Even tech-savvy computer users often fail to grasp the concept of Free Software, or fathom the philosophy behind it. However, in this non-descript slum settlement located diametrically behind the high-rise IT office buildings on Bannerghatta Road, there is remarkable clarity and awareness on Software freedom.

Tucked away at the end of a crowded lane, the Ambedkar Community Computing Center (AC3) hosted an unusual programme on Sunday evening. A motley crowd of software professionals, free software enthusiasts, students and residents gathered to create music, share information and perspective, and officially release 'Namma Debian', the Kannada version of Linux distribution system. 'Namma Debian' is the localised version of Debian GNU/Linux, a popular and stable free operating system -- that runs your computer and comes bundled with a set of programme utilities that are all from the Free, GNU/Linux stable.

The evening was marked by festivities. The crowded gullies came alive with music and dance. While a local music troupe led by a resident Arul got the crowd dancing to popular Tamil songs, a group of four young girls lit up the rickety stage with some folkish music., And then a 10-year-old boy, dressed like a magician, charmed the audience with a short talk on his views on the importance of education, his speech punctuated by several quotes from the Holy Quran and the Bhagvad Gita.

Raghavendra, a student and a FOSS volunteer described the evening as "thiruvizha", a Tamil word for celebration. "It was beautiful to see residents enthusiastically participating in an event – conceptually still distant to them -- with a hope that at least it would benefit their children someday," he said. This community initiative started by four software professionals may not have solved the daily issues related to urban poverty and subsistence that people in these area grapple with, but it is a step toward bridging the ubiquitous urban divide, at least in the realm of the digital world.

"Namma Debian" was released by G. Ramakrishna, editor of a monthly magazine Hosatu, by handing over the same to the eldest woman in the community. Mr. Ramakrishna spoke passionately about the "human spirit" and how it can conquer the worst of circumstances. This was followed by a brief demonstration of 'Namma Debian', running through games, image manipulation tools etc. This distribution has been localised by the Free Software community in Karnataka, comprising software professionals and volunteers from several organisations.

Shedding light on another issue, Vidya, who suffers from partial visual impairment, spoke on the issues that the visually impaired face while using computers. Demonstrating various technical issues with the proprietary tools she uses, she also spoke about the fact that accessibility tools (such as screen readers and related software, all in the proprietary domain) are extremely expensive. At the end of her eloquent talk, members of the FSMK (Free Software Movement of Karnataka) committed themselves to working towards solving these issues by developing better, more accessible and free tools or software in this domain.

This event is among a series of programmes in the run up to the National Free Software Conference, slated to be held in Bangalore on March 20 and 21 at the Central College campus, Bangalore. The Hindu is a media partner for the event.

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