was an explanation by Google, which meant the petitioners had won a small victory!

Scroll down a little and a petition to India's president on Ram Setu stares back at you at No 6. Last count: more than 10,000 signatures and growing. The petition by Shachi Rairikar wants the project to be reconsidered “keeping in view the historical and religious importance of Shri Ram Setu, the sentiments of the people and the alternative method suggested for a shorter sea route.”

The flow has already started. Hindutva is again the flavour of the season, thanks to the Ram Setu controversy. People from Ajmer to Ghaziabad, from Banahatti to Bangalore and from India to the United States have come out to sign the petition.

The signatures are likely to increase in the days and months to come as the RSS and its arms the BJP and VHP whip up their Ram agenda ahead of general elections that are expected to be held earlier than scheduled.

But Ram Setu is not the only issue of religious significance up there on the web. There is a petition against disastrous and callous mining at “Braj Hills, Hindu's holiest spiritual center,” on www.ipetitionspot.com and another on saving the “ancient Dwaraka City of Lord Sri Krishna.”

The petition with most signatures on www.gopetition.com is one that asks people to say NO to the United Nations’ decision to abolish the traditional Chinese script in 2008. Nearly 400,000 signatures back it.

One that is yet to find a supporter is from Ashok, whose petition ab naukari nahi karni asks people to back his request for premature release after two decades of service from the Army Medical Corps. It was posted in June (http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/ab-naukari-nahi-karni.html). This just shows that a petition on a free website might not be enough to get you sacked!