Jugaad: Hacks, Power Play, and Sustainability

Jugaad: Hacks, Power Play, and Sustainability

2nd April 2021 0 By Lorraine J. Hayman

Amit Rai explores the Indian practice of jugaad in Jugaad Time (Rai, 2019). Although the book itself contains some confusing contradictions and an often unreasonable lack of clarity, the concept of jugaad is an interesting one to explore for globalisation. This paper will discuss how technology can be manipulated in jugaad practice to “shame, coerce, torture, and troll women into a generalized and enforced silence” (Rai, 2019, p.3). Although I disagree with Rai’s use of the term jugaad in this context, in reference to globalisation, there are numerous examples of technology being used to control and mislead others. Moreover, Jugaad Time encouraged me to think about the balance of power involved in jugaad practice. For example, when is a jugaad considered a good hack and when is it a bad one and “the result of the high-risk habits of the “incorrigibly” precarious” (Rai, 2019, p.20)? Finally, this paper will explore jugaad and sustainability, and what this means for a globalised world. Overall, although Jugaad Time is difficult to access, the concept of jugaad and the power dynamics related to jugaad practice presents an interesting discussion point for globalisation and social change. 

In a globalised world of increased communication and exchange, technology, and specifically the internet, can provide the tools to allow people to both share a version of themselves or fully conceal their identities. Rai (2019) explores the use of mobile phone technology in India, which he argues is used in controlling and trolling women “as a weapon, a lever of value and force, convergent technology, surveillance device, superpanoptic gaze, and viral sense machine” (Rai, 2019, p.3). Jugaad aside, as I am unconvinced this abuse of mobile technology is an example of jugaad practice, as technological advancements have progressed in recent years and the gender divide has opened up between technology access and digital skills of men and women, there are increasing examples of technology being used in domestic abuse situations:

“In countries where smart home devices are increasingly common, domestic violence responders have noted an uptick in the number of women reporting abuse cases involving internet-connected locks, thermostats, cameras and other devices” (Ei Chew et al., 2019, p.29)

In this example, I would argue the jugaad practice is seen in the response of women who are targetted by this ‘weapon’, rather than in the men who use mobile phones as a ‘weapon’ in the first place. For example, in Cairo and Mumbai a digital application called HarrassMap enables women to geotag the location they received harassment so other women can avoid the same area (Ei Chew et al., 2019). Moreover, the “online forum Hollaback! provides a venue for women to share and discuss experiences of public harassment in 70 cities across 24 countries” (Ei Chew et al., 2019, p.30). When jugaad is defined as “a resourceful approach to problem-solving” (Collins Dictionary, n.d) or a “hack” (Rai, 2019, p.ix) I find these convincing examples of women using technology to protect themselves and others around the world in an innovative way. Geotagging was originally designed to support the United States Department of Defence with the navigation of ships, missiles, and other assets (Geopointe, n.d), not to enable women to report incidents of harassment to keep other women safe; thus, I would argue this is both ‘resourceful’ and a ‘hack’. These examples stand in contradiction to Rai’s assertion that while “jugaad practice is embraced enthusiastically by both men and women, its majoritarian media representation usually puts its practice in the domain of masculine control, rarely in terms of women’s joyous and virtuosic hacking into the conditions of their own exploitation” (Rai, 2019, p.22).

Moreover, as the internet provides space for entrepreneurs to conduct business without ever meeting their customers face-to-face, “cyber disguise” has become a “global phenomenon” (Perrons, D. 2004, p. 176). I argue, there is a case that this ‘cyber disguise’ is an example of an effective jugaad, depending on who uses it and in what circumstances. The origins of jugaad are often considered to stem from an imbalance of power, as “jugaad innovation springs directly from the very concrete restrictions that characterise everyday life in India” (Hesseldahl, 2012, paragraph four). Rai (2019) asserts jugaad “is a reference to a sometimes elegant, but always makeshift way of getting around obstacles” (p.2), which combined with Hesseldahl’s understanding of jugaad practice, implies jugaad is used by those who lack the means and power to resolve problems in another way. Concerning ‘cyber disguise’ there are notable examples of people who have limited power in a dynamic and so use jugaad to gain the upper hand. For example, Diane Perrons (2004) considers the case of a female entrepreneur in Thailand who was assumed male by a potential client which she did not correct until “the deal was agreed” for fear of losing the client if revealed she was a woman (p.176). Furthermore, in the United Kingdom entrepreneur Stephanie “Steve” Shirley used a masculine pseudonym to overcome sexist stereotypes, enabling her to build her technology company after she was unable to advance her programming career while working as Stephanie (Hicks, 2018). In these examples, women working in a male-dominated industry, used both technology and societal assumptions in a jugaad hack, to overcome the obstacle of sexism and gender stereotypes. These women were the ones who initially lacked power, due to their sex, and used a jugaad practice to obtain power.

In Jugaad Time, Rai (2019) explores the Indian Sulekha application, whose marketing department has encouraged the “anti-jugaad”:

“We decided to use the very Indian cultural phenomenon of jugaad as the springboard for the creative. By dramatising the ill-effects of jugaad at home, we deliver the message that homeowners can avail expert help on Sulekha” (Anon. 2016, as cited in Rai, 2019, p.14).

I found this consideration of ‘anti-jugaad’ particularly interesting, as it implies there are some jugaads that are legitimate but others, perhaps those that are visually more of a “kind of miserly shopkeeper’s make-do ethos” (Rai, 2019, p.15), that is less so. Arguably, Sulekha is an application where people can access ‘experts’ who will provide these legitimate jugaads to resolve problems the customer is facing while charging them a fee. Rai (2019) refers to Sulekha’s ‘anti-jugaad’ as an “…elite appropriation and rejection of the “deep” culture of jugaad” (p.20) from a company that regards jugaad as a high-risk practice which results in ‘ill-effects’, implying it will never last. Arguably, this is the position of a corporation that controls the power dynamic in their relationship with customers, and have co-opted what original jugaad practice meant, replacing it with the image of jugaad being high-risk and of a ‘make-do ethos’.

Rai’s (2019) considers that for a jugaad to be successful some form of power or patronage is required. I decided to explore some examples of this and discovered it extends far beyond India. Globally each year “830 women around the world die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth” (Criado-Perez, C. 2019, p.232). Recent research shows that women who experience complications during childbirth have less “acid in their myometrial blood” preventing the necessary speed of their contractions, which results in the administering of the drug oxytocin: in 50% of cases oxytocin is unsuccessful and the women will need a caesarean (Criado-Perez, C. 2019, p.232). Susan Wray is a professor of cellular and molecular physiology at the University of Liverpool who wanted to help prevent these caesareans, as they can lead to further complications, by improving the outcomes of using oxytocin which is currently the only medication available to speed up contractions (Criado-Perez, C. 2019). Wray and her team discovered if women who required oxytocin were given a dose of the common bicarbonate of soda an hour before being given oxytocin, it increased their chance of not needing a caesarean by almost 20% (Criado-Perez, C. 2019). Is Wray’s hack not an example of a genius jugaad? Yet, despite the potential of Wray’s research to transform the lives of millions of women and their babies around the world, the British Medical Association (BMA) rejected a funding application to further the research into the bicarbonate of soda hack on the grounds it was “‘not a high enough priority’” (Criado-Perez, C. 2019, p.233). Here, the BMA had the power and patronage to ensure the success of Wray’s jugaad, but they chose not to support it, as helping women through complicated childbirth is not ‘enough’ of a problem.

Furthermore, air travel has provided one of the tools of globalisation, enabling people to travel far more widely and freely. Button (2008) states air travel is not only a “major industry” but “it also provides important inputs into wider economic, political, and social processes” (p.4). However, air travel is far from being a sustainable practice, with many calling for individuals to “avoid flying altogether” (FlyGreen, n.d, paragraph three). Rai (2019) also asserts that jugaad is “an enemy of sustainability” (p.21). Both jugaad and air travel illustrate interesting examples of the effects of globalisation, as humans seek to innovate and improve global connectivity. However, now we face the repercussions of that innovation, as unstainable practices like air travel are embedded in our societies and intrinsically connected to socioeconomic issues. Not all of us who chose to live and enjoy other parts of the world, a privileged gifted to us by globalisation, have the option given to Greta Thunberg in 2019 of being sponsored by the United Nations to sail, rather than fly.

Moreover, for those who practice jugaad to overcome ‘everyday restrictions’, such as a lack of income, the need for sustainability is both a primary concern and perhaps also out of reach, as that quick-fix will cost less in the short term. Infamously, Terry Pratchett explores this issue in his “Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness”:

“Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet” (as cited in Goodreads, n.d).

So, according to Rai, who or what really are the ‘enemies’ of sustainability? The ‘poor man’ who practices jugaad to overcome the ‘restrictions’ of their wealth? Or those who can afford a good pair of boots but buy more than one in different styles, because they have the expenditure to support this? Or perhaps it is those who can afford many good pairs of boots, and fails to share their good boots with the ‘poor’?

In conclusion, although Jugaad Time proved challenging to access as a book, with some confusing contradictions, Rai nonetheless introduced to me the concept of jugaad. On considering what it means to use jugaad, I have come to realise I practice jugaad on a regular basis. I had not intended to be an ‘enemy of sustainability’ in doing so, but rather, I was hoping to use my ‘hacks’ to prevent unnecessary spending and waste. For example, I wanted a standing desk. Instead of discarding my current desk and buying a new standing desk, I constructed a standing desk using an old camping table, some non-slip mats, and a laptop stand! My jugaad works well and prevented an unnecessary purchase of a standing desk and disposal of a perfectly decent regular desk. Moreover, on exploring other examples of jugaad, I believe the women who geotag locations of their harassment in Cairo and Mumbai are hacking far more effectively than the men who use technology to ‘troll’ women, as Rai asserts. Still, I recognise that some jugaads require power and patronage to be successful, as the example of Wray’s bicarbonate of soda hack suggests. Overall, exploring jugaad has offered an interesting insight into the effects and challenges of globalisation, not least, the role power can play in the lives of millions.


Button, K. (2008). The impacts of globalisation on international air transport activity. OECD. Retrieved February 10, 2020. https://www.oecd.org/greengrowth/greening-transport/41373470.pdf

Collins Dictionary. (n.d) Definition of Jugaad. Collins Dictionary. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/jugaad

Criado-Perez, C. (2019).  Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. Harry N. Abrams.

Ei Chew, H. Krau, R. West, M. (2019). I’d blush if I could: closing gender divides in digital skills through education. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition. Retrieved September 30, 2019, from https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

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Hicks, M. (October, 2018).  Why tech’s gender problem is nothing new. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/11/tech-gender-problem-amazon-facebook-bias-women

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Rai, A. S. (2019). Jugaad time: ecologies of everyday hacking in India. Duke University Press.