Government SMS spam

Because even the chaiwalla has a cellphone.

Published October 17, 2006 4:23PM (EDT)

Automated phone calls from politicians on the campaign trail are bad enough. But cellphone text messages informing us of new government legislation? Ultrabrown passes along the news that SMS messages are being sent by the Maharashtra state government in India this week, to inform citizens of a new child labor law. "Ban on Engaging Child as Domestic Servant or Servant in Hotel, Tea Shop, Dhabas" reads the government spam.

"Because even the chaiwalla has a cellphone," writes Ultrabrown's Manish Vij. (A chaiwalla is a teashop owner.) Score it as the latest entry in the Paradoxes of Globalization record book. In the United States, text messaging is increasingly popular, but we haven't yet reached the point where it has become a popular medium for political organization. But in India it's not just the government getting the word out. Citizens in various states have started SMS campaigns against sending your kids to English-language schools or to promote water conservation. In the spring, 200,000 people participated in an SMS "petition" protesting the acquittal of nine men in the murder of fashion model Jessica Lal.

Then again, in the United States, laws against child labor date back as far as 1836. India has been boasting some robust economic growth rates recently, but the press coverage of the new child labor bill only reminds us of how far the country has yet to go. And it just plain rips your heart out to hear children in India wonder what they're going to do if the new law is enforced. The Associated Press:

"'As long as I can remember I've worked in a restaurant, washing dishes, cutting vegetables, throwing out the garbage,' said Rama Chandran, a frail-looking 13-year-old as he cleared dishes from grimy wooden tables in the tiny, smoke-filled eatery."

"He has been working in New Delhi for nearly four years and said the money he sends home to his widowed mother and three younger siblings in southern India is crucial to their survival."

"'If I didn't send money home, they would starve,' Chandran said."

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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