Issue 6

How Can Environmental Movements Be Successful?

With more awareness about the climate crisis and environmental degradation and the impact it has on humanity and the world, more and more citizens, especially young people have come out demanding for action and change. People are realizing and experiencing the consequences of the ecological crisis we are living in and have consequently mobilised to take action. This is seen in India in the increase in number of environmental and climate movements over the past few years. The movements can be attributed to two main causes, first being the general climate and ecological crisis, and movements around the world demanding action (Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future) and second, to the ecologically destructive, capitalist policies and projects brought about by the Modi government in the last six years. 2019 and the last couple of months have seen lots of activity on the front of citizen led environment and climate movements. Climate Strikes, Save Aarey Forest, Withdraw Draft EIA (Environmental Impact Assesment) 2020, Save Mollem(Goa), Save Thano (Dehradun), Baghjan oil well blow out protests, Stop Adani Movement, are some of the few citizen led movements that have taken place this year. Some have been successful, others have met with partial success, while the rest was ignored by the government. There are a lot of factors in the success of any movement and the question on focus here is that what are these factors that make an environment movement important and successful? What are the steps required to mobilise people for an environmental movement?

It has become common knowledge now that Indian TV news media has largely become a mouthpiece for the Indian government. Creating awareness for any movement has become an uphill task as the traditional methods of TV media are no longer efficient. Thus citizens have shifted to utilising social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter for creating awareness about environmental movements. Most movements have an Instagram and Twitter presence which become primary sources of information for that particular movement. Art, videos, infographics, songs, updates on the movement are shared by them regularly and in a short span of time they garner a large number of followers. For example, the government in Goa has proposed three ‘developmental’ projects which are disastrous for the ecology, wildlife and citizens of Goa. Subsequently students and citizens of Goa launched a social media campaign with #SaveMollem, tweetstorms and webinars were organised as well. This was followed by on-ground mobilisation where widespread protests were held and the result has been that at least one of the project clearance has been quashed by the High Court in Goa. Another outcome of such movements having a popular online presence is that it has motivated digital print media followed by traditional media to cover the movement. Thus social media has proved to be an effective tool in creating awareness and mobilising people. 

Another method used to mobilise people and drive action is setting up digital infrastructure that allows citizens to send emails to the relevant authorities with one click. This was a major tool for sending objections to the Draft EIA 2020, where three websites were set up that allowed citizens to email their objections to the draft to the Ministry of Environment. The result of this was that it is estimated that 17 lakh objections were sent to the Ministry of Environment by 11th August 2020. This was accompanied by massive social media campaigns where many videos, articles, art and songs, were released along with organising many webinars and seminars to create awareness all of which directed citizens to send objection emails.

Translating the movement into local languages to include more people in the movement is a necessary tool that has been employed by the movements. In the case of Withdraw Draft EIA 2020, translating the draft to regional languages became a major issue. The draft was published in English and Hindi only and in a country where the constitution mandates that the law be translated into regional languages this wasn’t done despite Delhi HC and Madras HC orders directing the government to do the same. This left out a significant majority of people that couldn’t understand the draft which would impact their lives greatly. Consequently youth and citizen groups took it upon themselves to translate the draft and circulate it widely. Similarly there has been a push to publish more and more content generated by the environmental movements to reach a wider audience and drive people to action.

Politics can no longer be separated from environmental movements. The Save Aarey agitation in Mumbai had become a political issue due to constant agitation over the years, multiple protests, court battles and media campaigns. Shiv Sena had campaigned to people on protecting the forests and subsequently declared it a forest and removed the Metro car shed project from Aarey.

Thus social media, digital infrastructures, regional inclusivity and political mobilization of issues are effective tools for mobilizing people and making successful environmental movements.

Mehek Bhargava is a student of Political Science at Ashoka University and the co-founder of youth organization Millennials For Environment.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 6 Uncategorized

What was Fashionable in 2020

The Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) conducted their first-ever digital fashion week in September 2020, with each brand shooting fashion films which were broadcasted through social media and YouTube. Unlike normal fashion weeks, designers used this freedom to choose locations ranging from castles to lotus ponds and deserts. At the same time, fast fashion workers in Bangladesh and India were struggling to put food on the table due to the almost overnight collapse of the industry during the first wave of coronavirus across the world. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) estimated that between March and June this year, Bangladesh lost $4.9 billion worth of apparel in order cancellations. The fashion industry has always been one of the most glaring displays of class disparity in the world. How has it fared in our new COVID world?

“Work From Home Outfits” was the newest trend when the first series of worldwide lockdowns began due to COVID-19. How does one dress for a zoom call? Is bottom wear even important anymore now that your coworkers can only see your face during meetings? What does one do with all their party wear? Of course, these were questions only the more fortunate of us faced, while millions of essential workers were forced to wear their work uniforms or PPE and worry more about survival than fashion. But what about those people whose survival depended on fashion?

In January 2020, the Indian textiles industry was estimated at more than US$140 billion, with USD 40 billion in exports. It provided employment to over 45 million people directly and 60 million people indirectly. Like with every other industry, it closed down overnight with the announcement of the nationwide lockdown. But the industry was especially hard hit as export demand collapsed overnight. So producers across the chain — from raw materials, weavers, designers and tailors were left with an immense backlog of frozen inventory, with a very real possibility of much of the said inventory going to waste. The Worker Rights Consortium has compiled a list of companies that have and haven’t agreed to pay their suppliers. The have nots include regular offenders like Urban Outfitters and American Eagle, and surprisingly also include luxury brands like Balmain And Oscar De La Renta. Since the start of the pandemic, around 77% of workers claim that at least one member of their household has gone hungry. The second and third wave of lockdowns around the world is a cause for heightened fear for many owners of these manufacturing units as they see very little chance of survival if they face another major loss.

Much has been discussed about the impact of COVID on the fast fashion industry and it is essential to discuss given that India is an up-and-coming manufacturer for the industry. But what is perhaps more interesting is how small businesses in India have been impacted in the pandemic. Fast fashion is a relatively new player in India with H&M starting its first Indian store only in 2015. Fashion via e-commerce is an equally novel phenomenon, especially for smaller towns and cities where delivery services expanded to much later than they did in metropolitan cities. Before Indians had access to fast fashion to stay trendy for cheap, we would turn to local tailors with our magazine cutouts for everything from saree blouses to tops and formal suits. Tailoring was a family business for some and a means to start earning for countless women who couldn’t work in a professional setting.

Over time, with an increase in the variety of mass-produced clothes, people began to turn to tailors only for special occasions like weddings and festivals. The pandemic meant a complete halt for a majority of these events. For the first few phases of total lockdown, tailors had no income at all. A tailor from Pune said “Even after the lockdown was lifted, for a long time we had no customers because people were not celebrating anything and also did not want to come to my shop where we would have to make physical contact for trials and measurements. A lot of my clients also did not pick up outstanding orders saying they did not have money.” Many of these tailors have turned to selling homemade masks as their clients slowly return albeit in much smaller numbers than before. A majority of these smaller boutiques and tailors cater to lower and middle-income households who have also been hit by the pandemic and do not have money to spend on clothes. Even when people did shop, party clothes weren’t as much a necessity as your regular t-shirts and sweatpants for which we depend on fast fashion companies rather than tailors. While organisations like the FDCI did protect a handful of designers that are registered with their foundation, these smaller tailors have been left mostly helpless.

Since the start of the pandemic, much of the world that could move online has done so. In doing this, many fashion brands that were small businesses were able to establish themselves and survive. Even Instagram, a platform meant for sharing images, has realised this and made one of its biggest-ever changes in its application by replacing the user activities tab with a shopping tab. While controversial among its users, this change points to a larger trend of a rise in Instagram boutiques and stores. In India, many of these brands have grounded themselves in the idea of sustainability. Brands like Ash & Eden, Bodements, Renge and The Burnt Soul have started exclusively online stores and centre their production around sustainability. But more interesting is the exponential rise of Instagram thrift stores that India has seen in the past year. There are now thousands of thrift stores on the app, some of the most popular ones including Luu Liu (30K followers), Lust Thrift (21K followers), and Posh Past (14K followers). In spite of being launched in only in January of this year, Luu Liu has gained immense popularity and is a got to for corsets, something previously unavailable in the Indian market. COVID was the perfect setting for the thrift market to grow in India. Most people had switched to shopping online either out of necessity or as a precaution. The demographic of these stores as confirmed by the owners is of mostly women in their late teens to late twenties, an age group that is also proactive about environmental protection and sustainability. Also, many thrift store owners are located in areas like Delhi and the North-East, where they have access to large amounts of dead stock through wholesale markets like Sarojini Nagar in Delhi. Due to the unprecedented amounts of unsold inventory in fast fashion factories this year, designs usually sold in Europe and the USA were suddenly available to the Indian market through these stores. Unlike in the western world where thrifting generally relates to second-hand or vintage items, in India, thrifting centres around factory rejects due to our proximity to these factories. Most stores price their items fairly accessible. Shopping on these stores is a great pastime while staying indoors as the system is first-come-first-serve and there is usually only one of each item available. These stores also profited off the necessary narrative of “support small businesses” that was emphasised due to the pandemic.

While thrifting and sustainability are great developments, fashion in India hasn’t seen a major change due to COVID. Much like the rest of the economy, the fashion industry is slowly bouncing back to normal. And while this may be a welcome development for our tailors and small businesses, the workers in the fast fashion sector continue to suffer due to a lack of awareness in India. Parts of the world have begun questioning the unethical labour practices of fast fashion, but the message is yet to reach India and the inequalities continue here. Conversely, India is looking forward to expanding its production for these companies as they plan to move out of China. For now, while small businesses continue to suffer, major designers from Rahul Mishra to Manish Malhotra and Falguni Shane Peacock are back to creating Bridal and Wedding outfits for the wealthy families of the country for who the pandemic was all but a damper to their festivities.

Statistical research about thrift stores was done by Shruti Shrivastava, a student of journalism at Ashoka University.

Isha is a student of Psychology, English and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 6 Uncategorized

The Job Market in 2021

The Indian job market is improving slowly and steadily over the past few months after declining by over  60% in April’20 and May’20 year-over-year (Y-O-Y) owing to the pandemic. Hiring is still down by 28% in Nov’20 versus the same time last year as per the Naukri JobSpeak Index. Even though the effect of the pandemic is still evident in Y-O-Y growth, what drives optimism for job seekers is the continued month on month recovery that makes us hopeful for the coming year.  

As organizations are realigning and adjusting to the new normal, they are anticipating an upsurge in the demand for the right talent to tackle challenges that the post-pandemic world would bring. One-fifth of total recruiters foresee hiring bouncing back to pre-COVID levels within the next three months, as per the Naukri Hiring Outlook survey done in Sept’20. Another 26% predict 3-6 months while 34% said that it would take their organizations 6 months to 1 year. 

Some notable trends that will become key in the Indian job market in the coming year include:  

Sectors that will drive hiring in 2021 

Technology has been the game-changer during the lockdown period with corporates showing a huge appetite for digitization. Clearly, the IT sector has been the least impacted sector when it comes to hiring this year. With more companies taking on the route of digital transformation during the pandemic, IT  becomes central to a lot of processes, further pushing the recovery of the sector. The numbers prove this as hiring in the IT sector grew by 10% in November’20 over October’20 while the overall hiring remained flat as per Naukri JobSpeak. This sector could see continued growth in the coming months as well.  

The BPO/ITES sector started the year with positive Y-O-Y growth, up by 18% in January’20 but saw a  decline in hiring as the pandemic hit the country. Interestingly, early signs of recovery were seen from  June’20 onwards as lockdown restrictions were lifted in a phased manner. With more WFH (Work From Home) support for employees and greater digitization efforts across companies, the sector will continue to see an uptick in hiring and remain one of the least impacted sectors in terms of hiring.  

One of the key sectors driving hiring in India this year has been the Medical/Healthcare sector, which was at the forefront of fighting the pandemic. As the demand to hire the right talent increased owing to the pandemic, the Medical sector was the first to bounce back in hiring in May’20 itself as compared to  April’20. The sector has shown strong sequential hiring trends thereafter and will hopefully continue to post more jobs in the coming year. With the vaccine in sight, it appears that the healthcare fraternity which has been single-mindedly focused on the pandemic will start catering to a larger variety of ailments, giving rise to hiring across different specializations. 

Sectors that will make a comeback in hiring 

The two sectors that took a major hit during the pandemic due to lockdown restrictions and social distancing norms were the Hospitality/ Travel and Retail sectors. Hospitality was down by 91% in April’20 and Retail experienced a 77% decline in hiring Y-O-Y. With 5-star Hotels starting home deliveries, and retail outlets developing online trial rooms, both industries found novel methods to integrate technology to deliver their offerings to customers and we saw it reflect in a slow but steady sequential recovery over the year, which will continue in the coming year. There is a lot of pent up demand in this sector 

and with the coming of vaccines, this sector may very well become the sunshine sector in a post-pandemic world. 

Education/Teaching was one of the sectors that saw a sharp decline in hiring in the early days of the lockdown but showed quick signs of recovery as the pandemic pushed academicians and teachers to plunge into the online mode of teaching. This adoption of technology-driven teaching is set to transform the traditional Education/Teaching industry in India in the coming year as well. The movement towards online learning has expedited the need for teaching tools to adapt its delivery of study material for students. This has boosted recruiter demand for a very specific skill called ‘Instructional Design’ that combines education with technology and communication.  

 Hybrid Working Model will be the future 

One of the most interesting behavioural shifts that the Indian workforce has seen as a green shoot to the pandemic is the remote working culture. Led by the pandemic, hiring for remote jobs has increased by 3X as compared to pre-COVID levels this year. Sectors such as BPO/ITES, IT,  Education/Teaching and Internet/Ecommerce are major contributors to WFH jobs posted on  

Greater acceptance of remote working will pave the way for a hybrid-working model in the coming future. Interestingly, as per a recent Naukri survey done with over 4000 jobseekers, a majority of the jobseekers (59%)  prefer a hybrid model of working. A significant 76% of employees confirmed that WFH is equally or more productive than working in an office. The jobseekers’ insight mirrors the recruiters’ perspective as well. Around 69% of recruiters out of 1000 surveyed also feel that WFH is equally or more productive. With companies taking measures to ease their employees into the WFH culture, this trend is clearly is here to stay.  

Upskilling to stay relevant for career progression 

Up-skilling will be the key to be employable in the coming year. As per the recent Naukri Jobseeker Survey conducted with 50,000 job seekers, more than 50% job seekers are focusing on self-development through up-skilling, brushing their domain knowledge and well as taking professional help in building their resumes. Courses such as Data Analytics, Digital Marketing and Finance Management remain the top picks for up-skilling. Even soft skills have become integral as working conditions have changed, and there is a  preference for those who can collaborate remotely, communicate effectively and manage their time well, without the confines of an office setup.  

Remote Hiring will be the new norm 

Since most companies will be hiring virtually in the coming year, job seekers should focus on preparing for online assessment & virtual interviews. Top HR Experts recommend getting comfortable with the webcam as campus hiring too has taken a remote approach,  and candidates are being judged on how well they adapt to situations outside their comfort zone.  

Freelancing and Part-time roles will gain popularity 

In this tough job market, job seekers should be open to freelancing and part-time jobs to gain some experience in their respective domains. Instead of only focusing on full-time roles, picking up work on a  project basis to strengthen the resume will be key and will become a tool to network with prospective clients too. 

As organizations pace up their growth plans in the coming year, a requirement for those who can help in digital transformation and develop innovative methods to deliver products and services to customers will see a rise. With companies becoming leaner, there will be an expectation to work cross-functionally and go beyond the scope of the job description. It would be interesting to see the evolution of both hiring and working in the coming year.

Zahabiya Kinkhabwala is a marketing manager at

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 5 Uncategorized

The Dichotomy Of Constitutional and Social Morality In India

In January this year, India’s union cabinet amended the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. The amendment raises the legally permissible limit for an abortion to 24 weeks from the previous limit of 20 weeks. and now also acknowledges the failure of contraception as an acceptable reason for an abortion. Along with that, the law now also acknowledges the failure of contraception as an acceptable reason for abortion and has been extended to any woman or her partner replacing the old provision that was only for married women, placing India in the top league of counties serving women who wish to make individual choices as part of reproductive and gender rights. 

At a time when United States‘s Roe V. Wade is under scrutiny, and Poland’s abortion laws have been restricted even further, it’s surprising that despite being a relatively conservative nation, India has one of the most progressive laws around abortion in the world. Though it may be assumed that this is a result of India’s culture and norms, especially since sex-selected abortions have been commonly practiced throughout the subcontinent, it seems to have more to do with India’s constitutional morality and the distinction it makes its majoritarian social morality. 

The general consensus in political theory is that laws and people evolve together, hand in hand. The changes made to laws are a result of a change in attitudes, beliefs, and norms. However, this isn’t necessarily the case in India. The Indian constitution and legal framework, instead, was created to be an instrument of social change. India being a nation entrenched in traditions, religion, caste hierarchies, its founding members understood that the way to change the country into a liberal democracy was to create and use progressive laws and liberal principles to shape the nation’s culture and norms. 

“Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realize that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top –dressing on Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.” – B.R Ambedkar. 

Constitutional morality, according to Ambedkar referred to the adherence to core values of India’s constitution, that extended to create a society based on social, economic, political equality, and justice. This wasn’t just limited to the constitutional provisions literally but was vast enough to ensure the commitment to constitution values over what was considered socially moral. 

In the landmark 2018 Navtej Singh Johar case, which pertained to the criminalization of non-heterosexual sexual acts, the supreme court scrapped the law saying that “constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality”. The same law was challenged in Singapore a few months after India’s judgment but was rejected on the grounds of threatening public morality. According to Anand Grover, a senior advocate practicing in the Supreme Court of India, “Singapore courts appear to follow the “literal” interpretation of fundamental rights whereas we in India interpret fundamental rights in an expansive way that there is such as a huge difference in the result, especially on the notions of equality which is still tied only to the classification test”.

Similarly, in the Sabrimala judgment regarding the restriction of women that belonged to a certain age group into the Sabrimala temple in Kerela, the courts observed that “existing structures of social discrimination must be evaluated through the prism of constitutional morality. The endeavor is to produce a society marked by compassion for every individual”. 

The Sabarimala verdict was historic because unlike abortion and section 377, the Sabarimala judgment couldn’t have been attributed to anything other than constitutional morality. There is some ambiguity about how abortion and members of the LGBTQ+ community are seen in India’s cultural history, but the Sabarimala judgment was clearly against what has been a belief and a social practice for many years now. The verdict and social morality were are a clear-cut clash, and the violent opposition and widespread protests against the verdict were proof of that. However, despite that, the law and constitutional values were upheld. 

Unfortunately, since the gaps between the constitutional and social morality are so wide, and overturning in the former doesn’t necessarily lead to a change in the latter. Even after the Sabarimala judgment was passed in 2018. only a handful of women have been able to enter the temple, either because their entrance is blocked or they’re forced to leave. However, more importantly, the number of women who’ve entered the temple isn’t just low due to the difficulties of entering the temple, but also because most women also believe that it is wrong for them to enter the temple between their menstruating years. Similarly, despite the NALSA judgment which identified trans people as people of the third gender and affirmed that fundamental rights will be equally applicable to them, and section 377, members of the LGBTQ+ community still face discrimination often in the form of violence. 

With that being said, constitutional morality does play a pivotal role in shaping India, even if that process is very slow. Abortion was made legal 70 years ago in India, yet up until 2014, 78% of all annual abortions were unsafe, likely due to lack of education, accessibility, and the stigma attached to the act. It is important to note that illegal sex-selective abortions are unlikely to play a role because 81% of most of these abortions happen during the first trimester, before 12 weeks, while the sex of a fetus is usually detected by sonography after the 13th week. With the aid help of educational initiatives and proactive policies such as the Yukti Yojana in Bihar, a public-private partnership where women can access abortion care free of cost from accredited private providers, the percentage of annual unsafe abortions has decreased from a staggering 78% to a 56% in 2017. Maternal mortality rates, due to unsafe abortions have also decreased from 13% or 8%

Aradhya is a student of Psychology, Biology and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 4

TRP Or News? The Existentialist Dilemma of News Channels.

Last month, Republic TV and two other Marathi Channels were busted for manipulating TRP ratings that influence advertising revenue, sparking a conversation about the legitimacy of TRP ratings, and it’s ethics.

TRP or Television Rating points is a commonly used metric by advertisers to decide which channel to run adverts on. It shows advertisers data on the channel’s viewers and provides a more nuanced understanding of which channel is being watched by most viewers, along with some information on the viewer demographic, so that companies can effectively decide where to post their advertisements. The higher the TRP, the higher likelihood of receiving marketing investment, ultimately increasing profits.

This is not the first time that TRPs have been tampered with, as many similar cases have come to light in the recent past. Despite that, the conversation surrounding TRP and its inefficiencies have remained insufficient and are only now beginning to gain some traction. Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, the ex-Chief Election Commission and Director General of Doordarshan, has been following the issue since the early 2000s and believes that the current system is brimming with treachery. As the director-general of Doordarshan, he found that many private channels were announcing unrealistically high TRP rates, blocking investments towards Doordarshan. At the time, he found that only 2000 meters were being used to calculate TRP for the entire country. For a country of 1 billion people, that’s a sample size too small to give an accurate representation of the population, and in recent years, that number has only gone up to 40,000. A bigger issue, however, was that information on the homes that had installed the meters was easily available, allowing companies to reach out and possibly bribe them to watch their channels more. With such a small sample size, it is much easier to manipulate TRPs ratings. If just two or three households are paid to watch a certain channel 24 hours a day, the TRP ratings of that channel could drastically increase, bringing them more investment.

Even if we ignore these cases of manipulation, the use of TRP to measure the value of news has many drawbacks. With increased competition and the dependency on a system where news channels have to compete for every second of viewership, it’s difficult to continue making profits without submitting to bad journalism. Unfortunately, fake news, controversy, and sensationalism do a much better job at engaging people than true and often uncomfortable stories that good journalism brings with it, and therefore, it’s difficult for television news to remain authentic.

According to Vikram Chandra, founder of Editorji Technologies and former CEO of NDTV, this is the big existentialist dilemma that haunts news channels today: do you provide good news, lose money and possibly go bankrupt, or do you get the TRP, make money but put out bad content instead? As long as news channels are dependent on TRP, the low-quality of news will remain, which raises the question of whether we should be using a user metric to determine the value of news at all.

Journalism is often said to be a public good, the fourth pillar of a functioning democracy, because, without informed citizens, a democracy simply won’t work. Just like other public goods, journalism too, cannot be left on the free market, as we are seeing the results of a complete reliance on user demand. What would happen if other public goods, such as education, ran the same way? Schools and education curriculums designed based on what parents and children want to learn and believe are facts. In a best-case scenario, this would result in a fall in the quality of education, and in the worst-case scenario, students from different schools would learn completely different facts, have a completely different understanding of the world, and ultimately live in different realities altogether.

Many argue that the solution to this is to regulate or subsidize journalism. However, this could end up posing a threat to free speech. Therefore, the big question for us is whether we can escape the user-metric at all.

The solution to this, according to Vikram Chandra, is to balance the two. He believes it’s time to move away from television completely and shift to newer technologies that allow for the personalization of news, whilst also balancing news that one should hear. Use a user-metric and give people the stories that they are interested in, however, along with that, also give people news that they need to read regardless of their interests or political beliefs so that people don’t end up in echo chambers.

The use of AI and algorithms may be the solution to keeping audiences engaged without distributing sensationalized news or tabloid content is by personalizing news. However, it’s a solution that still lives in the future. Until then, the only solution we have is to use our power as consumers and support news channels that provide good quality news despite the challenges of the TRP system.

Aradhya is a student of Psychology, Biology and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 


AI Could Be China’s Next Big Foreign Policy Tool

In June 2020, the Indian government banned the Chinese owned social networking app TikTok. The move was motivated by concerns over safety of the users’ data. Similar concerns have also sparked debate within the US government on banning the app. Although Chinese apps like TikTok and WeChat are facing opposition, AI powered Chinese surveillance technologies are being increasingly employed around the world. As their popularity increases, these technologies have the potential to become powerful foreign policy tools. 

In 2015, the Chinese government announced Made in China 2025, a 1.68 trillion dollar plan aimed at achieving global AI dominance by the year 2030. In 2018, China also announced its AI Innovation Action Plan for Colleges and Universities, a plan to make Chinese education institutions the hotbed for AI innovation by 2030. Chinese state-backed investment banks are also continuously investing in Chinese AI startups. For example, the Chinese Electronics Technology group, a state owned company, owns 42% of the video-surveillance company Hikvision through its subsidiaries. Since 2017, $30 billion dollars have been invested in Chinese AI firms by both private and state investors. Although investment in AI is booming around the world, the Chinese state without an independent judiciary holds asymmetric power over AI startups. When the state does not indirectly own the start-ups, it can easily persuade them to share the data they collect with them. The Chinese state is also one of the biggest customers of these AI firms, further increasing chances of collaboration. For example, HikVision received a $290 million contract from the Chinese state in Xinjiang. Thus, Chinese AI start-ups become extensions of the Chinese state. 

China has already begun perfecting a system of mass surveillance in the region of Xinjiang. The region is increasingly being outfitted with surveillance cameras equipped with sophisticated facial recognition technology developed by state-backed Chinese AI firms. Citizens are constantly monitored in public places and various checkpoints around the cities. Other personal information, including an individual’s purchase history, address, family-links,  and biometric data are all linked together to create a comprehensive, all-seeing system. Residents of Xinjiang are also required to install mobile apps that monitor their phones for religious content. These apps can scan chats for verses of the Quran, religious books stored on the phone, donations made to religious organisations, or even a simple association with someone who attends mosques. If flagged, a citizen’s movement can be severely restricted, and in the worst case scenario, the citizen could be detained. 

Although Xinjiang represents the most intrusive form of Chinese surveillance, it does not mean that other regions of the country are not under the state’s watchful eye. The Great Chinese firewall continuously monitors and filters content on the internet. Chinese cities are dotted with surveillance cameras just like Xinjiang. Chinese social media apps have also become tools of surveillance. The most popular Chinese social media app is WeChat which serves as a social media app, a news app, a dating app, a ticket booking platform and a payment app. The app is used by around 1 billion Chinese citizens. The app was found to be monitoring content shared by its users. Various private pilot projects for a social credit system with an eventual plan for a state-backed national rollout are also underway. Scoring badly on the system may prevent a citizen from “travelling, buying property, or taking out loans”. Chinese AI firms are also perfecting smart-city projects which can track criminals, large crowds, and guide traffic, further increasing the scope for surveillance. Used together, this allows the Chinese state to track the movements, associations, and purchases of its citizens both online and offline. 

Chinese AI technology is also in demand internationally. Malaysian police are being outfitted with facial recognition cameras by Chinese firm Yitu. These cameras can match the faces of criminals in a central police database. Zimbabwe signed an agreement in March 2018 with Chinese firm CloudWalk to create an expansive facial recognition system for surveillance and law enforcement. China plans to offer its surveillance expertise to suppress terrorism in Pakistan as a part of its CPEC project. China will also offer “safe-city” programs to track explosives in conflict-ridden cities like Peshawar. Chinese firm Dahua has installed its “Intelligent Transportation System” to detect traffic violations and monitor blacklisted cars. Serbia, Kenya, Uganda, and Egypt have also inked similar deals with Chinese AI firms. As Chinese AI becomes more sophisticated and its demand increases globally, it will come to play an increasingly pivotal role in Chinese foreign policy. 

According to International Relations theory, one of the primary motivations driving a country’s foreign policy is self-preservation. A country’s actions towards others would primarily be influenced by ensuring the stability of its regime and strengthening its internal political control. Threats to regime stability can arise both internally and externally. Thus, states could be expected to act against both international and domestic threats. 

For an authoritarian regime, external threats could take the form of democracy-promotion measures taken by an international democratic bloc or waves of democratisation. Internally, threats could take the form of dissent from the civil society. 

International pressures to democratise can take many forms. Democratic states can enforce economic sanctions on authoritarian states. These states can also prevent authoritarian states from accessing important international institutions. Further, aid, investment, or bailout packages are also used as bait to bring about democratisation. 

An international authoritarian bloc, facing democratisation pressures, can choose to collaborate using collective agreements signed with an autocratic great power. The threat of escalation would prevent pro-democratic blocs to put pressure on individual authoritarian states. An authoritarian superpower can also represent and support smaller allies in international institutions and also become a source for economic and political assistance. This further allows smaller authoritarian states to repel democratisation pressures. 

Active democracy promotion isn’t the only threat to the regime stability of authoritarian states. The mere existence of successful democracies can spark up domestic opposition. In such a case, the maintenance of stable and economically successful authoritarian regimes becomes important to legitimise the regime type itself. The higher the number of authoritarian regimes, the more likely they are to be considered a legitimate form of political organisation. 

This is where Chinese AI tools gain political salience. China has long resisted pressures of democratisation despite a surging educated middle-class. Its use of technology in monitoring information and surveilling its citizens can partly explain the stability of its regime. These technologies of social control, with its proven effectiveness in China, can be used as extremely potent leverages to create alliances in the international arena. It wouldn’t be a surprise if leaders around the world are tempted to use China’s AI technology to ensure the survival of their regimes. Further, building alliances on the basis of AI can also lead to the creation of an international authoritarian bloc. This bloc can successfully resist pressures to democratise further securing domestic authoritarian regimes. Numerous stable authoritarian regimes can also grant legitimacy to themselves, further repelling pressures to democratise. 

Additionally, if an authoritarian regime comes up with a new and effective model of social control, it can also be expected to export that model to other regimes around the world. China has already proven that its expansionary measures are aimed at achieving global leadership. The “China model” – which marries economic freedom and industrial growth with absolute political and social control – can be expected to be exported around the world. A key part of the Chinese model is its surveillance state. For states looking to emulate China’s success, access to its surveillance technology would prove to be crucial. In such a case, the surveillance model it is currently perfecting in Xinjiang can become an even more powerful bargaining tool. 

Despite massive leaps, China still is not the global leader in AI. Most surveillance technologies are also in the nascent stages of their development. However, fuelled by its commitment and impressive investments, China is well on its path to dominate with its increasingly sophisticated technology. Mobile phones and internet connectivity are becoming more and more accessible with every passing day. We have also observed a surge in authoritarian states who will find China’s AI driven surveillance attractive. China has recognised AI’s potential very early on. Will it end up making all the difference? 

Pravish is a student of Political Science, International Relations, Economics and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Stoned, Shamed, Depressed – A Conversation with author Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava

Stone, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India’s Teens is a book that examines the lives of urban teens. Children as young as middle schoolers have started engaging in activities like social media usage, substance abuse, body-shaming, video gaming, sexual bullying and online-bullying. The author, journalist Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava, highlights the urgency of these matters. How does one deal with impressionable teenagers being exposed to virtues and vices that even adults have difficulty navigating? Why do these children, who have all possible resources and comforts at their disposal, engage in these activities? Here, I talk to the author about her observations and why she is worried.

Isha (I) – Starting with the topic of drugs, I always assumed that increased usage is a result of increasing freedom with age? Is that true or is there something else at play here? 

Jyotsna (J) – I have heard lots of stories about college and there being choices available for every budget, but I find it fascinating the easy and casual usage in very young children, even in middle school. The difference in how they use it is that it isn’t recreational, it is an effort to fit in with their peers. It isn’t even a choice for many with the enormous pressure they are under to achieve ridiculous 100% cut-offs and very often you aren’t that student. As a society, we haven’t reexamined what we keep pushing our kids into. So kids are saying look, we’ll do it but doesn’t mean we’ll do it the right way. So many of them fall back on drugs to help stay awake and study constantly. A student told me that he started having marijuana at 13 and used it as an “experience enhancer” for movies. Why do you need that, why isn’t a movie enough for you? He said we’re all trying to fill a void, fill something. So there is a lot going on and it isn’t recreational for these kids.

I – In today’s environment where drugs have been vilified so much, I feel like this book could be used by someone to back their anti-drug stance. So how do you think this book fits into that whole conversation?

J – I have been very careful to not judge any of the stakeholders in the book and let others hopefully read between the lines and judge for themselves. Because it is not at all normal for 13 and 15-year-olds to be consuming marijuana and laced drugs.  My attempt is to bring a mirror to our society because very often we don’t want to acknowledge that things happen, and if we don’t acknowledge if we don’t accept we’re never going to able to realize that some stuff is more important. We don’t really have a very cohesive drug policy or we’re not really looking at mental health when it comes to the young ones, so I think my book has been an attempt to actually bring issues out in the open so that we can accept and deal with them. If there is no acceptance there will never be any conversations and change. 

I- So regarding policy, how do you think legalising marijuana or changing legal drinking age and such will affect this issue?

J- With everything, I think the buck stops with the family. Banning has never been the solution and I think really it all comes down to where you’re coming from. I could say that schools need better policies and sex education but the truth is we need to talk about it at home. I think there is an enormous amount of wealth being substituted for parents’ time and it is doing a lot of harm in the long run. Giving devices to these kids at the age of 6 and 7 and taking them back at the age of 13, it’s not working. It’s leading to aggression. Social media is a new toy for everyone and I think parents need to figure it out first and help kids harness it in a better way. We need to teach kids about cyber safety, or about how just because everyone is having drugs, doesn’t mean you should too. We need to normalise the existence of things that happen around us and say that this is no longer a western concept that everyone is smoking, drinking. One of the first people who reacted to the book was a gentleman on Twitter who said: “This is western bullshit”. This is precisely the reason I’ve written this book we’re still caught up in what should happen versus what is happening. If a child is using drugs, they need counselling and de-addiction centres, which is so against our values. So many children only have one question for me “How do we talk to our parents?” If someone is genuinely going through an issue whether it is mental health or sexual bullying, we need to deal with it accordingly and figure out what is and isn’t a mistake. If we aren’t willing to accept that a teenager hitting his parents or talking gangrape isn’t a mistake and other things are a mistake, we won’t realise that some issues do need deeper intervention. It all depends on how we acknowledge these issues.

I- Were a majority of your interviews based in Delhi NCR or how were they located?

J- No actually I have a lot from Bombay, Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad. Each of these has its own problems. I think NCR is rocking it when it comes to drugs while there is more gadget addiction in Bangalore, gaming in Chennai. A college student in Delhi told me there is a difference in how drugs are used in Delhi versus in Bombay. In Bombay it’s something done by the older lot, you hear about celebs and substance abuse but it’s done and over with. In Delhi, it’s a production. All of these kids who were already on drugs in school, they are going into harder stuff in college and I don’t think there’s anybody who’s stopped them or had a conversation to tell them that you know when you’re lacing marijuana with something else, you’re reaching another level. They’ve never had these conversations and always had money.

I- So how would you say this works in Tier 2 And 3 cities?

J- The issues are different in Tier 2 cities. But anybody today who has a smartphone, even in rural and semi-rural areas is vulnerable. The genesis of it all is that smartphone. We’re pretty much the biggest market, I think some 839 million smartphone users by 2022, and a bulk of our population is young. You can do anything on that phone. I demarcated it as an urban book simply because in the very rural the issues are very different, the addiction is very different, it comes from the frustration of having to make ends meet, versus this society where everything is on a platter By that I also mean Tier 2 towns, they have a lot of money and are giving smartphones to kids. I don’t think you can demarcate too much because that vulgar language of gangrape in Mumbai you can also possibly hear it in Patna. In Tier 3, there’s a lot of gaming going on. As a country we’re aspirational and social media has opened up everybody to it. So kids who are getting botox at 15 are no different than the 9 or 10-year-old kid who has gone on the reality dance show on TV because the parents may be from Ludhiana or wherever, they’re equally aspirational. Many parents I spoke with find no issue when it comes to privacy, They say it’s part and parcel of the game. I am talking to you about cyber safety, but in a tier 3 city where you’ve given your child a phone and he’s gone to study in a school where you’ve never been perhaps, you’re not even equipped to deal with the knowledge he has.

I- Moving on to another topic you write about which is bullying, homophobia and body-shaming. These kids exist on social media where body-positivity and pro-LGBTQ+ stances are quite prominent. How do these kids exist in that space and still manage to act this way?

J- Again this comes back to the conditioning of our society. I can actually see that with 90% of people if a child goes up to their mother and father and says that I’ve been body shamed, I can actually see that the reaction is going to be, it’s okay, it’s a part of life, you’ll get over it. As a society, we don’t deal with anything that isn’t tangible. Even with the Sushant Singh Rajput incident, we circled around the issue for months. Finally, when we did come to mental health, we were talking about older people. We haven’t touched children. It’s enormous in the 15-20-year-olds. All kind of positivity starts with a society that says we may be traditional but that doesn’t mean it’s always correct that we need to move with the times and unfortunately I think that’s a long way from now.

I- A third topic you address is teenagers exploring their sexuality and having sex. How does one deal with this, at what age is it necessary to have a conversation about this?

J- My dilemma has been, how do you deal with consent by minors, when they have consensual intimate relationships and then have been asked to leave their schools and such. A lot of children are really sexually empowered and these conversations need to start very young, at 7 or 8 years according to some counsellors. Consent to me is a very big word with not adequate importance given to it by society. A lot of mothers have come up after some of these cases and said we’re teaching our boys respect but I think that’s tokenism. We need to go beyond it. A doctor made a lot of sense when he told me that in the last few years, we have been talking about how our girls are changing, how they are driving and working late doing everything. But we forgot to tell our boys to change as well. If they still remain where they were while girls are changing, we’re going to have this clash. There’s frustration in teenage girls as to why the onus is on them and we have done this to ourselves as a society. So consent is a very important word that we need to teach them.

I- In addition to body-positivity, social media is also urging women to embrace our sexuality. I am guessing that it’s targeting slightly older women but the narrative is also being embraced by younger girls. Since increasingly younger girls are trying to fit into this narrative of let me embrace my sexuality, how do you deal with that? 

J- To be one of the girls, you have to let go of your virginity or you aren’t cool enough. Getting rid of it is like a badge of honour and very casual for 15, 16-year-olds. It really does come down to how comfortable a child is in their skin to be able to take this enormous onslaught of peer pressure. And knowledge is important when you’re, say, trying to date a boy and you send nudes over Snapchat and you think they will disappear after being seen, but somebody else has recorded it it’s in circulation. When no one speaking to them, they’re listening to their peers and going ahead so I think it boils down to really what those conversations you’re having at home, that communication channel has to always be open. 

I find that even six months make a difference. If you keep pushing social media, say a child who gets in at 13 versus at 15 or at 8 versus at 12, I find that the child is evolving and learning more things. You can’t push beyond a point but that little bit of experience keeps adding up, that ability to scope things out react accordingly adds up.

I- How do you see these phenomena of drug usage and social media and such play out as these kids enter college and parents lose even more control. You have said that drug usage tends to increase in such cases, but what else changes?

J- I find that again it all depends on how solid your base is. Some things do change, for instance, people in their 20s are using social media for activism in unimaginable ways. Drugs may become a recreational activity more than before, but then mental health is escalating in the 20s. With the whole sex thing, I think kids are taking control of their lives you’re adults, so in that sense, it’s your life. Your parents have to make sure they’re around to hold hands be there if you want to talk. 

In my interviews, this kept coming up about social media anonymity, how do you trust the world with bearing your body and soul? But we’ve all had our rebellion, unfortunately, it’s a lot to be on social media and living a public life. So the pressure to be somebody is more for your generation. We went to school and got bullied, got home and forgot about it until the next day. You go to school and get bullied and you come home you’re still getting bullied so its 24×7 now.

Isha is a student of Psychology, English and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Tanishq: Victim of an uncontrollable beast

Image: screenshot from Advertisement

Much has been written about the controversy raised by the Tanishq ad that depicted an inter-faith marriage.

Since all of you would have seen the ad, I’ll refrain from wasting time and space describing the ad.

The big tragedy about the reams of editorial coverage in print and on news TV is that the focus is on the advertising industry and the debate has been reduced to a discussion on whether brands should ride on ‘political’ developments and ‘divisive’ subjects.

As far as I am concerned, the issue has little to do with advertising and all to do with the larger issue of the collapse of tolerance in society. Much of this erosion of tolerance is provoked by the need to follow the herd to be popular in social media.

Before we get to the crux of this article, which is ‘the interaction between social media and advertising in the Tanishq case’, let me give you a quick lesson in media.

For a moment, think of all news TV consumed as represented by a one-meter rule. All the viewership of ALL the news channels is represented by the one-meter rule. If you look at the share of ALL the English news channels, it will occupy perhaps ONE centimeter of this one-meter rule. “English news is very niche in India, and therefore accounts for only 1% share of News viewership at an All India level,” says BARC.

That’s it. That is the reach of English news channels. 

Yet, English news channels are not without influence – perhaps they enjoy unnatural and undue influence, thanks to the scale of India, the low allocation of funds to news-gathering in India – and social media.

So let me illustrate how this undue influence works.

Republic TV does a story, say, on match-fixing.

Republic’s social media handles all talk about this issue.

Republic’s social media team creates a flurry of hashtags connected to the story.

Republic’s social media team ‘buys’ reach (legally) on social media and cause the story and the hashtags to trend.

The underpaid and under-resourced journalists in small towns across India, with no budgets for travel or, indeed, for endless phone calls across the country, take the easy way out and follow ‘influencers’ on social media. In the current illustration, they’re following Republic’s handle and, of course, keeping an eye on trending topics.

So journalists across the country, thanks to this extraordinary, unchecked and unfettered ‘source’, viz social media, decide that the match-fixing story is VERY IMPORTANT.

And they write and file their own stories as well.

So much for what the media does.

The consumer, the citizen, does his or her own amplification, spurred by similar provocations.

The consumer, too, follows influencers and keeps track of hashtags and trends. In addition, the consumer keeps an eye on social media updates of friends and relatives and truly LOCAL infleuncers. 

And if the Republic match-fixing story pops up on these pages, up pops the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). In dealing with the fear, the consumer adds his or own bit of spice to the story, based on the echo chamber he or she lives in.

Now, let’s get back to the Tanishq ad.

Consider what has happened to a citizen of Jamshedpur who has no knowledge of Tanishq or the controversy, no problem with Hindus and Muslims marrying each other and has never seen the ad and has not seen the coverage on TV.

The story appears on Twitter because the citizen’s classmate RT’ed a tweet. In the RT, the citizen’s classmate denounced the ad, denounced Tanishq and denounced the Tata group.

Aware of FOMO, our hero, the citizen of Jamshedpur referred to earlier, RTs the RT.

And, as thousands of similar citizens do the same, a controversy is born, even if the ad has hardly been seen by the majority who protest about it.

Now it gets worse. Politicians of all hues, too, are on social media and follow the same trends.

And, very quickly, they find that they have the opportunity to ‘ride’ a trend. They can profit or lose by choosing one side of the controversy; in the Tanishq case, the ‘profitable’ side was to denounce inter-faith marriages and, consequently, denounce Tanishq.

So they ‘protest’ at Tanishq showrooms, confident in the knowledge that the protest will be covered by media.

And a new story will be born and aired by news channels.

And the new story will find its way into social media.

And the new story will come back to Jamshedpur.

And FOMO will make the new story trend….

It’s a new news cycle. Unchecked and without a sense of responsibility. More frighteningly, no one has control over this beast.

Tanishq was a victim of this uncontrolled and vicious beast.

The question is: Who is the next? And the next? And the next?

Anant Rangaswami is the editor of Storyboard, the advertising, media and marketing show on CNBC TV18. He is also senior editor at, and has authored two books, ‘Watching from the Sidelines’ and ‘The Elephants in the Room: The future of advertising in India 2016.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Do Social Media Protests Amount To Anything In India?

“Twitter storm at 9 PM with #BringMigrantsHome”. “Please share #EndSARS”. Hundreds of thousands of hashtags like these are being used to protest on social media. The most recent of these is the hashtag #DalitLivesMatter in the wake of a brutal rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Uttar Pradesh. 

The past decade has seen an exponential increase in the number of social media users world over, with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter being the most popular few. A McKinsey report states that India had around 294 million social media users in 2018, with this figure only increasing. Anna Hazare’s Anti-corruption movement was one of the first to use social media as a tool for social movements and protests. With the COVID induced lockdown, physical protests are no longer possible and social media has become the primary protest medium. 

Protests earlier required careful planning and organisation with people sometimes having to go door to door to raise awareness. Social media has greatly accelerated this process. The December 2019 attack on JNU students saw immediate protests on the same night, mobilised through social media. More importantly, social media has helped movements reach wider, sometimes international audiences without having to depend on traditional media outlets. Hashtags are an important tool — the more they are used, the more popular they become. The #MeToo movement highlights the immense potential of online protests. Not only did women feel more empowered to come forward with their own stories, governments and companies world over instituted sexual harassment policies and began to take reports much more seriously. The story is a little different in India.

Multiple reports state that two years after the MeToo movement gained traction in India, little has changed. Most of the accused continue to live their lives unaffected by the movement. While the immediate movement saw an outpouring of anger, the storm died down quickly and things were back to normal. It had all but disappeared from the media and national conscience alike. The movement lasted for roughly 3 months since it took off in October 2018. Many companies created Internal Complaints Committees and sensitisation workshops, but it was mostly lip service. MeToo continues to exist in the online space, primarily due to its prominence in the western world.

The infamous “Bois Locker Room” group chats that surfaced in May 2020 met a similar fate. Screenshots of a private Instagram group chat consisted of teenage boys from National Capital Region schools sharing intimate images of teenage girls, sexualising and body-shaming them. These screenshots were widely shared on social media. The police soon caught wind of these and conducted an investigation. What followed was dubbed mini #MeToo movement with people coming out with similar stories of online harassment that they had faced. After the news of police action spread, social media users and a few newspapers and television channels were preoccupied with this case for two weeks, debating the causes and correctional measures before interest fizzled out.

Similar trajectories can be observed for movements like the anti-CAA protest, the attacks on JNU students, the new Environmental Impact Assessment 2020 and Indian occupation of Kashmir. People still share occasional reminders that things aren’t normal yet, but most information and activism remains confined to a few accounts.

The Dalit Lives Matter is the most recent iteration of this cycle. The usage of this hashtag peaked on the 3rd of October, a few days after news broke of the events, following which its use declined steadily. Physical protests were impossible during this time due to COVID-19 restrictions, so people improvised by posting pictures of themselves holding placards in their own homes, from Mumbai to NYC, Toronto and Berlin. Today, in the final week of the same month, the hashtag continues to experience spikes on days when new similar cases come to light but is otherwise rarely used.

So, what is responsible for this life cycle of social media protests in India? Can the same not be said of protests around the world since people generally have a limited attention span? The Hindu quotes a 2019 report by Kantar IMRB, a market research, survey and business consultancy firm, as stating that internet penetration in rural India is just 25%, compared to 66% in urban regions, even as it continues to grow rapidly. Caste and religion demographics further complicate this divide. A study by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) has found that Upper castes have the highest exposure to social media, followed by Muslims and then Dalits and tribal communities. Men were found to have more internet access than women. A primary issue is that of access. Many of these protests are for minorities, whether Dalits and Dalit Lives Matter or Muslims and the Anti-CAA protests. The people amplifying these voices online very often aren’t the stakeholders in these movements and can thus afford to lose interest or forget about them. An upper-caste male, however sympathetic to the cause of caste-based violence, will have the luxury to choose his battles. This is one reason for this cycle. 

The rhetoric of social protest online is complicated. The medium, more often than not, is English. According to a joint report published by KPMG India and Google, the total number of English language internet users in India in 2016 was just 175 million, compared to 234 million Indian language users. Online protests try to reach a wider audience across the country and the world, for which English is the most convenient medium. This further limits the reach of the posts. The issue of partisanship is worldwide, but people in other countries do not always have to cross language barriers in hundreds of languages. Thus, even when the other party may not agree with you, they can at least be exposed to your point of view.

Anti-CAA protests continued like the Black Lives Matter protests in the US continued long after media houses had stopped reporting on them. The reason the former fell out of online public consciousness and the latter did not was the levels of exposure they received. BLM was sustained by prominent figures like Hollywood celebrities. Artists like Zendaya Coleman and Shawn Mendes, who have a large young following would regularly hand over their online platforms to leaders of the BLM movement. Indian celebrities also have a large and diverse following, but most were unwilling to speak up on the issue. These movements thus lost out on harnessing the power of millions for their sustenance.

A woman in a Tamil Nadu village stated that most people around her dismissed MeToo as being associated with “trouble-making” feminism. The MeToo movement was dominated by upper-caste, upper-class women. There was little space for Dalit women, the maids and nannies that worked for these women. Many might not even know about this movement, which had an English name and rarely appeared in translation. While Dalit women disproportionately face caste-based sexual violence, they were left out. 

These movements do not fade away entirely. Long after news media and the public have moved onto the next sensational news, certain groups keep working. In addition to on-ground work, online accounts like “standwkashmir” and “fridaysforfuture” continue posting about issues. The final culprit is social media algorithms, which customise your newsfeeds to your tastes. Someone who has not expressed any interest in these causes will never be exposed to them and a large audience is lost. The #EIA2020 successfully got the deadline for the EIA pushed by a few months. MeToo did bring about limited positive change. This article isn’t to discredit social media protests. It is simply to examine why we haven’t harnessed their full potential

For the online world, power is in numbers. When a majority of the population is unaware of the existence of movements, movements cannot be sustained. When stakeholders themselves do not have a voice, little progress can be made. The limited life cycle of social movements in India is not a matter of a lack of interest but one of access. 

Isha is a student of Psychology, English and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).