Outliers 65: Nikhil Pahwa on fighting India’s internet battles, being an angry young man

Pankaj Mishra July 27, 2018

Nikhil Pahwa is an angry young man.

But that doesn’t make him an outlier. Pahwa, 37, channelises that anger to build and scale mainstream movements such as the net neutrality campaign against Facebook’s FreeBasics in India more than two years ago.

So what’s the source of all the anger and sense of activism? It’s Pahwa’s deep need for freedom of the internet.

“The need for freedom led me to activism, entrepreneurship…I don’t know where it will take me next but freedom is central to everything I do,” he says.

“My mission is to build an internet ecosystem which is open, fair and competitive.”

Pahwa’s journey as a media entrepreneur has been filled with existential crisis because of the battle he fights. But then, those battles are also the reason why his venture, Medianama, lives today.

“I’m what I’m today because of the fact that internet is open and this freedom exists. Medianama has turned 10 today because of that. I want that for everyone.”

Before he committed fully to the net neutrality campaign, he knew it could mean a near death experience for Medianama.

“I told the Medianama team that we could die because of what I’m going to do, but this is worth fighting for because we wouldn’t exist if internet wasn’t free and open.”

There are some great lessons in this podcast with Pahwa. These lessons aren’t just about rightful activism but also offer insights on fighting battles larger than your own, personal existence.

The net neutrality campaign, for instance, had its own moments of existential crisis.

“Nothing was budging, no one was participating. And Facebook simultaneously began this massive “support Free Basics” campaign, putting hoardings all over the country. And we were losing.”

Pahwa is next readying for another challenge in his life: his wedding is coming up soon.


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