Archive for February, 2009

 

Feb 28 2009

Shiv Sena’s Orkut Campaign: The Limits to Freedom of Expression in an Intolerant India

by at 3:30 am

Introduction: Freedom of Expression in the Indian Blogosphere

The Indian blogosphere is abuzz with discussions on freedom of expression after the Supreme Court refused to throw out Shiv Sena’s defamation case against 19 year old computer science student Ajith D (TOI).

However, the Indian blogosphere’s reactions to the controversy are mostly based on reports on the incident in Indian media. The quality of this reporting, however, has been very mediocre, with few details and little background information. As a result, bloggers are reacting to incomplete information.

So, before I do a roundup of the Indian blogosphere’s reactions to the story and share my own views, let me first present the basic facts.

Shiv Sena’s Tradition of Violent Protests

Let’s start with Shiv Sena itself. Shiv Sena is a far right political party in Maharashtra that built a strong base amongst the Marathi community in the sixties based on its militant ideology that Maharashtra belonged to the Marathi community and migrants from other Indian states should be thrown out. Starting from the mid-seventies, the Shiv Sena shifted its focus to a strong pro-Hindutva (and anti-Muslim) ideology, a shift that solidified in the mid nineties, when it became an integral part of right wing alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Shiv Sena has often been accused of being involved in coordinated political violence against against non-Marathis and non-Hindus. It is widely acknowledged that Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackery, who is revered amongst its supporters, has been instrumental in inciting such violence on many occasions. The Shiv Sena also has a long and well-documented history of violent protests against journalists, writers and artists who speak against its extremist ideologies (see BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, BBC 4, NYT 1, NYT 2, NYT 3, NYT 4, Guardian 1, Guardian 2).

It’s important that we look at Shiv Sena’s ire against Orkut in the context of its long history of ideological intolerance and violent protests.

Shiv Sena’s Unholy Nexus With Orkut

The story started in November 2006, when Shiv Sena activists stumbled across an anti-Shivaji community on Orkut. Shivaji is a 16th century Maratha warrior, who is revered by the Marathi community. Pune police asked cyber cafe owners to block the anti-Shivaji community after violence by Shiv Sena. A public interest litigation was also filed in Bombay High Court to ban Orkut for hosting the anti-Shivaji community (TOI 1, TOI 2, Rediff 1, Rediff 2, NDTV, Financial Express).

In January 2007, the Maharashtra government requested the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), a Delhi-based regulatory body under the Ministry of Information and Technology, to remove the offensive content. According to the Information Technology Act of 2000 and the gazette notification issued in February 2003, the CERT is responsible for investigating requests to block websites from notified officers of the Union government or the state governments. If it finds the website objectionable, it communicate its decision to the licensing and regulations cell of the department of telecommunications for passing the order to the internet service providers to block the website (Indian Express, Live Mint).

The Shiv Sena also asked its supporters to flag these communities on Orkut, so that they could be banned (Orkut discussion thread 1, Orkut discussion thread 2). This resulted in a flagging war on Orkut, where users who were part of pro-Sena and anti-Sena communities flagged each other’s communities. For a short while, many pro-Sena and anti-Sena communities were banned by Google, but many of them were quickly reinstated (Orkut discussion thread).

The Shiv Sena also sent letters to Google and internet service providers in India to block these communities and even met up with Google officials, along with Maharashtra government and Mumbai police officials.

In January 2007, Google decided to cooperate with the Mumbai police and instituted an informal arrangement called the Priority Reporting Tool which enabled Mumbai police to directly report objectionable content to Google and also ask it for details of IP addresses and service providers. Based on the recommendation of Mumbai Police, Google deleted communities against Shivaji, Bal Thackeray and dalit leader B R Ambedkar (TOI, IHT, Indian Express).

Google usually uses IP blocking to block controversial content only in countries in which it violates local laws and refuses to share the IP addresses of its users (NYT). Under Indian law, if IP addresses of the offenders need to be obtained, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) needs to be involved. So, it’s strange that Google decided to help Mumbai police short-circuit the Indian legal system. Google, by the way, hasn’t really explained why it made an exception in Orkut’s case, when the Indian cyber law already had a process for handling such a situation.

However, even as Google banned some communities that contained defamatory content, it initially refused to ban several other communities that were against Shiv Sena’s leaders or ideologies. As a result, Abhijit Phanse, the president of Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, the student wing of Shiv Sena, took matters in his own hands and led a violent campaign against Orkut.

In May 2007, the Sena sent letters to internet cafes threatening attacks against their establishments, if they didn’t stop their customers from accessing these Orkut communities. In June 2006, it followed up on its threats by ransacking several internet cafes in Mumbai and physically abusing cafe owners and customers. As a result, cyber cafes in Mumbai registered a drop in traffic and were forced to put up notices asking their customers not to visit Orkut.

The Shiv Sena also pressured Mumbai police, which has often been criticized for being partial to the Sena, to support its cause. The police instructed internet cafe owners in Mumbai and Thane to prohibit their customers from accessing Orkut, asked Google to block the controversial communities on Orkut, and even requested CERT-In, to ban Orkut. The Sena also sent a letter to President A P J Abdul Kalam, requesting him to ban Orkut.

The Sena even announced that it was developing a special software that internet service providers could install to block any message containing certain words and phrases such as “I hate” or “I despise”.

These incidents were widely documented in Indian media (see Reuters 1, Rediff 1, Rediff 2, IBN Live, NDTV, Indian Express 1, Indian Express 2, Indian Express 3, Indian Express 4, Indian Express 5, Economic Times, Business Standard 1, Business Standard 2, TOI) and debated in the Indian blogosphere and Orkut community (The Hindu). It’s especially worthwhile to see two opinion pieces by Amit Varma in LiveMint and Sevathi Ninan in The Hindu criticizing these trends.

The news stories don’t give details about CERT’s decision on banning Orkut, or the final settlement between Shiv Sena and Orkut, but several anti-Shiv Sena communities have been banned since then.

The Mumbai and Pune police have also put their arrangement with Google to good use since then.

In September/ October 2007, the Pune police arrested four Bangalore based software engineers — 25 year old Lakshmana Kailash, 23 year old Manjunath Betegowda, 23 year old Harish Shetty and 22 year old Kiran Reddy — for posting an obscene profile of Shivaji on Orkut, in which he was shown clad in female innerwear (Economic Times, TOI). It was later found that the arrest of Lakshmana Kailash, who was detained for 50 days, was based on wrong IP addresses provided by Bharti Airtel (TOI 1, TOI 2, TOI 3, The Hindu, Rediff). Lakshmana then sued Airtel, Maharashtra government and Mumbai police and demanded Rs 20 crore in damages (IBN Live, TOI). The status of his case isn’t clear from the news reports.

In August 2008, the Mumbai Police arrested Ghaziabad based computer engineer Adarsh Sinha for posting death threats against Bal Thackeray using a fake email identity in the name of Faizab Farooqi. They also arrested Mumbai resident Suresh Shetty, a moderator of this community. (TOI)

Shiv Sena isn’t Alone on Orkut

Incidentally, there are similar communities on Orkut against other political parties and political leaders, including “We Hate Congress”, “I Hate Indira Gandhi,” “I Hate Rajshekhar Reddy”, “We hate Pratibha Patil” and “I Hate Deve Gowda” (Business Standard, Rediff, TOI, Mid Day, Salon).

In October 2006, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to issue a notice to Google for hosting a community called ‘We Hate India’ on Orkut, forcing Google to delete the community (TOI, Business Standard, Economics Times).

In March 2007, Google deleted a community that had defamatory content against West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, after Kolkata police asked Mumbai police to help it ban it (Economic Times, The Telegraph).

In May 2008, the Pune police arrested 22 year old Gurgaon based IT professional Rahul Vaid for posting derogatory content about Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi on an Orkut community named “I Hate Sonia Gandhi”. In June 2008, they also arrested 22 year old Hyderabad resident Nithin Sajja for a similar offense. Interestingly, the person who formed this community wasn’t considered guilty as per the law. The police said that “hating Sonia Gandhi is a personal opinion of the person who formed the community and having a personal opinion about someone is not an offense as per the law” (TOI 1), (TOI 2).

The Pune police is also looking for three Uttar Pradesh residents — Rohit Wadhwani, Amit Arya and Ankit Sharma — for posting abusive messages involving Mahatma Gandhi on Orkut (Indian Express).

It’s interesting to note that Mumbai and Pune police is involved in almost all the cases related to defamation of political figures in Orkut communities, even though Google has similar arrangements with police in five Indian cities (Telegraph). One news report says that Pune police itself has arrested 16 people in such incidents (Indian Express). It seems as if there is a war of oneupmanship amongst Shiv Sena and Congress members in Maharashtra to win brownie points with their leaders by pressuring Mumbai and Pune police to pursue these cases.

By the way, the Indian government has also considered banning user generated videos on mobile (MMS) and the web (Economic Times) and the Mumbai police has installed keystroke logging software in cyber cafes to tackle piracy and cyber crime.

Shiv Sena’s Case Against Ajith D

Ajith D, a 19 year computer science student from Kerala, started a community called ‘I Hate Shiv Sena’ on Orkut. One of the anonymous commentators on the website posted a death threat to Bal Thackeray. It seems from news reports the Mumbai police has charged Ajith for both criminal intimidation and hurting religious sentiments.

Mumbai police tracked Ajith’s Orkut and GMail accounts for a week to ascertain his address and sent a team to his hometown in Cherthala, in August 2008, to nab him. However, television channels flashed news of their arrival, helping Ajith to escape and the police team could only confiscate the hard disk of his computer. The team also said that they were observing the Orkut postings and Internet activities of around 50 other members of the community (Hindu).

Subsequently, Ajith got anticipatory bail from Kerala High Court and moved the Supreme Court through counsel Jogy Scaria seeking quashing of the criminal complaint based on the ground that he hadn’t posted the death threat and the community itself wasn’t defamatory. The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice P Sathasivam, however, refused to protect him and said: “if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct.” (TOI) The media has also quoted very vague remarks from the judgment that can be interpreted very loosely: “You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet portals” (TOI); “Anything that is posted on the internet goes to the public” (The Guardian); “If a case is filed in a foreign country go and face it” (The Hindu).

Roundup of Blog Discussions on the Ajith D Case

As I mentioned above, several bloggers have reacted strongly to the Supreme Court judgment, often based on partial information (CXOToday).

Lawyer Lawrence Liang at Kafila writes a detailed post on whether a defamation case should be settled under civil law or criminal law and delineates a history of defamation cases against Indian bloggers. He also makes a pertinent point in the Ajith D case —

When organizations like the Shiv Sena and the Sri Ram Sene start using defamation laws, it smacks of chutzpah to me. The definition of Chutzpah is a person who kills his parents, and then claims clemency on the grounds that he is an orphan. What other way can we describe the bizarre situation of the violence prone macho men, who suddenly run around screaming about the violation of their legal rights and the slurring of their reputation?

Patrix thinks that the Indian legal system is biased against freedom of speech —

As you see, anything under the sun can be categorized as an restriction to your freedom of speech. If I say something innocuous and that leads to couple of weirdos smashing shop windows in the town, all it does to get me into trouble is the weirdos saying that my words made them do it. My freedom of speech will be curtailed under “public order” or “incitement to an offense” restrictions. Shouldn’t actions be punished instead of words?

Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW thinks that the Supreme Court judgement has repercussions for bloggers in all democratic societies —

It’s a good idea for us as individual web users to remember that even as new internet technology sets so much information and so many voices free, even in a celebrated democracy – online freedom may be one repressive legal ruling away from being put at serious risk. No matter where you might live – do you trust that your local judiciary would understand the issues in a case like this? We don’t.

Nikhil Moro from Civic & Citizen Journalism Interest Group thinks that freedom of expression lost a case in India —

Historically India’s courts have accorded a high place for expression in the hierarchy of freedoms, but as Mr. Ajit’s unfortunate affair shows, social media activists should expect the state to use a myriad of laws other than libel.

Sanjukta thinks that the Supreme Court decision is good for Indian blogging —

This would help clean up a lot of #@%$ that goes around the blogsphere, will help us become more responsible and mature writers thereby establishing credibility for bloggers’ opinion and most importantly it would kill the terrible habit of writing all kinds of indecent, uncivilized, abusive things anonymously in the comments thread. This would also compel the blog owner or community discussion board owner to keep the discussion clean and abuse free. It will enforce the dicipline of self regulation on bloggers, isn’t that a great thing to achieve.

2s at Mutiny warns against a simplistic discussion on freedom of expression —

The laws of the land must find better ways to control what is being written or said in a public forum than restricting and threatening bloggers with action. Bloggers in India must together call for what I think is a more mature approach and law towards dealing with public defamatory comments on the internet. Bloggers are, after all, not “public” figures like political leaders are and to judge both by the same yardstick might not necessarily be the best method. Besides, is this restricted to just blog posts? What about comments on these posts? What about tweets?

Pramit Singh believes that the SC judgment shouldn’t scare bloggers in India —

Some might think the days of free-for-all Orkut groups are over. Others will say they are in fear of treading against people with might – the politicians, big business, virtually anyone with an army of lawyers, who, in this case are trying to put fear of appearing in courts for God knows how many times and thus choosing to ‘write wisely’.

However, I have faith in our Justice system. Bloggers are not going to face a million lawsuits in India.

Dhananjay Nene thinks that the Supreme Court’s judgment isn’t a conclusive blow to bloggers’ rights —

One important aspect which is perhaps easy to lose sight of in this debate is that the Supreme Court did not weigh in on the guilt or lack of it in this case, but on the fact that the person could not shy away from the responsibility to face the charges in a court.

Lawyer Praveen Dalal also says that we should not read too much in the Supreme Court’s judgment —

With the Constitutional Protections on the side of Bloggers there must be very strong reasons to book a person for Defamation or disturbing Religious Harmony. The case is before the lower court that is also a fact finding authority. It is only after the lower court comes to a conclusion that we can proceed either to convict or acquit the accused Blogger. The Supreme Court of India did not found reasons to “Quash” the criminal proceeding against the accused and in the absence of the complete facts of the case as well as the copy of the judgment, it is very difficult to judge the correctness or incorrectness of the same. However, in all probability the accused would be either acquitted or released after admonition.

In an email reproduced in Vijay Mohanty‘s post, senior blogger-journalist Prem Panicker also thinks that the Supreme Court verdict is no big deal —

The SC only said that it cannot, suo moto, quash a criminal prosecution.

It did not say the case is well-founded — that is for the court to decide on the basis of existing law.

Conclusion: The Limits to Freedom of Expression in an Intolerant India

As for me, I see the Ajith D case as part of a larger trend, which operates at many levels.

At the very least, we should see this case as part of Mumbai and Pune police’s crusade against inflammatory Orkut communities. Sixteen Orkut users have been arrested in the last two years on charges of criminal intimidation and hurting religious sentiments, and one of them spent 50 days in police custody based on a mistake in identifying an IP address! It’s a serious crusade that will only become more intense in the foreseeable future and it raises several important questions.

To begin with, do we really want to defend a blogger, or a community owner, or a commentator, who has posted death threats against a common citizen or a public figure, or allowed these comments to be posted and then refused to remove them?

Going beyond that, should the Indian legal system apply the same standards for defamation for a common citizen and a public figure, especially a public figure as controversial as Bal Thackeray?

How can we allow a political party like Shiv Sena, which has set unprecedented standards in inflammatory religious speech (and violent action to back it up), to complain about blog posts or community comments hurting religious sentiments?

And, finally, given Google’s willingness to short-circuit the Indian legal system and share Orkut and GMail personal data with Mumbai and Pune police, how comfortable should we feel in building our entire online presence on Google’s services?

At another level, we should see this case as part of a trend, in India and in democratic countries internationally, where traditional institutions are fighting back against the internet and trying to limit its freedoms.
Barkha Dutt and NDTV threatening to sue blogger Chetan Kunte for defamation is a part of this trend. Shri Ram Sena beating up women in a Mangalore pub and then threatening to sue the organizers of the Pink Chaddi Campaign is a part of this trend. US senators refusing to believe that child predators aren’t a big threat on the internet is part of this trend. US, UK, Australian and Indian governments introducing tough censorship and cyber crime laws are also a part of this trend.

All these actions, individually and collectively, curtail our personal and public freedoms and also our ability to fight for these freedoms. By threatening to sue a blogger, rightly or wrongly, NDTV has curtailed Indian media’s ability to question violations of freedom of speech in India. Similarly, by closing down the internet in their own countries, US, UK, Australia and India have curtailed their ability to question violations of freedom of speech in Iran or China.

So, what happens in the case of Ajith D is important in itself, but it is also important as part of what’s happening with the internet itself. It’s critical that we force ourselves to open our eyes and see the bigger picture before it’s too late.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Censorship,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Privacy,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Feb 26 2009

Ben’s Status Update

by at 4:31 pm

Hi, I’ve not gone missing.  I am working on my research paper, incorporating my model from earlier this year.  I’ve finished the paper for the most part but need to add citations and put on a sleek finish.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner

Feb 25 2009

Hindi Blogosphere’s Reactions to the Pink Chaddi Campaign Show the Divide Between Bharat and India

by at 11:51 pm

As I wrote my analysis of the Valentine’s Day Pink Chaddi Campaign, I realized that it only appealed to the small minority of well-to-do, urban, English-speaking men and women in India who are amused by the irony of a woman being called ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward’ in the same sentence. It also self-consciously distanced itself from the Indian mainstream which still wants its Bollywood heroines to be virginal and associates ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women’ with the Bollywood vamps of yesteryears. The choice of sending pink panties to Shri Ram Sena further reinforced this self-consciously us versus them positioning.

I had earlier done a roundup of the discussions on the Pink Chaddi Campaign in the English language news media and the English blogosphere in India. To prove my hypothesis, I decided to test the limits of my Hindi and do a roundup of the discussions on the Pink Chaddi Campaign in the Hindi language news media and the Hindi blogosphere in India. I haven’t been able to search for Hindi news stories on the campaign, but the discussion on Hindi blogs did support my hypothesis.

In the English blogosphere in India, the discussion was dominated by supporters of the campaign who went on the offensive, while the detractors were mostly reacting to them. The discussion here was dominated by outrage against the Shri Ram Sena and appreciation of the campaign’s creativity.

In the Hindi blogosphere, the roles were reversed. Detractors of the Pink Chaddi Campaign were on the offensive here, forcing the supporters of the campaign on the defensive. The discussion here was dominated by the irrelevance and indignity of the campaign and the shamelessness of the women supporting it.

Suresh Chiplunkar and Sarthi set the tone for the discussion with strong posts against the campaign.

Sarthi emerged as one of the strongest critics of the Pink Chaddi campaign and wrote a series of posts to support his perspective —

कुछ लोगों ने अभियान चला दिया है कि तीव्रवादियों को गुलाबी चड्डियां भेजी जायें, वह भी चड्डी का मर्दाना नहीं नारियाना वेराईटी. सवाल यह है कि जिस देश में चोलीजांघिये का सरे आम प्रदर्शन करना भद्र लोगों के लिये अच्छा नहीं समझा जाता वहां ये लोग नवजवानों को क्या सिखा रहे हैं.

गुलाबी (या किसी और रंग की) चड्डियां भेजने से समाज का कोई फायदा नहीं होगा, न ही स्त्रियों को सामूहिक तौर पर को शराब पीने की आजादी मिल जायेगी, लेकिन मूर्खों द्वारा इस अभियान के लिये लाखों नारियाना अधोवस्त्र खरीदे जाने से चड्डी के निर्माता जरूर तर जायेंगे. क्या मालूम कहीं यह चड्डी-आंदोलन उन में से ही किसी की करतूत तो नहीं है? (link)

Some people have started a campaign to send pink underwear to the radicals, and that too of the female, not the male, variety. The question is: in a country where public display of undergarments is not considered right for decent people, what are these people trying to teach the youngsters?

Sending pink panties won’t help the society, nor will women get the freedom to drink alcohol, but the foolish people who will buy women’s undergarments for this campaign will certainly help the manufacturers of panties. Is it possible that they are responsible for the panty campaign? (link)

मामले को समझने के लिये सबसे पहले तो आलोच्य चिट्ठे के नाम और उस के भावार्थ को जरा देख लें. वे खुद साफ साफ बता रही हैं कि यह चिट्ठा “शराबखानों को आबाद करने वाली, नैतिकता को तिलांजली देने वाली चालू (या छिछोरी)” स्त्रियों का चिट्ठा है एवं इसे अपने इस जीवनशैली को एक प्रगतिशील कदम मानते हैं.

जो जनानियां अपने चिट्ठे पर अपने आप को चालू या छिछोरी बता रही हैं और जो जनानियां लोगों से पराये पुरुषों को अपने जांघिये भिजवा रही हैं, संस्कृति का संरक्षण तो उनके हाथ कतई भी नहीं छोडा जा सकता है क्योंकि इन लोगों का मिशन सिर्फ तब पूरा होगा जब जब हिन्दुस्तान की हर स्त्री इनके समान ही “प्रगतिवादी” और छिछोरी चिंतन की न हो जायें.

हमारी मां, बेटी, बहुओं को इस “प्रगतिवाद” की जरूरत नहीं है!! उनके अधोवस्त्र जहां रहने चाहिये वहीं रहेंगे. सभ्य परिवारों में ये नुमाइश की चीजें नहीं हैं — अत: न तो उनकी नुमाइश होगी, न ही पराये पुरुषों को भेजे जायेंगे. (link)

To understand this issue you should first look at the name of the blog in question and its meaning. They are saying themselves that the blog is for women who frequent pubs and have let go of their characters. And, yet, they consider their lifestyle a progressive step.

Those women who are calling themselves loose and characterless on their blog and asking women to send their panties to unknown men will consider themselves successful only when every woman in India becomes “progressive” and characterless like them. We can’t leave our culture in their hands.

Our mothers, daughters and daughters-in-law don’t need this “progressiveness”! Their undergarments will stay where they ought to stay. They will neither be displayed nor sent to unknown men. (link)

पढेलिखे परिवारों के वे जवान लोग जो नियमित रूप से सिर्फ छिछोरे किस्म के अंग्रेजी पिक्चर देखते हैं या जो सिर्फ छिछोरे किस्म के अंग्रेजी उपन्यास पढते हैं उनके मनों/जीवनों में उभरते नैतिक छिछोरेपन को देख लीजिये, सच्चाई समझ जायेंगे. सवाल स्त्रीविरोध/पुरुषविरोध का नहीं, बल्कि नैतिक छिछोरेपन के विरोध का है. (link)

Young people from educated families who regularly watch only characterless English films or read only characterless English novels, you should see the emerging characterless nature of their minds and lives, and you’ll understand the truth. The question is not of protesting against men or women, but protesting against moral bankruptcy. (link)

Suresh Chiplunkar speculated on the reasons behind the campaign —

यदि इस मुहिम को “तहलका” का समर्थन हासिल है तब तो यह विशुद्ध रूप से एक राजनैतिक अभियान है, क्योंकि तहलका की विश्वसनीयता और उसकी निष्पक्षता पहले से ही सन्देह के घेरे में है। “वेलेन्टाइन डे के दिन पब-बार को भर दो” का आव्हान तो निश्चित रूप से दारू कम्पनियों द्वारा प्रायोजित लगता है (क्योंकि पैसे के लिये इस प्रकार की पत्रकार कुछ भी कर सकते हैं) और यदि यह मुहिम निशाजी ने स्वयंस्फ़ूर्त ढंग से पैदा किया है तब तो इनकी मानसिक कंगाली पर तरस ही किया जा सकता है।

यदि प्रमोद मुतालिक इन सभी चड्डियों के साथ चिठ्ठी लगाकर वापस भेजें कि “…कल शायद पब में आप नशे में अपनी गुलाबी चड्डी वहीं भूल गई थीं और इसे गलती से मेरे पास भेज दिया गया है, कृपया वापस ले लीजिये…” तो क्या इसे अश्लीलता समझा जायेगा?

If this campaign has Tehelka’s support, then this is undoubtedly a political campaign, because Tehelka’s reliability and impartiality are anyways suspicious. The call to fill the pubs on Valentine’s Day is undoubtedly sponsored by liquor companies (because such journalists can do anything for money), and if Nisha has started this campaign on her own, then we can only pity her mental bankruptcy.

If Pramod Mutalik were to return these panties with a note — it seems that you left behind your panties in the pub last night, in your inebriated state, and they have been sent to me by mistake, please take them back — would it be considered indecent?

Sareetha pointed out that the Pink Chaddi Campaign is a symptom of the divide between ‘Bharat’ and India —

एक ज़माना वो भी था जब सरेआम चड्डियां तार पर सुखाने पर भी पाबंदी थी । लेकिन अब दौर आज़ादी का हैं । लोग खाकी चड्डी से गुलाबी चड्डी तक पर विचार – विमर्श करने से नहीं चूक रहे ।

वास्तव में ये भारत बनाम इंडिया का मसला है । वहां चड्डियां छिपाई जाती हैं यहां चड्डियां दिखाई जाती हैं। गनीमत समझो श्रीराम सेना वालों , जो इन आंदोलनकारियों की बुद्धि भगवान ने फ़ेर दी और आप सबकी इज़्ज़त धूल में मिलने से बच गई । हो सकता था ये लोग गुलाबी चड्डियां गिफ़्ट करने की बजाय खुद धारण कर विरोध जुलूस निकालने पर आमादा हो जाती और विभिन्न सेनाओं के बांकुरों के सामने आ धमकतीं। तब क्या होता??????

There was a time when it was considered wrong to even put out your panties to dry, after washing them. But now, it’s an era of freedom. People aren’t hesitating from discussing everything from khaki shorts to pink panties.

In reality, it’s a question of ‘Bharat’ versus India. In one, panties are hidden; in another, they are displayed. Shri Ram Sena should be glad that their reputation is saved. What if, instead of gifting pink panties, these women had decided to wear them in protest marches in front of the Shri Ram Sena cadre! What would have happened then?

Anil Pusadkar argued that India has far more important issue to tackle than the game of Pink Chaddis —

उस देश मे जहां, आज भी बेरोज़गारी, भुखमरी, गरीबी, अशिक्षा, जैसी गम्भीर समस्या सुरसा की तरह विकराल रुप मे मौज़ूद है,वहां एक विदेशी त्योहार के नाम पर चडडी पहनाने और उतारने का खेल(इसे खेल नही तो और क्या कहा जा सकता है)खेलने मे सारा देश भीड़ गया है।टीवी देखो तो ऐसा लगता है इससे बड़ी इस देश मे कोई समस्या ही नही है।मै तो बस चडडी बांटने और उतारने मे लगे तमाम डिज़ायनर चड्डीधारियों से ये आग्रह करना चाहूंगा कि वे अपने आस-पास भी नज़र दौड़ाए उन्हे बहुत से लोग फ़टी लंगोटी वाले नज़र आएंगे।चड्डी देना ही है तो उनकी मदद करिए शायद आपका दान सही ज़रुरतमंद के काम आ जाए।

In a country where serious issues like unemployment, starvation, poverty and illiteracy seem insurmountable, the entire country has become engaged in the game (because if its not a game, then what is it) of wearing and removing panties, in the name of a foreign festival. If you watch TV, it seems that there isn’t any bigger problem in the country. I’ll only request the designer underwear wearers engaged in wearing and removing panties to look around them and see the many people who are wearing torn singlets. If you must give away your underwear, you should help them, so that your donation may be of some use to the needy.

Tanmay tried to make sense of the protests but didn’t find it relevant to mainstream India —

क्रिया और प्रतिक्रिया के फलस्वरूप होने वाले विरोध में पहले ये जानना ज्यादा जरूरी हो जाता है कि विरोध किया किस बात का जा रहा था। जो चड्डियाँ भेजी जा रही हैं वो किसके विरोध में भेजी जा रही हैं लड़कियों या महिलाओं पर हाथ उठाया गया, उनके साथ मारपीट की गयी इस बात पर या फिर इस बात पर कि लड़कियों को पब में पीने से रोका गया। इस पुरूषवादी समाज में महिलाओं के साथ इस तरह की मारपीट पहली बार नही हुई है, इससे पहले कई मर्तबा हो चुकी है लेकिन कभी उस जोर शोर से हल्ला नही मचाया गया जैसा इस वक्त। और अगर विरोध इस बात पर है कि महिलाओं को पब में क्यों नही पीने दिया गया? तो… पब में जाने वाले क्या लड़के लड़कियाँ समाज के कितने प्रतिशत लोगों का प्रतिनिध्त्व करते हैं। मुश्किल से शायद १५ प्रतिशत या उससे भी कम।

In the midst of these protests and counter-protests, it’s important to understand what we are protesting against. The panties that are being sent, what are they being sent in protest of: the fact that women were beaten up or the fact that women were stopped from drinking in pubs. In this masculine society, this is not the first time violence against women has happened. It has happened many times before and no one has raised their voices against it like this time. And if the protest is against women not being allowed to drink in pubs, what percentage of the society is represented by the men and women who frequent pubs? Hardly 15% and perhaps even less.

Ashish argued that the Pink Chaddi campaign will benefit Nisha Susan and Pramod Mutalik but not solve any problems —

इस आन्दोलन के समर्थकों को एक बार अवश्य सोचना चाहिए कि इससे मीडिया-मुतालिक-पब और चड्डी क्वीन बनी निशा सूसन को फायदा होने वाला है. आम आदमी को इसका क्या लाभ? मीडिया को टी आर पी मिल रही है. मुतालिक का गली छाप श्री राम सेना आज मीडिया और चड्डी वालियों की कृपा से अंतरराष्ट्रीय ख्याति प्राप्त सेना बन चुकी है. अब इस नाम की बदौलत उनके दूसरे धंधे खूब चमकेंगे और हो सकता है- इस (अ) लोकप्रियता की वजह से कल वह आम सभा चुनाव में चुन भी लिया जाए. चड्डी वालियों को समझना चाहिए की वह नाम कमाने के चक्कर में इस अभियान से मुतालिक का नुक्सान नहीं फायदा कर रहीं हैं.

The supporters of this campaign must realize that it will only benefit media-Mutalik-pub and panty queen Nisha Susan. What is the benefit to the common man? Media is getting higher TRPs. Mutalik’s roadside Shri Ram Sena, thanks to media and the panty women, is now known internationally. They’ll use this notoriety to their benefit and, who know, might even win an election as a result of it. The panty women need to understand that, in their pursuit of fame, they are helping, not harming, Mutalik.

Shankar Phulara wrote a sarcastic poem on why the campaign is misguided and pointed out that the Shri Ram Sena cadre are still walking with their heads held high, instead of lowering them in shame.

Even though many Hindi bloggers supported the Pink Chaddi Campaign, they did it half-heartedly, in reaction to the accusations from Sarthi and Suresh.

Atul Chaurasia, who is Nisha Susan’s colleague at Tehelka, supported the Pink Chaddi campaign (also see) —

शायद निशा के अभियान को आप ठीक से समझ नहीं सके हैं. उसने पहले ही साफ कर दिया था कि वैलेंटाइन डे से उसका कोई लेना-देना नहीं है, न ही वो उसकी समर्थक या बैरी है. उसका विरोध सिर्फ श्रीराम सेना के तरीके, उनकी स्वयंभू ठेकेदारी, दूसरों की व्यक्तिगत आजादी का फैसला कोई तीसरा करे जैसे कुछ बेहद मूल मसलों से है.

एक बेहद मौजू सवाल है कभी शांति से दो मिनट मिले तो विचार कीजिएगा. यदि अपकी पुत्री, पत्नी या बहन भरे बाजार इन मतिहीनों का शिकार हो जाने के बाद भी आपकी प्रतिक्रिया क्या यही रहेगी? किसी को भी किसी महिला से ज्यादती करने का अधिकार सिर्फ संस्कृति रक्षा के आडंबर तले दिया जा सकता है क्या? उत्तर शायद नकारात्मक आए.

It seems that you don’t understand Nisha’s campaign. she has already said that it’s not about Valentine’s Day, and she neither supports nor opposes it. Her protest is about basic issues like Shri Ram Sena self-appointing themselves as the custodians of Indian culture and encroaching into our personal freedoms.

Here’s another question you should think about when you have two minutes. If your own daughter, wife or sister were victims of these misguided miscreants, would you have reacted in the same way? Should anyone be allowed to take liberties with any women under the guise of protecting our culture? Maybe, you’ll answer in the negative.

Other bloggers also countered the points raised by the campaign’s detractors using similar arguments.

जो समाज जितना बन्द होगा और जिस समाज मे जितनी ज़्यादा विसंगतियाँ पाई जाएंगी वहाँ विरोध के तरीके और रूप भी उतने ही अतिवादी रूप मे सामने आएंगे।सूसन के यहाँ अश्लील कुछ नही, लेकिन टिप्पणियों मे जो भद्र जन सूसन पर व्यक्तिगत आक्षेप कर रहे हैं वे निश्चित ही अश्लील हैं। (Sujata)

The more closed and warped a society is the more extreme the protests will be. Susan isn’t doing anything indecent, but the men who are throwing personal allegations at Susan are indeed indecent. (Sujata)

जिस समाज में पुरुषत्व बहुत् गहराई तक रचा बसा हुआ हो उस समाज को झंकझोरने के लिए अपनाए जाने तरीके सतही हों तो काम नहीं चलेगा ! जिस समाज में स्त्री -पुरुष की अवस्थिति बाइनरी ऑपोज़िट्स की तरह हो उस समाज में स्त्री और पुरुष द्वारा अपनाए गए विरोध के तरीके समान हों यह कैसे हो सकता है ! (
Neelima)

A society that is seeped in masculinity can only be shaken by unconventional forms of protests. A society in which the situation of men and women is binary opposites, men and women cannot use the same forms of protests. (Neelima)

उस स्थिति मे विरोध का जो भी तरीका हो वों चुप रहने से बेहतर है। और विरोध के तरीके भी कोई सन्दर्भ रहित नही होते। एक अति दूसरी अति को जन्म देगी ये निश्चित है। पर विरोध के तरीके को ग़लत बताने वाले अपने घरो मे दुबक कर क्यो बैठ जाते है, जब राम सेना के विरोध की बारी आती है? क्यों नही इससे ज़्यादा रचनात्मक तरीका ढूंढते है, अपने लोकतंत्र को बचाने का ?
(Swapnadarshi)

In this context, any form of protest is better than keeping quiet. No protest is devoid of context. One excess gives birth to another excess. Why do those who oppose this form of protest stay in their houses when it comes to opposing Shri Ram Sena? Why don’t they think of more creative ways to save our democracy? (Swapnadarshi)

नारी के अंग वस्त्र का प्रदर्शन , यानी भारतीये संस्कृति ख़तम । यानी भारतीये संस्कृति टिकी हैं नारी के अन्ग्वास्त्रो के सहारे ।
(Rachna)

If a woman’s undergarments are revealed, it’s the end of Indian civilization! It means that Indian civilization is held up by women’s undergarments!
(Rachna)

चलिए हम पिंक चड्ढी वालों के विरोध के तरीके का विरोध करें। क्योंकि उनका तरीका संस्कृति के रक्षकों से अधिक खतरनाक है। हम यह ना देखें कि वे अपने वस्त्र उतारकर देने को नहीं कह रहीं, बाजार से नई या फिर अपनी अलमारी से पुरानी भेजने को कह रही हैं। वे इसे क्यों कर रही हैं यह समझने में सोचना पड़ता है, उन्हें समझना पड़ता है, उनके स्थान पर स्वयं को रखकर देखना पड़ता है। यह सोचना पड़ता है कि यदि मैं युवा होती, स्त्री होती तो ये सब परिस्थितियाँ मुझे कैसी लगतीं। वे केवल और केवल एक काम कर रही हैं, इस हास्यास्पद तरीके से कट्टरपंथियों को हास्यास्पद बना रही हैं। हाँ, शायद उन्होंने जानबूझकर इसे ऐसा बनाया ताकि लोगों का ध्यान आकर्शित कर सकें। परन्तु नहीं, वे अधिक खतरनाक हैं। (Ghughuti Basuti)

Let’s protest against the means of protest of the Pink Chaddi Campaign. Because their means are more dangerous than the self-apponited custodians of our culture. To understand why they are doing it, we need to think, we need to understand them, we need to put ourselves in their place. We need to think how I would have felt about the situation if I was young, if I was a woman. They are doing one and only one thing. By using these laughable means they are making the conservatives laughable. Yes, maybe, they deliberately made it so, to attract attention from people. But, no, they are more dangerous. (Ghughuti Basuti)

मुतालिक और इस किस्‍म की तमाम सेनाएं देश के अस्तित्‍व मात्र के लिए भयानक खतरा हैं जिनका हर कदम पर दमभर विरोध होना चाहिए। जिन्‍हें एक तरीके का विरोध पसंद नहीं वे दूसरे तरीके से कर लें लेकिन अपनी ऊर्जा विरोध का विरोध करने की बजाए इन मुतालिकों के विरोध में लगाएं, तथा वे जो खुद इसी सेनाई मानसिकता से हैं वे भी सामने आकर अपनी बात रखें इस उस चड्डी के बहाने छिपकर वार न करें। (
Masijeevi
)

Mutalik and other forces like him are serious threats to the country and need to be ferociously challenged. Those who do not like one form of protest may protest in another way, but they shouldn’t waste their energy protesting the protest, instead of protesting against the Mutaliks. Those who agree with these forces should come out and put forth their arguments and not wage a war on the pretext of criticizing the Chaddi campaign. (
Masijeevi
)

Here are a few other posts on the Pink Chaddi Campaign in other Indian regional languages: Mathavaraj, Neelanjala, ePathram, and Govikannan. I’ll be grateful if the writers, or someone who knows the language, will leave a comment to share the gist of the posts.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Feb 25 2009

Three Lessons Activists and Marketers Can Learn From India’s Valentine’s Day Pink Panty Campaign

by at 3:57 pm

Introduction: The Pink Chaddi Campaign as a case study of online citizen activism in India.

Last week, I wrote a longish roundup of the discussions in Indian mainstream and participatory media around the controversial Pink Chaddi Campaign.

The Pink Chaddi Campaign

Briefly, journalist Nisha Susan set up The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook and urged women to gift pink panties to Pramod Mutalik, the head of the ultra-conservative Hindu group Shri Ram Sena, in order to shame him into backing down from his threats to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations.

The campaign has become one of the best Indian examples of how a grassroots community can come together, collaborate and take collective action using social media tools.

I have written before that managing collaboration in an online community is a cloud problem (irregular and unpredictable) rather than a clock problem.

We know the boundary conditions which are necessary for a vibrant community, but we also know that these conditions are not sufficient. So, most social media “initiatives” are trial and error affairs. Most websites fail to become vibrant communities. Most communities fail to collaborate towards a shared objective. Most collaboration fails to produce collective action. Most collective action fails to achieve the desired results.

So, instead of a how-to checklist, we have case studies of one-off success stories. But these one-off success stories are important because they help us get a sense of the boundary conditions which are necessary for effective collaboration and collective action in online communities.

In this post, I’ll outline three lessons that activists and marketers can learn from the Pink Chaddi Campaign.

Lesson 1: Build your campaign around the zeitgeist, or the social, cultural and political ethos of your identified target group. Then, give it a humorous or irreverent tweak to help it stick.

The Pink Chaddi Campaign tapped into the nationwide outrage against Shri Ram Sena after its activists beat up a group of young women in a Mangalore pub, claiming that the women were violating traditional Indian values by wearing Western clothes and drinking alcohol with men (Wikipedia).

It’s important to note, however, that this outrage was mostly limited to a small but increasingly vocal section of Indian society: young men and women in urban India, who are isolated from the harsh realities of the rest of India by a lucky combination of family background, education, and work.

We come from liberal families (or have broken away from family ties), speak English as our first language, often work in the new economy sectors of media, entertainment and technology, and spend our free time socializing with friends and strangers on online communities and in neighborhood shopping malls. We believe in personal freedom and even libertarianism but don’t really consider ourselves particularly Westernized (because all our friends are like us).

We know that our parents, or at least some of our friends’ parents, don’t really understand the appeal of hanging out in cafes and pubs. We also know that they actively dislike the idea of dating, premarital sex and love marriages, especially if it involves their daughter.

We know that even the most liberal Indian politicians are closet conservatives, and many Indian politicians are illiterate goons. Sometimes, we read stories of women being raped, burned or killed in villages because they had an affair with someone from another caste and feel ashamed of our country.

But we close our eyes and tell ourselves that the shining emergent India we know is not the same as the dark shameful India of illiterates, bigots and goons. Then, Mumbai happens, or Mangalore happens, and the world as we know it, with its clearcut boundaries between us and them, collapses around us.

With its unconventional choice of name, The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook self-consciously appealed to this strong sense of us versus them. It reached out to the small minority of men and women in India who are amused by the irony of a woman being called ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward’ in the same sentence. It also self-consciously distanced itself from the Indian mainstream which still wants its Bollywood heroines to be virginal and associates ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women’ with the Bollywood vamps of yesteryears.

The choice of sending pink panties to Shri Ram Sena further reinforced this self-consciously ironical positioning. Chaddi means ‘underwear’ in several Indian languages, but combined with the choice of colour — pink — it essentially means pink panties.

When asked why she had chosen the pink panty as the focal point of her protest, Nisha Susan couldn’t come up with a clear answer. Sometimes, she said that it was a reference to the khaki-shorts-wearing RSS cadres who are often derisively called “chaddi wallahs” (underwear wearers). Sometimes, she said that she chose pink because it is a frivolous colour. Sometimes, she chose to highlight the feminism of pink against the machismo of saffron, the Sangh Parivar’s colour of choice. She also mentioned that the gift of pink panties was a gift of love, in the Valentine’s Day tradition, meant to shame Shri Ram Sena into backing down from its threats to disrupt Valentine’s day celebrations. Some participants in the campaign even suggested that the act of sending pink panties was an assertion that Indian women are ready to put aside their sense of shame and fight for their rights.

I think all these interpretations are correct, but, at the core of the campaign was the idea of inverting the sense of shame. The Shri Ram Sena wanted to shame Indian women into submission. The gift of pink panties didn’t only serve as an ironical act of defiance (“we won’t be shamed”) but also struck at their own sense of maleness (“you should be ashamed”). That’s why gifting pink panties was a better symbol than gifting bangles, which symbolizes “you should be ashamed”, but not “we won’t be shamed”.

Consciously or unconsciously, Nisha Susan had designed the perfect viral campaign. The pink chaddi campaign was not only relevant for its target audience, it was also funny and irreverent. An ironical inside joke is often the perfect viral hook, just ask the hipsters.

Lesson 2: Build virality into your campaign. Choose a compelling message that users want to share. Then, use a platform that makes it easy for them to share the message.

In the last section, I have explained why gifting pink panties on the Valentine’s Day was the perfect symbol for the protest against Shri Ram Sena. But a great viral idea,in itself, isn’t enough. It also needs to be packaged into a compelling and easy to share message. That’s where the brilliantly designed Pink Chaddi Campaign Poster comes in.

Nisha had first designed the poster herself by photoshopping an image of an RSS chaddiwala —

The Original Pink Chaddi Poster

However, she realized that she didn’t want to specifically target the RSS and asked her designer friend to redesign the poster. The rest, as they say, is history.

I would argue that it was the poster that helped the Pink Chaddi campaign go viral, in India and internationally. It was simple both in its design and its symbolism. Take a retro Hindu calendar with an Om, replace the Om with a pink panty, add some retro fonts and you have the perfect poster that triggers Bollywood, Hindutva, and irrevenece at the same time. More than three-fourths of the posts that linked to the Pink Chaddi Campaign blog also displayed the poster.

The choice of Facebook, instead of Orkut, as the social networking platform was also symbolic of the self-conscious us versus them positioning. Almost two third of active internet users in India use Orkut, whereas Facebook is primarily used by a more metro-centered elite crowd, who are often introduced to it by friends in US universities. For highest reach, the campaign should have been present on both Orkut and Facebook (like its rival The Pink Condom Campaign), but it strengthened its us versus them positioning by exclusively focusing on Facebook.

Facebook is also the perfect viral platform, with its hyperactive news feed. Every time an user joined The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook, an announcement showed up in the news feeds of all their friends. Members could also actively invite their friends to join the group, and given that I got half a dozen invites myself, many members did use the invite feature.

The campaign also asked group members to share pictures of themselves with the pink panties they were gifting, and many did, both on the Facebook group and on their own blogs. This was an explicit viral element that also helped the campaign gain traction.

Assuming that the average group member has 200 friends (a conservative number), up to 10 million facebook users were exposed to the campaign. Even if we factor in a high degree of duplication in the friend lists of members, it will be safe to say that millions of Facebook users saw the campaign in their news feeds.

Lesson 3: Design your campaign to translate online engagement into offline action. Use modularity and granularity to make it easy to take collective action by breaking it down into smaller individual actions that can be taken independently.

The Pink Chaddi campaign was also designed to trigger offline action, gifting pink panties to Shri Ram Sena on Valentine’s Day. Finally, almost 2000 panties were sent to Shri Ram Sena, against a target of 5000.

I think that the campaign was able to drive offline action, because it made the action both modular and granular. It broke down the task of sending 5000 pink panties to Shri Ram Sena into smaller individual tasks and it made the individual tasks really small: send one panty to the Sena.

The address of Sena’s Hubli office was shared prominently on all campaign messaging and supporters were encouraged to directly mail panties to the address. Alternatively, panties could also be dropped at designated collection centers, but the collection centers were quickly overwhelmed with the demands put on them.

Compare this to the difficulties of organizing a protest march at a specific time and place, a traditional model of protest that doesn’t benefit from the possibility of organizing collective online actions that consist of aggregated modular and granular individual tasks.

Finally, Nisha Susan displayed great media savvy by holding a series of press conferences to publicize the campaign. Nisha is a journalist herself with Tehelka and realizes that “participatory media is most effective when it is able to push up important stories into the legacy news media.” Media attention is part of the reason why the Indian blogosphere’s protests in the 2005 TOI-Mediaah! and the 2009 NDTV-Kunte cases were limited to online chest-thumping while the 2005 anti-IIPM campaign and now the Pink Chaddi campaign resulted in successful offline action.

The three elements aren’t unique to the Pink Chaddi Campaign. For instance, the same three elements also led to the success of President Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign. The campaign tapped into the US citizens’ frustration with the Bush administration and their desire for real change. The campaign did a great job of creating a compelling message around the theme of change and Obama’s African American background itself acted as the viral tweak. The campaign also created MyBarackObama as a community for its supporters and enabled them to collaborate with each other to bring their shared vision to life. Finally, the campaign developed tools that made clever use of modulaity and granularity to agrregate small individual actions like giving a small donation, writing a blog post, organizing a local event, or making get-out-the-vote calls, into a well-coordinated campaign.

Conclusion: Questions in the aftermath of the Pink Chaddi Campaign.

There are many unanswered question at the end of the Pink Chaddi Campaign.

The first question is: was the campaign really successful?

The answer is the universally unsatisfactory “it depends”. The campaign was undoubtedly successful in terms of creating reach and engagement but it’s not sure if it brought about any real change.

Let’s talk about reach first. More than 50000 users joined the campaign group on Facebook. More than 300 blogs linked to the campaign blog. More than 150 news stories mentioned the campaign. These are unusually high numbers for a grassroots online campaign in India. At the same time, the media attention also helped Shri Ram Sena and brought its leader Pramod Mutalik into national limelight (Zubin Driver at IBN Live and D P Satish at IBNLive).

In terms of engagement, the campaign generated interest amongst both men and women both in India and internationally. It also started a serious debate in both mainstream and participatory media over who gets to define Indian culture. At the same time, we must remember that the debate was limited to a small minority of Indian elites. I don’t think that the campaign changed the views of the Indian mainstream and it might even have alienated them — and I’m talking about the educated, urban Indian mainstream here, not villagers in Eastern Uttar Pradesh (Sagarika Ghose at The Hindustan Times and Swapan Dasgupta at TOI).

Finally, in terms of impact, the campaign did mobilize significant offline action. Getting Indian women to send 2000 pink panties to Shri Ram Sena is no small achievement. The public debate around the campaign also forced Shri Ram Sena to back down on its threats of disrupting Valentine’s day celebrations. However, as many observers have pointed out, the campaign didn’t really change anything. Public opinion on Shri Ram Sena is still divided in India and most of its leaders are unlikely to be punished by law.

The second question is: what happens now that Valentine’s Day is over?

We have seen before that successful online citizen activism movements that are organized around an event often fail to keep the momentum going once the event is over. I have written before about Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement Facebook Group which floundered after its original purpose was served.

Nisha Susan is trying to maintain the momentum of the group by asking them to stake a claim for our shared culture by creating one minute videos about what Indian culture means to each one of us. It looks like a plan the might work, but only time will tell.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Feb 19 2009

The Valentines Day Pink Chaddi Campaign: Indian Pubgoing Women Vs. Shri Ram Sena

by at 1:11 am

The Pink Chaddi Campaign — organized on Valentines Day by The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women to protest against the right wing Hindu group Shri Ram Sena — has become one of the best Indian examples of how a grassroots community can come together, collaborate and take collective action using social media tools.

It all started on January 24th when a group of 40 activists of the Shri Ram Sena (also spelled as Sri Ram Sena, Shri Rama Sena, Sri Rama Sena, Sri Ram Sene, Shri Ram Sene and Sriram Sena) barged into a Mangalore pub and beat up a group of young women and men, claiming that the women were violating traditional Indian values by wearing Western clothes and drinking alcohol with men (Wikipedia). The video of the incident was repeatedly shown on Indian TV channels and widely shared online and became the focal point of a nationwide outrage against the incident (Global Voices) —

However, the incident evoked mixed reactions. Even as most people denounced the incident, and some even called it the “Talibanisation of India” and “Hindu Talibanism”, many prominent politicians suggested that condemning the incident isn’t the same as condoning “pub culture” and “the Westernization of Indian youth”. Some politicians, and even the National Commission for Women, condemned “the loosening of moral standards amongst young women” and called for controls on pub licenses and alcohol consumption in public (NYT, Reuters 1, Reuters 2, India Today).

Shri Ram Sena chief Pramod Mutalik was unrepentant and vowed, on May 4th, to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations in Karnataka, calling it an “international Christian conspiracy against Indian culture”. He also threatened to force unmarried couples found together on Valentine’s Day to get married unless they agreed to tie rakhis on their wrists signifying that they are brother and sister (IBNLive, India Today and The Telegraph). Another Sangh Parivar member Bajrang Dal also threatened similar actions (Indian Express). These Valentine’s Day disruptions, often led by Hindu nationalist parties like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have become common in India over the last decade (BBC).

One organization responded to these threats by calling for pepper-spray squads to protect couples on Valentine’s Day while another organization promised to deploy teams of taekwando experts to blacken the faces of miscreants with shoe polish (Times Online).

Nisha Susan, a journalist, set up The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook and mobilized the protests around the Pink Chaddi Campaign (chaddi is a Hindi word for underwear) —

The Pink Chaddi Campaign

The Pink Chaddi Campaign kicked off on February 5th with the objective of sending 5000 pink underwears to Shri Ram Sena in order to shame them. Using Facebook and feminist blogs, Nisha urged women to mail new or old pink underwear to Pramod Muthalik, or drop them at collection points. She also urged group members to share pictures of the pink underwear they were giving, in order to inspire other women. The group decided to use “chaddi” as the focal point because the khaki-shorts-wearing RSS cadres are often derisively called “chaddi wallahs” (chaddi wearers).

Soon, other Indian and international blogs picked up the story. More than 270 blogs have linked to the campaign blog as per Technorati and the “Pink Chaddi” search feed on Twitter is still active. The Facebook group has also been a runaway success. As of now, it has more than 48,000 members and a vibrant community with more than 350 discussion topics and more than 6750 wall posts.

The campaign also supported the Pub Bharo (fill the pubs) campaign proposed by the Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Renuka Choudhury, which encouraged women to visit a pub on Valentine’s Day to show support for the victims of the Mangalore pub violence (TOI and Mid-Day). The Facebook group run by her daughter Tejaswini Choudhury has 4200 members as of now.

Another Facebook group that wants to celebrate March 1st as World Kamastutra Day has 2300 members.

Yet another Facebook group that wants to “Send Pramod Muthalik a Valentine’s Day Card” has 1300 members (TOI).

There is also a Hug Karo campaign asking people to hug each other on Valentine’s Day (see DesiCritics), that is similar to the global Free Hugs campaign.

A group of “ordinary Hindus, who don’t bark on television channels to defend our faith, but definitely get hurt when some people bark against our faith”, started The Pink Condom Campaign to protest against the “sickular Pink Chaddi walas” (Indian Express and DNA). The group behind the campaign — “The Self-respecting Hindus’ Initiative for Equality and Liberty with Dignity” or SHIELD — has been less successful, with only 160 supporters on Facebook and 111 supporters on Orkut so far.

The Pink Condom Campaign

Priyanka Narain at LiveMint has a great roundup of all the pro-Valentine’s Day protests organized on social networking sites.

The Pink Chaddi campaign has resulted in serious embarrassment for the right wing Sangh Parivar, in general, and Pramod Mutalik, in particular. More than 2000 chaddis were sent to him and digs were taken at his single status (TOI and The Guardian).

Even Indian FMCG brand Amul joined in the protests with a characteristic billboard (see CSR Asia for a background on Amul’s socially conscious billboard campaigns) —

Amul Pink Chaddi Campaign

However, Pramod Mutalik responded by calling the Pink Chaddi campaign a “a base tactic to shy away from the core issue of Indian culture” (TOI). He also promised to give pink saris to the women gifting him pink underwear (TOI), with the help of a related women’s organization Durga Sena (TOI). In the end, fearing public backlash, the Shri Ram Sena called off the Valentine’s Day disruptions (TOI and India Today).

The campaign has attracted mixed reactions from the Indian blogosphere, with many observers praising its creativity and virality and others criticizing its frivolity and calling it undignified.

In a poll at Desipundit, 77% of the 459 respondents thought that the campaign was “clever and creative” while only 23% thought that it was a “waste of time”.

Snighdha Sen at BlogHer says that the campaign embodies the spirit of Gandhigiri, a contemporary reading of the tenets of Gandhism popularized by the the 2006 Hindi film, Lage Raho Munna Bhai.

Roshan Krishnan at Desicritics feels that the campaign is an indicator that “civil society is finally asserting itself in India”.

Samhita at Feministing asks us to “resist the urge to suggest that given the cultural climate of India these women shouldn’t have been in a bar.”

Poonam points out that this is not the first time panties have been used as a symbolic protest. In late 2007, Lanna Action for Burma group had launched a Panties for Peace campaign and urged women around the world to “post, deliver or fling your panties at the closest Burmese Embassy” to protest against the repressive junta leader General Than Shwe (The Register).

Anindita Sengupta at Ultraviolet thinks that the Pink Chaddi campaign is about shaming the right-wing conservatives.

Amit Varma at the India Uncut argues that the issue is not whether a lifestyle is right or wrong, but “the right to choose our own lifestyle, any lifestyle”.

The right-leaning blogger Offstumped is apparently offended by the references to “Hindu Taliban” and exhorts the women behind the Pink Chaddi campaign to send pink burqas to Al-Qaeda’s Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid instead.

Sakshi argues that the Pink Chaddi campaign doesn’t address any real issue about why Shri Ram Sena’s ultra-conservative stand resonates with most Indians.

The “GreatBong” Arnab writes a twisted Valentine’s Day morality tale, which seems to rubbish both parties.

The Pink Chaddi campaign has also resulted in several videos for and against it. Ruchika Muchhala at Global Voices points to some of these.

Here is a video showing the pile of pink underwear before they were sent to Pramod Mutalik —

Here is a video of Nisha Susan talking to Mid Day about the campaign —

Here’s a series of animated videos (1, 2) on the Pink Chaddi campaign —

Here’s a ridiculous right-wing video that tries to counter the Pink Chaddie campaign —

The campaign has also attracted the attention of mainstream news organizations, including international majors like NYT, BBC, Fox News, The Guardian, ABC, Times Online, LA Times, MSNBC and NPR.

The opinion in Indian mainstream media, however, is equally divided.

Dan Collins at LAist says that the Pink Chaddi movement is both inspiring and oddly exhilarating (also see the cute picture of the Pink Chaddi Payphone).

Kate Allen at The New Statesman is pleasantly surprised that the campaign is supported by both men and women, unlike “Britain and Europe (where) violence against women is generally seen as a ‘women’s issue’”.

Pradeep Nair at TOI compares the campaign to the feminist bra burning of the late 1960s and sees it as “a turning point for blogs and social networking sites” in India.

Anoothi Vishal at Business Standard sees the Pink Chaddi campaign as part of a larger trend where a handful of Indians are acting as catalysts, often with the help of new media, to bring about political and social change.

Neha Tara Mehta at India Today locates the Pink Chaddi campaign as part of a growing trend of online citizen activism in India.

Udaalak Mukerjee at The Telegraph says that he admires the women behind the Pink Chaddi campaign, because “at a time when we are busy building barriers to screen ourselves from disturbing actualities, they have managed to break a few in order to meet the enemy in the eye.”

Tavleen Singh at Indian Express says that the campaign should have sent pink chaddis to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani who has endorsed the Shri Ram Sena’s excesses by his silence.

Sagarika Ghose at The Hindustan Times calls the campaign undignified and warns against the elitism amongst the Westernized urban Indian youth who are choosing “lifestyles that are desi imitations of Sex And The City”.

Zubin Driver at IBN Live has a great post on how Pramod Mutalik has benefited from the media attention on the Pink Chaddi campaign. D P Satish at IBNLive also has an interesting post on how the media attention has made Mutalik’s political career.

Swapan Dasgupta at TOI argues that the Pink Chaddi campaign “is likely to reinforce Middle India’s existing prejudices and bolster the stereotype of un-Indian fast and loose women.”

Devangshu Datta in Business Standard, Jai Arjun Singh in Business Standard and Jug Suraiya in TOI choose to write about the campaign in a humorous (read: flippant) vein.

Now that Valentine’s Day is over, there are questions about what will happen to the Facebook group (TOI).

Nisha Susan doesn’t talk about the future in her reflective post at The Guardian looking back at the campaign, but on the Pink Chaddi Campaign blog, she suggests that their achievement lies in “staking a claim for our shared culture” —

So here is the idea. We each make a little video of ourselves. We make a video of ourselves doing something we love, something we think is definitely a part of Indian culture (and let no one dare disagree!). Speak into the camera. Say “This is Indian culture.” Imagine the possibilities, you, your best friend, your grandmother, your 7-year-old nephew, your grumpy boss… each doing what you think is part of you, part of Indian culture.

This promises to be fun!

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Feb 18 2009

Comscore Report on Social Networking Sites in India

by at 1:27 pm

According to a Comscore report on social networking sites in India, visits to the site category increased 51 percent from the previous year to more than 19 million visitors in December 2008.

Orkut is still a strong #1 with 12.8 million visitors and a 81% growth over December 2007. Facebook is far behind with 4.0 million visitors, in spite of its impressive 150% growth. BharatStudent is a surprising #3 with 3.3 million visitors and a 88% growth.

Other international social networking sites Hi5, MySpace and LinkedIn also did well at #4, #6 and #7 with 2.0 million, 0.7 million and 0.5 million visitors and growths of 182%, 110% and 71% respectively.

The Indian social networking websites Ibibo and BigAdda, however, didn’t do well and fell down by 50% and 25% to 1.0 million and 0.4 million visitors respectively.

I’ll look at the Comscore data with suspicion because it excludes traffic from cyber cafes, an important venue for internet access in India.

Still, the data is mostly consistent with my analysis of search trends for social networking sites in India, with the exception of BharatStudent’s surprise #3 position. I knew that both Ibibo and BigAdda were struggling, in spite of refocusing on entertainment, but I thought BigAdda was struggling more. Part of the reason may be that Comscore has only released one month’s data but the traffic for Ibibo and BigAdda fluctuates based on their ad campaigns.

I expect the trend of international social networking websites gaining ground from Indian social networking websites to continue, because most Indian players in the space are mere me-too clones. As I said in my social media predictions for 2009, several Indian social networking websites will shut down in 2009, unless they reposition themselves as niche player.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Feb 12 2009

Call for Applications: 2009-10 Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown University

by at 10:09 pm

It’s amazing how quickly a year went by.

It seems as if I told you about becoming the 2008-09 Yahoo! Fellow in International Values, Communications, Technology, and Global Internet at Georgetown University only last week and it’s already time to announce the call for applications for the 2009-10 Yahoo! Fellow.

The Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown University pursues educational and research activities that explore the interplay between international values and new communications technologies, with a focus on BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China.

The projects explore how the use of new communications technologies, like internet and mobile, is shaped by national and socio-cultural context, and how such technologies, in turn, often change that context itself. The projects may also explore how new communications technologies are enabling the formation of virtual public spheres to support human values like democracy, citizenship, freedom of expression and empowerment of disadvantaged communities, but also raising serious questions related to personal privacy, homophily, propaganda and censorship. Projects can draw on insights from many disciplines, including politics, economics, business, and socio-cultural research.

The appointment is for one academic year, from August 15, 2009 to May 15, 2010.

The Yahoo! Fellow can come from the government, corporate, non-profit and academic sectors, but preference is given to individuals with interests in China, India, Russia and Brazil.

You get a $50000 stipend, a $5000 travel allowance, office space and two MSFS graduate students as Junior Yahoo! Fellows. At the minimum, you are expected to produce a publishable paper at the end of the residency. In addition, you may also have the opportunity to teach a graduate course across the MSFS and CCT departments at Georgetown. Both Irene Wu (the first Yahoo! Fellow) and I have taken that opportunity and taught a course, apart from doing our research.

Applicants should submit a letter of interest and curriculum vitae, along with a statement describing a proposed research topic(s) and methodology (not to exceed 2,500 words) to The Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. Materials will be reviewed beginning on March 6, 2009 and will be considered until a final applicant has been selected and accepted.

Once again, here’s the the call for applications for the 2009-10 Yahoo! Fellow. It’s a great fellowships, so do help us spread the word by writing a post on your blog, mailing it to friends who may be interested, or sharing it on relevant mailing lists.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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Feb 08 2009

Charter 08 Not gaining as much traction on the Internet as hoped

by at 10:49 pm

While Charter08 has certainly caught the attention of the Chinese political leadership, the pro-democratic reform manifesto has not achieved viral traction that its supporters had hoped. Of the 300 million internet users in China, about 8,000 users have signed the charter – less than 1%.  Chinese authorities have been active in preventing mass distribution of the petition, as Internet police immediately took down sites that had links to the Charter, and physical authorities detained advocates of the Charter’s implementation.

The Charter is also believed to be suffering in its popular acceptance because the Chinese Communist Party enjoys a high level of public support, and with current global economic conditions worsening, the average Chinese is more concerned with economic security than the political reforms that the charter calls for.

With this context in mind, China continues to serve as a fitful case study for understanding the value of Social Media as a tool for civic activism. Evidence suggests that the Chinese are currently more concerned with economic security than expanded political rights. Further, the government has been very effective at maintaining a social contract that provides opportunities for personal economic enhancement.  So perhaps this begs the question of what else is required for social media to be effective as an enabling tool for civic activism? A certain level of development?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2 responses so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows

Feb 05 2009

India’s Jharkhand State Government turns to Cell Phones to Combat Maoist Rebels

by at 2:12 pm

The BBC reported today that government officials in the state of Jharkhand, India are equipping citizens in the state with cell phones in order to create a broader network of informants. Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has repeatedly insisted that Maoist insurgents represent the biggest threat to India’s national security. The Maoist movement is fighting for a separate Communist state for the landless, and for the working poor.

The use of cell phones cuts both ways; on one hand they can provide useful, up to the minute updates of the activities of the Maoists. However, if the Maoist leaders get a hold of the phones, which is not unlikely, they can very easily orchestrate surprise attacks on authorities.

Authorities need to develop a more robust platform for using social media and new technologies for law enforcement. An ad-hoc approach might be more detrimental to the long-term cause.

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Feb 04 2009

Studying India

by at 11:52 am

What follows is a high level look at the key metrics that define India’s political economy, and importantly, how they might influence social media usage.

India

Government: Of the BRIC countries, India has the longest, and most established secular democracy. Some argue, however, that it is this democracy that has slowed development, and kept India much behind regional rival, China. Supporters point out, however, that all decisions in India are reached at by consensus, so there is no risk of political implosion in the face of political or economic shocks. The year of 2007 was a true test to the strength of the parliamentary system in India. The United Progressive Alliance coalition government, led by the Indian National Congress party faced its most severe test in elevating India to the status of a global power by committing to the U.S. – India Civil Nuclear deal. Additionally, the central government had to deal with rapidly rising inflation, rising food and energy prices, and the ever present threat of terrorism – all critical ballot box issues. Federal elections are set for the summer of 2009.

International Affairs: India is perhaps most known for its historically contentious relationship with Pakistan, particularly over the disputed region of Kashmir. However, India is beginning to exert itself in international economic and political fora; India is one of the largest providers of troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations, and one of the largest contributors of aid to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, among other engagements. Not all of India’s foreign policy engagements are purely altruistic. India also recognizes its need for energy, and like China, it maintains relationships with countries such as Myanmar and Iran.

Demographics: Throughout the twentieth century and twenty first centuries, India has been in a demographic transition. It is the second most populated nation in the world with 1.1 billion, behind China, and is expected to overtake their neighbor by 2050. The latest census data indicates that 72.2% of the population lives in about 638,000 villages and the remaining 27.8% lives in over 5,100 towns and over 380 urban agglomerations. Almost 40% of Indians are younger than 15 years of age. While a majority of Indians belong to the Hindu faith (80%), it has the third largest population of Muslims (13%), as well as a majority of Sikhs and Jains. The secular state also is a home to many Christians, Jews, and Buddhists.

Linguistically, there are roughly 1,652 languages spoken in India, with English, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, Urdu, and Punjabi amongst the most popularly spoken.

Telecom: As of July 2008, there were 338 million working telephone lines in India. Of these, 296 million are cellular phones, while about 40 million are dedicated land lines.

Internet: Overall internet-using population in urban India has reached 30.32 million. At least 3 of 4 regular internet users (77%) who access the net from home now do so using some form of a broadband or superior connection, and at least 74% of office-based usage is also on broadband or superior connections.

Social Media Usage: It is no surprise that Indians are active on the social networking sites. With the emergence of online marriage portals such as Shaadi.com, and Indian social networking sites such as Yaari, India is a fast growing market for social media. The following are some data points to keep in mind:

  • 56% of internet users undertake social or professional networking.
  • Social networking forms the larger part of the pie with 29% of net users.
  • Blogging remains a tertiary phenomenon, with only about 31% of all internet users somehow involved in blogs.
  • Though 27% of all online Indians read or check blogs, 15% of them comment on blogs and only 7% of them have a blog of their own; that is, in effect, 89% of all net users who are involved with blogs merely read them.

* source: India Online 2007, Juxt Consult

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