India swaps ice for rice in new bucket challenge

Purnima Sri Iye (right), a journalist at Metro India, is among the first to donate rice as part of the Rice Bucket Challenge.

Story highlights

  • #IceBucketChallenge morphs into #RiceBucketChallenge in India
  • Viral campaign has seen donations for ALS exceed $70 million
  • Journalist is urging Indians to give rice instead of wasting water
  • Original challenge sees participants douse themselves in icy water

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has morphed into a considerably warmer and drier alternative in India.

Enter the "Rice Bucket Challenge."

Indian journalist Manju Latha Kalanidhi, who works for the U.S.-based rice research website Oryza.com, says when she first heard about the ice bucket challenge, she got thinking.

Abhilekha Rampuria (right) gives a boy, Balaji, 5kgs of rice. She says: "He has 2 siblings. His mother works as housemaid. They buy daily 1/2kg of rice to serve their hunger needs. He does not have a father. Still they don't beg."

"Why waste water?" she asks. "I felt like doing something more locally tangible. Rice is a staple here. We eat it every day, we can store it for months. Why not donate rice to someone who is hungry?"

And it rhymes with ice. So Kalanidhi started her own challenge: Donate a bucket of rice to someone in need, post a photo online, and challenge your friends to do the same.

The original version, designed to raise funds to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease and motor neurone disease (MND) -- is a global viral phenomenon.

People take videos of themselves getting doused with a bucket full of ice, share it online, and challenge friends to do the same or donate money to the cause. It is in effect a modern virtual chain letter.

    Hundreds of celebrities -- from Oprah Winfrey to Roger Federer -- have participated and fueled interest, raising more than $70 million in donations for the ALS Association.

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    In India, the ice bucket challenge has generated attention too -- Bollywood stars have mirrored their Hollywood counterparts -- but it now seems it will be eclipsed by what some are describing as an Indian challenge for Indian needs: fighting hunger.

    #RiceBucketChallenge is on its way to going viral in India -- it's on TV news, on Twitter, and it now has a Facebook page with thousands of likes.

    "People from all over the world are responding," says Kalanidhi, listing off letters of appreciation from people in Sweden, England, and beyond.

    The explosion of interest in the rice challenge is an indicator of how powerful social media has become in India.

    According to eMarketer, the number of internet users in India is expected to be around 200 million in 2016, a nearly three-fold increase since 2011.

    Much of the growth comes from smartphone users: younger Indians who would be more likely to use social media.