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TikTok Revolution: “When They Rise Against The Casteist And Classist Society, They Are Laughed At”

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Born in 2016, TikTok is a short video platform that allows users to shoot, edit, publish, and share 15-second videos. As of April 2020, the platform was home to approximately 800 million active users worldwide. In 2019 TikTok averaged 119 million active users in India. The reach that TikTok has is unparalleled. It recently became the fourth most downloaded app on the iPhone, after YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, beating Facebook, Messenger, Gmail, and NetFlix in the process.

When these numbers are combined with Google Play, it is the second most downloaded app in 2019 after only WhatsApp. According to data from Apptrace, TikTok is available in 141 countries, in 39 languages, and is ranked top 25 in 131 of them. Surpassing the 2 billion download mark just five months after hitting the 1.5 billion target, TikTok became the most downloaded app in a single quarter. Of these 2 billion, India accounts for more than 600 million downloads (approximately 30% of all unique installations).

A small glimpse at these numbers and the platform’s reach is unquestionable.

Tiktok

Not Glam? Don’t Give A Damn: How TikTok Empowers Indians

A study conducted by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI) and Nielsen shows that rural India has 229 million active internet users compared to urban India’s 205 million as of November 2019.

This is attributed primarily to the wave of affordable handsets sweeping the market and the initially cheap data plans offered by Jio. Several Indians own a smartphone and are connected to the internet; for TikTok, that is all you need.

TikTok has changed the traditional production model of popular culture. One can shoot, edit, publish, share, and view user-generated content in one single app. All this app needs is a working smartphone connected to the internet and boom; you’re set to create and upload your videos.

Another reason behind the rise of TikTok is the integration with multiple platforms. Users can directly share their videos on different apps like WhatsApp.

It is an app that does it all and the simplicity of the platform is what makes it more accessible and appealing. It doesn’t require one to be in glamourous clothes and create aesthetically appealing posts like Instagram; what TikTok relies on is the aesthetic of authenticity. Most of the viral videos on this platform have been shot in peoples’ homes, farms, terraces, and therein lies its appeal.

Tiktok doesn’t make Indians with the lack of resources feel left out. It empowers them. It gives them a medium to generate their art and express themselves. While primarily an entertainment platform, TikTok is also witnessing an increasing rate of political content and social commentary. What makes this content unique is that it is not an ivory tower liberal or champagne socialist publishing this content. Instead, the people who give powerful insight, first-hand accounts, and have lived experiences.

Even the content meant for entertainment does not fail to serve its intended purpose. Israil Ansari, a famous TikTok artist, now promotes homeware companies and Chinese food trucks. This was not always the case. Ansari used to work as a handyman in a hardware store in Mumbai not long ago and didn’t even own a cellphone. When his brother sent him one, and he downloaded TikTok, everything changed.

With minimal barriers to entry and a scale of audience unrivalled by any platform, TikTok has become a haven for people seeking to create their content. You don’t need fancy gadgets and video editing skills to create a video, which is a requirement if you want to be popular on YouTube. All you need is the ability to grab hold of people’s attention for 15 seconds.

Tiktok uses the shortening attention span of human society to its advantage, and the economically and socially oppressed have mastered that art with TikTok. The majority of the content on TikTok India comes from semi-urban and rural audiences or people who are not financially well off. The videos are raw, gaudy, authentic and loved. Something YouTubers and Instagram users couldn’t achieve with their access to resources, TikTok users have.

Content producers are not limited to the urban elite, oppressed castes and classes are producing a massive amount of content with apps like TikTok. They may not have chiselled bodies, fancy clothes, and glamorous backgrounds, but they make up for it with the realness in their content. They have shown that, if made accessible, they can use technology and create art that is equally, if not more, gripping as professionally curated content.

TikTok And The HateTube

Collage made by Screenshots of TikTok’s creators taken by Anurag Paul.
Collage made by Screenshots of TikTok’s creators taken by Anurag Paul.

All is not pretty for the content creators, though. Tiktok gets a lot of hate, and so do the people creating content on this platform. A popular Indian YouTuber, Carry Minati, had made a roast of TikTok, which soon became the most liked video on Youtube India.

The content was abusive, but the focus remained on Carry. The part of the video that deserved more attention was the number of likes and the trending tweets on twitter.

People seem to hate TikTok primarily because it is inclusive. It challenges the monopoly of the urban class on user-generated content and, to an extent, even breaks it. TikTok users are mainly from the relegated sections of society.

Those that did not have monetary backing and those that were not deemed worthy of content creation. Their only crime has been that they dared to create art and express themselves. Show the world the face of real India and challenge the metropolitan cartel of content.

It is not an upper-caste exclusive space but rather one where the marginalised let their creative juices flow and are appreciated by the audiences. When a rural couple dances to popular Bollywood songs and uploads the video on TikTok, they are ridiculed. Ridiculed because they do not have the perfect bodies, they are perhaps not of a fairer complexion but largely because they are subalterns.

They do not come from ivory towers and do not have upper-caste surnames to their credit. They break the hegemony of elite representation in the business of entertainment, from upper-caste cultural identity to societal norms of beauty, they successfully challenge these notions. Though, the biggest threat that these TikTok users pose to the established structures is perhaps their potential to move up the ladder and not confine themselves to the roles that the ruling class defined for them.

Even when the urban elite views TikTok videos, they are viewed from a lens of prejudice. One which is waiting to laugh at the content, at the creators, not because the content is funny but because they like to ridicule the place where the creator comes from. As Suraj Yengde puts it in his article, for years, the subaltern has been invisibilized in mainstream media; the folk songs are nowhere to be found, the rituals are not represented, their Gods have been demonized.

So it’s no surprise that when they rise against the casteist and classist society of India and kick down doors which are meant to be barricaded for their entry, they are laughed at. It is in this laughter that we will find power. We will use this laughter to reclaim our rightful place as authentic artists of the Indian nation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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