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Love in the Time of Hate: Verse and Dance Reclaim Streets of Delhi #Culturalactivism

Iss zulm mein jo khamosh rahe,
Zaalim bhi wahi, qatil bhi wahi

Twenty-three-year-old Sabika Naqvi is reciting a poem in protest against mob lynching in the middle of Connaught Place, New Delhi. “Those who stay silent are oppressors and killers too, those who want to walk away and take no responsibility are party to the injustice”, she warns. Syncing her feet to Sabika’s verses is Anannya Chatterjee, also 23.

Sabika’s poetry and Annanya’s Bharatnatyam have stopped a hundred or so passersby in their tracks on a Saturday evening. The circle of onlookers watches on in rapt attention as the two young artistes plead them to spread love in these times of hate.

Sabika Naqvi recites, “Those who stay silent in these times of violence are oppressors and killers too.”
Sabika Naqvi recites, “Those who stay silent in these times of violence are oppressors and killers too.” (Photo: The Quint)

The crowd is a composite one – from idle cabbies to shoppers with toddlers in tow. Sabika’s verses address them not on the basis of age, class, caste or creed. But as human beings. She asks:

Is it so easy to hate each other? After a Facebook post or a tweet, or because of a fistful of meat?

(Photo: The Quint)

Those assembled know the cases all too well. From Dadri’s Akhlaq to Basirhat’s Kartik Ghosh, from Hafiz Junaid in Ballabgarh to Pehlu Khan in Alwar and Ayub Pandith in Srinagar – mob lynchings are the new normal.

On ‘Hunted – India’s Lynch Files’, The Quint records incidents of mob violence across the country. 25 people have been lynched since September 2015.
On ‘Hunted – India’s Lynch Files’, The Quint records incidents of mob violence across the country. 25 people have been lynched since September 2015. (Photo: Screengrab/The Quint)

View the entire list of victims here: Hunted – India’s Lynch Files.

Protest Through Poetry and a Dance for Dissent

On being asked about the message she wishes to spread through this protest performance, Sabika replied, “We will spread more love than those dividing us can spread hate. Poetry is the only weapon I have. We don’t have sticks and stones. We will fight through our poems and our ghungroos.”

If news of hate keeps increasing, then time will question us poets. On our silence. 
If news of hate keeps increasing, then time will question us poets. On our silence.  (Photo: The Quint)

The following is an excerpt from Sabika and Annanya’s performance, with translations.

Kyun aaj pyaar mushkil,
Nafrat asaan
Why is love so difficult,
And hate so easy today?

Sadak par kiss karna mushkil,
Lynch karna asaan

So difficult to kiss on the road
But lynching, so easy.

Aisa nahi hai ke hum pyaar nahi kartey,
Kartey hain

Magar sirf apne jaison se
Apne mazhab ke, apni jaat ke,
Apne khuda se

You know, we love, we love a lot
But only those who are like us
From our religion, our caste
Who believe in our gods
That is it.

Ab aap batayein kya zyada mushkil hai
Mohabbat ya nafrat?
Chhura ghopna ya galey lagana?
Muskurana ya phail machana?
Gaali sunana ya gaane gaana
Logon ko desh se baahar bhagana ya mehmaan bulana

For I really want to know,
What is easier?
Love or hate?
A stab in the chest or a warm hug?
A smile or a slur?
Abuse or songs of love?
Throwing people out of your country (and home and heart) or inviting them over?

Aaj ruuh se poochcho
Badan toh hai, magar kya ruuh insaan hai?
Ask your soul today,
Your flesh is surely human, but is your soul human too?

Camera: Athar Rather
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

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Challenges before Dalits’ Azadi Kooch and Bhim Army

The caste-annihilation movement must guard against threats from the State and from ‘within’.


Eighteen months after the start of the countrywide #JusticeForRohithVemula movement and 12 months after the radical response of the Gujarati Dalit to the Una atrocity, the upsurge of anti-caste protests led by militant Dalit organisations shows no signs of abating.

Notwithstanding a cycle of protest-arrest-protest-arrest-protest, the movement is yet advancing, gathering new forces with each new wave.

Azadi Kooch and Bhim Army

The ongoing Azadi Kooch (Freedom March) in Gujarat from July 11 to July 18, 2017, commemorating the first anniversary of the public stripping and thrashing of seven Dalits by gau rakshaks of Una town, is perhaps emblematic of this process.

Led by young lawyer Jignesh Mevani of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM), it encompasses a wide-ranging coalition of Dalits, Muslims, Patidars and others and has been joined by activists of various shades from throughout the country, including student leader Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU. Despite cancellation of permissions and detention of all participants at the very start of the seven-day march, it determinedly soldiers on.

This has been preceded by several months of militant Dalit resistance to Thakur-led onslaughts in and around Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh. It was spearheaded by the Bhim Army, led by another young lawyer, Chandrashekhar Azad.

One of the high points of this resistance was a 50,000 strong gathering on May 21, 2017, at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, one of the largest agitational mobilisations seen in the capital in recent times.

This rally, held in the shadow of an imminent offensive by the state, saw Chandrashekhar and Mevani together on stage appealing to the crowds to take ahead the movement. Two weeks later, Chandrashekhar and a yet undisclosed number of Bhim Army activists were held, amid a total clampdown, including an indefinite internet blackout.

Chandrashekhar, in anticipation, had concluded his address at Jantar Mantar by prophesising, “I want to say that if they try to kill one Chandrashekhar, there will be lakhs more to rise.”

His statement well embodies the audacity of hope that such a movement on the ascent has, and must have. This obligatory optimism must however also confront the enormity of the challenges before any movement possessed with the mission of annihilation of caste in this country.


Threats and challenges

The threats and challenges before the contemporary anti-caste movement are broadly of two types: the first being the open attacks and repression of the dominant feudal castes and the State machinery that stands solidly behind them; the second being the surreptitious, sabotaging, interventions from “within” by those sections of the oppressed castes whose interests lie in holding back the movement’s creativity and militancy, and diverting it into acceptable channels.

State repression

It is no secret that the very State machinery that is supposed to implement constitutional provisions and laws for the abolition of caste, is itself deeply wedded to the preservation of the caste system. It is thus extremely rare for the perpetrators of upper caste violence to face action from the coercive arms of the state. Police authorities do not easily register complaints of caste atrocity. If they do, the cases are diluted and it is common to file false counter-cases against the victim.

If, on the other hand, should the oppressed dare to show some militancy in resistance, they must be ready to face all the vehement violence that the security agencies are capable of – lathi-charges, firing, implication in false cases under draconian laws, and even torture.



These brutalities are sought to be rationalised by first branding the anti-caste organisations and their leaders as Naxalites. Once this label is stuck, it is seen as fair justification for any cruelty and the abandonment of the rule of law.

Both Jignesh and Chandrashekhar have seen this branding. Jigneshsays: “A Dalit activist is conveniently labelled a Naxalite.”

Chandrashekhar goes one step further. He told the May 21 crowds at Jantar Mantar: “If anyone speaks of justice these people call him Naxalite and terrorist.”

While denying being one, he warned his oppressors not to test the patience of the oppressed, thus implying that they would, if necessary, take such steps.

He even used the imagery of Udham Singh, the revolutionary who assassinated British governor O’Dwyer, to promise retaliatory violence on those involved in caste atrocities.

However, Chandrashekhar is now in prison with several cases clamped on him, and the cases against Jignesh too are steadily building up. This will call for answers from the anti-caste movement to the state violence that is bound to be its constant companion.

One of the answers has been Chandrashekhar’s earlier mentioned pronouncement that “lakhs more will rise” to replace him. He is thus telling the casteists and the State that attacks and repression will only inspire many more to join the movement. While not denying the historical truism in his statement, there will yet be the need for more practical and immediate solutions.

The attempts underway to rapidly ramp up the organisational structure of the movement in both Gujarat and UP is one of the answers. The solidification of genuine solidarities and the emergence and spread of similar struggles in other centres could be others.

Challenges from “within”

The other challenge, that is emerging from some members of the oppressed castes, is however more complicated. It lacks the simplicity of direct confrontation that is there in the contradiction with the violent caste oppressor and state repressor.

Over the years there has been an extremely tiny segment of Dalits who have earned places high up in the structures of the state and academia. Ruling politicians, high-ranking officers of the IAS, IPS and other services, and professors inhabiting the upper echelons of elitist academic institutions in India and abroad are typical of those who have been able to occupy seats at centres where opinions, decisions and policies are formulated.

Most of them have the natural aversion to fundamental transformation that is characteristic of people in high places. Though their caste origins compel them to pay lip service to the revolutionary mission of annihilation of caste, they have long abandoned that project. They typically seek to confine themselves to lobbying and adjustments that could strengthen their position without significantly displacing contemporary social structures and power relations.

They thus are among those who feel highly threatened by radical movements which aim to shake up and demolish the existing caste order. In the face of such upsurges they see their role as interveners, who can ensure that things do not go “out of hand”. Though extremely small in number, they, by virtue of their positions of relative power, demand and command considerable influence, within Dalit communities as well as organisations. They use that influence to control and contain the movement within limits that do not threaten the existing order of things.


Stemming radicalisation

Such a role was played by a coterie of Dalit IAS-IPS officers during the #JusticeForRohithVemula movement. They pooled money, expressed support on social media and directly established connections with the students. Their expressed purpose however was clearly expressed as “Ambedkarisation, not radicalisation”. By thus counterposing “Ambedkar” and “radical” they were clear that they wanted to keep #JusticeForRohithVemula well away from Ambedkar’s radical mission of annihilation of caste.

A member of this group is RS Praveen Kumar, an IPS officer who, when asked about the ongoing anti-caste movement, has expressed a desire to play the role of keeping it within constitutional means. His own past however has seen involvement in numerous fake encounters of Naxalites, with scant respect for constitutional guarantees and rule of law.

One explanation of the thinking underlying this is provided by Suryakant Waghmore, a professor at top-rung institutions like Tata Institute of Social Sciences and IIT-Bombay. While analysing the Bhim Army and its “rhetoric of “hitting back”, he propounds that “use of violence undermines the Dalit cause and emancipatory politics”.

In a classic convoluted argument typical of academia, he, while arguing that the Bhim Army should refrain from violence because the law-implementing machinery will target Dalits, in the same breath proposes that the “Dalit response to atrocities is one of legal measures”. This means that he is telling the Dalit victims to go for justice to the same law-implementing machinery that targets them.

Suryakant also bases his argument of non-violence on the premise that the aim of Dalit movements is to mobilise towards civilising the oppressor (caste Hindus). The absurdity of expecting that the Thakurs of Saharanpur would be amenable to being “civilised” by its Dalits is lost on him. Any farcical prescription to embark on a mission to civilise the oppressor has nothing to offer to the Bhim Army or any other movement serious about the annihilation of caste.

As the ongoing anti-caste movement grows in strength, the impact of such arguments on it has so far been minimal. But the leadership would have to be vigilant to guard against the confusion and diversion they have the potential to cause.

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Mumbai – Power of the movement – Poetry Inquilab

VOICES OF OUR TIME – Setting the word alight

Protest poetry resonates at a meeting hall at Ramabai Nagar on Saturday, and a Gujarati literary journal is launched on SundayPoetry Inquilab!

The police posse survey the scene at the DB Pawar Sabhagruh at Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar on Saturday. But instead of lokshahirs (singer-poets) belting out protest songs, there is Vi vek Sonar, a disciple of Hariprasad Chaurasia, rendering Raag Hansdhwani on a flute.It does not resemble a typical Vidrohi Sammelan of the1990s, with lathi (stick) and ghongdi (a rough, blanket-size cloth), and beef and pork on the menu. The police exit. The music becomes loud again. It’s a memorable moment.

Sudhir Dhawle, editor of Vidrohi magazine, says, “Some people say the songs are loud. They are not subtle, nor are they art. But the words speak out what is in our minds. Every time our rights are crushed, it is the powadas and chakkads that reflect what is happening socially and politically. Be it the Dalit Panther Movement, Vidrohi Chalwal or Naxalism.” The session is a call for action following two decades of apathy after the mass killing at Ramabai Nagar, Ghatkopar East, on July 11, 1997. Audience members recall the horror: how the locals awoke at dawn to the sight of Dr Ambedkar’s desecrated statue. In one hour, the State Reserve Police Force platoon headed by PSI Manohar Kadam was on the site. An hour later there was firing. Ten left dead. Many injured.

Not much has altered at the neglected basti, wedged between Godrej’s Vikhroli campus and the gentrified community in Ghatkopar West.

Sudhakar Olwe’s black-and-white photographs remind us of the brutality and how the residents were deprived of justice. It was in protest of the injustice that Lokshahir Vilas Ghogre committed suicide in 1997.

His death, like research scholar Rohith Vemula’s death at Hyderabad Central University, was a sign of protest, and a cry for Dalit unity.

The unity is something which resonates in Vivek More’s poem Vitambana. For the past few years, More’s work in the bastis has been about retelling the stories and annihilating caste.

Poets Mayank Saxena (Hindi) and Shilpa Sawant speak of the political paralysis. They join the dots. It was Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar two decades ago. It is Alwar and Dadri and Khandawali now. How no one is addressing the real concerns of the Dalits and minorities in this nation. Nitin Chandanshive, the dangalkar kavi, picks up from where the protest movements have left off. His angry poem concludes with how his illiterate mother prefers one book, the Constitution of India, to the other Holy Books.

There are groups from all over Maharashtra including Aurangabad and Chandwad. Some groups like Kabir Kala Manch in Pune were born in the post-Godhra era, others post-Khairlanji.What is interesting is how the Ambedkari Jalsa subsumes and overtakes folk as a genre for promoting social awareness. Bombay Lokal from Nallasopra, like their counterparts from Dharavi, highlight the emergence of hip hop and beat to provide a voice to disenfranchised youth.

It’s a fitting tribute to the memory of Vilas Ghogre, who reinvented lok shahiri in the tradition of Amar Sheikh and Annabhau Sathe, and adapted it into cutting-edge protest politics.

To understand his role, one must examine his work with the Aavhan Natya Manch in the 1980s. The group included protest songs by Ghogre in their street plays. And the presence of Ghogre meant the staging became less Brechtian and less elite in its structure. This is the tradition of the shahirs. When Nishant Shaikh and 84-year-old Shahira Kesarbai Jainoo Shaikh receive the Lokshahir Vilas Ghogre Smriti Puruskar from Shantanu Kamble, they speak of the contribution of the shahirs in the ’50s. She then sings Dongari Shet Maza Ga.Kabir Kala Manch and the other groups join in a rousing chorus.

Sumedh Jadhav, an old-timer from the Dalit Panther Movement, says, “We need more of this. Writers, poets, shahirs, comrades, Jai Bhim Sena. There should not be a single vacant day -every chawl and basti should be holding functions of one kind or another.“

Some of this has begun. Last week saw seven Shahiri Yalgaars and Ambedkari Jalsas in Mumbai. And except for one programme at the Godrej Culture Lab, all the others were below mainstream surveillance. Kesarbai receives a standing ovation. Since 1958, she has been singing onstage. In 1973 she married Lokshahir Sheikh Janu Chand on the stage in Akola. People had bought tickets for a show. In front of a full house, they conducted a ceremony as per Hindu rites. It was May Day.

That’s the power of the movement. Poetry Inquilab!

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Why do the devastating floods in Assam fail to sweep national headlines?

The people are struggling to stay afloat but the rest of the country either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.


Like every year, this time too, the Indian state of Assam and its people are struggling with devastating floods. But, as usual, the rest of the country either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.

Let’s take a look at what happened last year. Around mid-July, most of Assam was neck-deep in water with the number of affected people soaring beyond 15,70,571 and the number of relief camps exceeding 332, housing a total of around 12,27,786 inmates. However, as horrifying images of animals and humans — stuck in debris and unhygienic surroundings — were circulated on several social media platforms, the national media, barring a few exceptions, appeared to be in deep slumber, displaying total apathy to the grave situation. Instead, it was busy highlighting the water-logging in millennium city, Gurugram.

assam-body_071017021716.jpgImage: PTI photo

Had a calamity of such a scale hit Mumbai or even Uttarakhand, in no time television cameras would have reached the ground zero and termed it a national disaster. But since the particular incident was from India’s “forever pariah” — the Northeast — apparently the lives of the people of Assam mattered less as compared to others. The massive destruction and severe distress following the floods in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2014 was considered a major calamity, and rightly so, by everyone — right from the Centre to state government. One just wishes that Assam too gets the same treatment and sympathy. (No people deserve to suffer because of government apathy — be it Assam or J&K).

The people of the region were not surprised when the successful organisation of the South Asian Games (including its opening ceremony graced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi) in Meghalaya and Assam, was completely “blacked out” by the national TV channels (it’s again a matter of question how “national” they can call themselves with their Delhi-centric Noida-based coverage). Even the catastrophic impact of the earthquake, which shook Manipur at the beginning of 2016, was given little or no coverage.

In this age of globalisation, when our cellphone screens start glowing with notifications as soon as anything happens anywhere in the world, isn’t it a bit absurd that the news from India’s Northeast finds no mention in the national media? If this is not “step-motherly” attitude of the so-called mainland India towards the Northeast, then what is?

Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai has described this phenomenon with the phrase “tyranny of distance”. This somewhat echoes what Congress MP Shashi Tharoor once told us, “Our media is excessively Delhi-centric and the farther you are, the less coverage you get.”

According to a different view, the presence of very few TRP boxes in the Northeast — the number of which hardly exceeds 30 — is another prime reason why the corporate-owned media houses find it difficult to give due coverage to the Northeast.

But there is one more reason behind this attitude. Even the audience (rest of India), for instance, is more interested in what the Delhi or Uttar Pradesh CM is doing (no matter how mundane and not newsworthy) than the news of a bunch of women protesting naked in a distant Manipur against the draconian AFSPA.

A huge number of people associated with these media houses candidly say that the poor connectivity in the Northeast and unavailability of high-speed internet services in several areas make it difficult for journalists to report the events adequately. It’s often seen that while most media houses keep only one or two reporters in Guwahati (the capital city of Assam) for the entire Northeast, major newspapers club all news about Northeast in a single page of their Kolkata edition, let alone bringing out a specific edition for the region.

Senior journalist Karan Thapar, while talking to us, once expressed optimism, citing several examples of how the national media has started to give due importance to the Northeast.

He, however, stressed that the people of the region too must convey this issue assertively to as many editors as possible for prospective course correction.

But questions remain regarding the fact that the level of engagement that journalists show while reporting a mundane bank robbery in Ghaziabad or some controversial statement by a political leader, that same level of concern is nowhere to be found while reporting about the Northeast.

Why is it so that despite the presence of journalists from Northeast in top-notch posts of the national news channels, the region has to perpetually beg for attention even to get mere five-minute news coverage?

It’s not that we don’t have any solution. Many people from the region as well as reporters from national media houses are consistently trying to solve this problem of “lack of representation”.

The local news channels from the region too must play a pro-active role in ensuring that the incidents they cover reach the national media houses in time since most of the times national media houses borrow footage from the local channels. The erstwhile tie-up between Times Now and the Assamese private news channel News Live is noteworthy in this regard.

Moreover, if filmmakers from the region or the rest of India start making short films on the unexplored positive issues of the Northeast and take the initiative of telecasting them on news channels, then definitely stereotypes and misconceptions that the Hindi heartland has regarding the Northeast will gradually wither away.

Politicians, artists, entrepreneurs and business houses of the region must help the groups concerned in this regard. To add to it, one should not forget the power of social media. At a time when the idea of citizen journalism is gaining momentum, with just a smartphone or tablet, one could spread any important news to a large group with all possibilities of creating the desired impact.

In no way the “hashtag-influenced” media houses would be able to “black out” news from the Northeast if the issue trends on Twitter.

But in this whole process, the role of the youth will be highly important. From Asia’s cleanest village Mawlynnong in Meghalaya to the Loktak lake in Manipur or the “forest man” from Assam, Jadav Payeng, to the impressive literacy rate of Tripura ((by the way, Tripura happens to be the state with highest literacy rate with 94.65 per cent, beating Kerala which has 93.91 per cent) — all such information about the Northeast has to be prepared in written format and spread across India.

Northeastern students living in different places of India too must play a pro-active role in bridging the gap. The local channels from the region also need to focus on “quality news” instead of solely fixing their cameras on drunk girls, neighbourhood skirmishes and cheap talks (not that the national channels don’t sell such trash as news).

In the world of fiction too, Northeast-oriented novels and translation works in Hindi and English must occupy a preeminent room without ado so that the stories of happiness and despair from the region touch the nerves of those same Indians who empathise with the protagonists of Chetan Bhagat’s Two States.

New-age writers from the Northeast such as Aruni Kashyap, Ankush Saikia, Uddipana Goswami are some names to reckon with in this regard.

In the sphere of culture too, it’s worth appreciating that the media has started to highlight the achievements of artists from the region (the limelight hogged by singer Papon is just one of the examples in this regard). When senior journalist Shekhar Gupta in his writings, talked about .007 factor of Assam, he meant that during the 1980s, only .007 per cent of the students went out of the region and got the chance to exchange their views with the rest of India.

Now, the scenario has changed drastically. The more and more the youth of the region interact with Indians from other states, the chances of Northeast gaining due importance grow. Northeastern festivals organised in different cities of India throughout the year should focus on attracting more people from outside rather than confining it to the people of the region.

The recently organised “India Today Mind Rocks Youth Conclave” in Guwahati is a welcome step which deserves appreciation.

In the run-up to the Assam Legislative Assembly Election in 2016, the national media for the first time, covered any election of the North-East with such intensity and for whatsoever reasons, a trend of extensive reporting and analysing the activities of the new government has been observed of late, which probably could herald a new dawn vis-a-vis national media’s reportage on the Northeast.

The extensive coverage of the fiasco related to the political situation in Arunachal Pradesh, the government formation in Manipur after the election or the interesting policy “innovations” of the Assam health, finance and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has proven this change of attitude on the part of the national media of late. But that’s not enough.

It is important to understand that it was only during the Assam Agitation (1979-1985) that the national media bothered to focus on the Northeast after a long period of lull since the 1962 Indo-China war.

In fact, even when the Indian Air Force bombed Mizoram in 1966 to wipe out insurgents, the only instance when the government of India bombed one of its own states, the national newspapers did not pay any importance to it.

The scenario has improved to a great extent now. But what’s important is the genuine concern which media houses need to show towards the region with a view to address this issue wholeheartedly.

The people of the Northeast, on their part, have to try their best to make their stories heard across all Indian states. That’s the only way the “integration” of Northeast with the rest of India is possible in the real sense.

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FIR against All India Bakchod for insulting PM Modi on Twitter through meme

 It all started with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s look-alike being spotted at a railway station and AIB co-founder Tanmay Bhat putting up a meme on Twitter

AIB landed in trouble earlier over its Roast.
AIB landed in trouble earlier over its Roast.(File)


The Mumbai cyber police on Friday filed a first information report against All India Bakchod co-founder Tanmay Bhat for allegedly “insulting” the prime minister through a tweet.

The FIR was registered under section 500 (defamation) of IPC and 67 IT act (Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) taken at cyber police station at Bandra-Kurla Complex.

Sanjay Saxena, joint commissioner of police, confirmed the development.

It all started with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s look-alike being spotted at a railway station.

Read more: From ‘obscene’ Roast to ‘mocking’ Lata, Sachin: All India Bakchod’s controversies

The photo went viral on social media sites in no time.

Publicity theek hai yaar, lage haath thode nationalist sentiments aur hurt kar lo cuz Modi goes hand in hand. Magar joke to dhang ka ho!

AIB was among the many Twitteratis who jumped onto the bandwagon to spread some humour. They posted the doppleganger’s photo alongside an actual photo of Modi’s face with the Snapchat dog filter.


However, not all Twitter users were impressed, and the AIB came under fire from Modi supporters.

Within hours, the group deleted the post fearing more backlash.

Soon enough, some Twitter users started trolling the AIB – this time for being “scared” of the BJP and deleting the tweet.


Are you thankful for the life you’re given?
Do you want to give something back to the society?
Do you often find yourself complaining about things?
Do you take music and films as devices of distraction from the misery of life?
Is your taste in music and films influenced by the many identities you’ve assumed in your life?
Congratulations. You’re the poster-child for the changing Indian. Because let’s face it, you’re not who you were 10 years ago. None of us are. India as a nation isn’t what it was 10 years ago.
To discuss whether this change is good or not is to introduce another paradigm for the division of the masses. There’s really little to no point. Because by the end of this article, you’re either going to like me or dislike me.
But why should THAT be the discourse of the taxpayers? Whether you like another taxpayer or not shouldn’t really make national news.
What should make national news are fundamental issues we’re dealing with as a country. But let’s keep that for later.
For now, there are more important things to deal with.
As I sit down to write this article, innocent taxpayers like me are boarding local trains to reach Lower Parel.
These hardworking taxpayers have gathered to hold the culprits of their democracy accountable. To seek answers that they were promised they would be given.
Our taxpayers have been fooled, for decades, into believing that their lives would get better, that their children would go to good schools, that they wouldn’t have to sublet jewelry to afford education, that healthcare would be affordable, that unemployment would be eliminated.
But none of those promises were fulfilled. And there’s only one institution to be blamed for that:

All India Bakchod.

Some people may refer to this institution by another name but for now, let’s call them All India Bakchod because AIB is a reflection of the upper echelon most of us can only dream of touching.
The All India Bakchod promised us a future we could all be happy in.
So when hard-working taxpayers of this country took out their phones this morning, all they could see was a meme. No news about our supposed future. No news about the wars we’re carefully striding towards, no news about the oppression we’re enduring, no news about peacocks fucking each others’ eyes out.
All we saw was a meme. That makes us angry, fills us up with rage. And we’re marching to Lower Parel to protest against the meme.
What was supposed to be the answer to all our problems turned out to be a meme. How could you make fun of us like that?
We’re angry and we’re protesting. It’s the only discourse we know. It’s the only outrage we know. Memes.
AIB is a reflection of our hopes and aspirations, our frustration and anger, our boxers and briefs. So, when AIB makes a meme, we take offense because we were promised jobs, not jokes.
You made us smile the first time we met you. Actually, you made us cringe the first time we met you but we got around to liking you. We chose you. You chose Snapchat.
We’re angry because we’re getting lynched faster than your meme is getting shared. We’re angry because news, our source of information, is becoming a Republic Day Parade and you’re busy taking selfies.
We’re angry because we’re threatening one another on Twitter while you’re tweeting pleasantries from one of your trips.
We’re angry because we’re anti-national and you’re not.
In its entirety, our anger is the result of AIB’s inefficiency, its inability to handle criticism, its inability to engage effectively with the taxpayers of this country.
Just because people trust you doesn’t mean you can make fun of people by manipulating them into taking offense. That’s offensive.
We don’t have jobs, we don’t have structural healthcare, we don’t have a safe environment for women to exist, but most of all, we don’t have a sense of humor. And only All India Bakchod is responsible for it.

You used to be an advocate for humor

and now look what you’ve done.


So if you see a group of us protesting against the other All India Bakchod in front of their office in Lower Parel, know that we have been manipulated by the original All India Bakchod.

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NWMI complains to PCI against Dainik Bhaskar for Inflammatory Headline and News Story




Hon’ble Mr. Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad,
Chairman, Press Council of India
New Delhi

Sub: Inflammatory Headline and News Story


Hon’ble Mr Justice Chandramauli Prasad,

This is to bring to your attention the provocative headline and news report in Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar’s Surat edition, dated July 12, 2017. (Annex 1: Screen shots)

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) strongly condemns such reports and deplores the callous reporting and editing that produces them.

The news story relates to the recent attack on Amarnath pilgrims. The headline on the web version translates as “Terrorists were firing at us while bystanders laughed”. The headline of the print version, which has been widely circulated on social media, translates as “In agony over shots fired by terrorists, far from helping us, people were laughing loudly”. (Annex 1: Screenshots)

The headline is based on a statement in the report from one Rajesh Naval, a resident of Valsad in Gujarat, who was reportedly on the bus that came under attack on July 10, 2017 near Khanabal in Jammu and Kashmir.  The headline is not only misleading, it is mischievous and divisive.

Naval’s quote is neither prefaced nor followed by any explanation of how or where he spotted shopkeepers laughing at the passengers’ plight while the moving bus was under attack (and most people in it were, presumably, ducking for cover). The report also contradicts several press accounts of Kashmiris condemning the attacks, helping survivors and vowing not to let terror affect their hospitality or assistance to visitors. Even Home Minister Rajnath Singh has applauded the response of Kashmiris and the spirit of Kashmiriyat.

In a report in The Hindu on July 11, the driver of the bus, Salim Sheikh, stated that he drove the bus through the firing, without stopping. He also said, “We could not see anything as it was pitch black.”

A report by News18 detailed the various ways in which Kashmiris have always provided basic needs to pilgrims, while stating that many rushed to the aid of the injured pilgrims.

Reports in Greater Kashmir alluded to the tourist town of Pahalgam shutting down for a day in protest against the attack and to express solidarity with the victims. A report in Rising Kashmir quoted several survivors who thanked local Kashmiris for rushing them to the hospital.

A headline like the one in Dainik Bhaskar is particularly reprehensible in view of the current atmosphere in the country. The newspaper has failed to perform the journalistic duty of being accurate and fair and providing readers with correct information. The paper evidently preferred to distort and sensationalise a violent and tragic incident that has been widely condemned in Kashmir and in the rest of the country.

In the guise of giving readers a detailed, first-person account from people who survived the attack, the Hindi daily chose one inflammatory sentence as the provocative headline of the report. This goes against the Press Council of India’s directive stressing the need for caution while reporting on sensitive matters, including communal disputes or clashes.

The PCI specifically says that provocative and sensational headlines are to be avoided; that headings must reflect and justify the matter printed under them; and that headings containing allegations made in statements should either identify the body or the source making them or at least carry quotation marks. None of these guidelines were observed by Dainik Bhaskar in this particular headline.

According to the PCI, “News, views or comments relating to communal or religious disputes/clashes shall be published after proper verification of facts and presented with due caution and restraint in a manner which is conducive to the creation of an atmosphere congenial to communal harmony, amity and peace. Sensational, provocative and alarming headlines are to be avoided… The role of media in such situations is to be peacemakers and not abettors, to be troubleshooters and not troublemakers.”

While recommending “due restraint and caution in hazarding their own opinion or conclusion in branding persons” the PCI observes, “In the zest to expose, the press should not exceed the limits of ethical caution and fair comments.”  The PCI also says, “The press shall eschew publication of inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material. All sides of the core issue or subject should be reported. Unjustified rumours and surmises should not be set forth as facts.”

As an association of journalists committed to and concerned about ethical journalism, NWMI demands that Dainik Bhaskar publish a corrigendum clarifying the facts and apologising for their misleading headline, which directly contradicts multiple survivor testimonies, and desist from stoking communal fires through misleading reports and headlines.

We hope the Press Council of India will take appropriate action.

Thanking you,

Sincerely yours,

Priyanka Borpujari, Nishita Jha, Ammu Joseph and Laxmi Murthy

[On behalf of the Network of Women in Media, India]

Annexure 1: Screenshots of Dainik Bhaskar, July 12, 2017

1. Web version

Dainik Bhaskar sceenshot 1

2. Print version with inflammatory English translation circulated on social media

Dainik Bhaskar sceenshot 2


2. Print version with inflammatory English translation circulated on social media

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How to get rid of trolls and online harassment? #SocialMedia

Reporting Online Threats And Abuse

The internet and especially social media platforms have always been a way for everyone and anyone to share their opinions on things they feel should be talked about. If what you are saying is within the purview of the law, it is a forum without censorship, a place to speak without any encumbrances and limitations. However, increasingly, it happens that if people disagree with your opinions, you will face abuse that is personal in nature, based on your gender, sexual orientation, religion, place of origin and other identifiable personal characteristics. Sometimes these threats spill over from the internet to real life. Even where it doesn’t, the fear keeps people from speaking up further. If you are a woman, there is a higher chance of abuse being sexual in nature and threats of sexual assault are common. It’s easier to abuse online because the internet provides an encouraging sense of security due to the ostensible anonymity that it provides.

Here are some of the common situations that can happen online, and what you can do if you are faced with them. We have not covered children in this article, though there are laws that exist for protecting children online.

Someone took private photos of mine and is posting them everywhere without my permission

The first step can be to try and approach the social network to get the pictures taken down.

How to remove photos


  1. Tap (☰) at the top right corner of the page.
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the list and tap “Report a Problem”.
  3. Select a product (i.e. “Profile”, “Photos”, or “Pages”) from the list provided in the drop-down menu.
  4. In the “What went wrong?” text box, include the information outlined in the four points above.
  5. You have the option to attach a screenshot of the reported content. Of note: If the picture/video being reported contains individuals under the age of 18 whose sexual organs are visible and/or who are engaged in sexual activity, we suggest that you do NOT screen capture this content.
  6. Tap “Submit”.


  1. Access
  2. Select the most appropriate option regarding how you are involved (i.e. “Directed at me”).
  3. Select the most appropriate type of complaint (e.g. “Harassment” or “Specific violent threats involving physical safety or well-being”).
  4. Complete the form, including providing a link to the content, the individual’s username, Twitter username, and email address in the appropriate fields.
  5. Fill out the questionnaire based on information about the reported content.
  6. In the field marked “Further description of problem”, provide the information outlined in the four points above.
  7. Tap “Submit”.

The instructions given above are for mobile. For details on how to do this on a desktop, and on other social media platforms, check this out.

If you have tried this out and it’s not working or you are unhappy with the results, then you can also take the legal route. For women, the situation mentioned above is a crime under the Indian Penal Code. There is also a section of the Information Technology Act which deals with this and is generally applicable to everyone.

Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code: This section deals with Voyeurism.  It is a crime to view and/or capture the image of a woman going about her private acts, where she thinks that no one is watching her. This includes a woman:

  1. using a toilet, or
  2. who is undressed or in her underwear, or
  3. engaged in a sexual act.

If the woman agrees to private photos, it is not a crime to take them. However, if she expects them to remain with only certain people, then sharing them is a crime. Explanation 2 makes it clear that the woman must expressly consent to both, watching/taking pictures as well as sharing them, for it to not be an offense.

The punishment for this can be jail between three to seven years and a fine.

Section 66E of the Information Technology Act: This section deals with violation of privacy. It is a crime to take pictures of a person’s private area, share them or publish them without their consent. The punishment can be jail for up to three years and up to two lakh rupees in fine.

While the IPC section can only be used by women, the section in the IT act applies to everyone and is not gender specific.

Someone’s found all my online accounts and keeps sending me messages on email, Facebook etc.! I’ve made it clear I don’t want to communicate with him, what else can I do?

Hey, the first thing to do here would be to try and block the person from your social media and on email.

  1. For Gmail, the process to block people from sending you emails is simple and can be accessed here. Similar options are available on other platforms.
  2. Adjust your settings on social networks to block the person. If this option is not available, you may need to send a formal complaint/report to the provider (e.g. Instagram, Facebook).
  3. If the communication is happening over the phone, then there are options which allow you to block calls and texts from certain numbers.
  4. Some sites allow users to set limits on who can search for them, who can send friend requests, etc. Learn about the privacy settings on your social networking accounts to control who can contact you.

Now let’s check the law on this. The law that deals with this applies only to women. It would fall under the definition of stalking, covered under Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code.

Stalking is –

  1. Continuously following a woman or contacting her,
  2. Either online or in person
  3. Where she has clearly shown, she doesn’t want the attention

It is punished by three years for a first offense, and five years for repeat offenses.

The section makes an exception if a person is stalking a woman as part of a legal duty to do so.

Example: Jeevan is a police officer tracking down a drugs shipment and has been monitoring emails received by Stuti. This would be covered by the exception.

Someone is sending me obscene material without my consent

The first thing to do would be to block the person and prevent them from communicating with you any further.

If that doesn’t work, then there are some options under the law:

  1. Section 354A, dealing with sexual harassment, covers showing pornography against the will of a woman.
  2. Section 67 of the Information Technology Act punishes sharing obscene material in electronic form. The punishment can be jail for five years and a fine of ten lakh rupees.
  3. Section 67A of the act punishes sharing material containing sexually explicit act in electronic form with jail for seven years and a fine of ten lakh rupees. The provisions of the Information Technology Act are not gender specific and apply to everyone.

Someone keeps abusing me with bad language on a social media platform

Most social media networks have terms and conditions that apply to all users and that prohibit certain activity associated with bullying like harassment, violating privacy, etc.

  1. If you notify the network, they may issue a warning to the person doing it, close their account and/or block contact between your account and the other person.
  2. They may also have records of the contact between the other person and you which may be helpful (e.g. if reporting to law enforcement).
  3. Remember that the person abusing you can also create a new account and start again. If this occurs, prompt and continued reporting may be needed.
  4. Ask your friends to block the abuser to help control the problem.
  5. It would also be useful to point out these instances in public on social media, in your own network, and to the networks themselves.

The type of legal recourse you can take depends on the type of abuse you are getting.

  1. If you are a woman, and the abuse is sexual in nature, this would fall under the definition of sexual harassment as per section 354A of the Indian Penal Code. The section covers making a demand for sexual favors and making sexually colored remarks towards a woman. It contains a punishment which can be between a year to three years in jail.
  2. There is also section 509 of the Indian Penal Code. This section deals with word, gesture or act which intends to insult the ‘modesty’ of a woman. What does modesty of a woman mean? The IPC isn’t very clear on that. Courts usually make the determination based on the circumstances surrounding the incident. The Supreme Court referred to ‘modesty’ as “feminine decency” and a virtue that women possess due to their sex. For this section to apply, the offender should have uttered any word, made a gesture or sound, or exhibited any object, or intruded on the privacy of a woman, with the intention that this should be seen and heard by the woman. Under this section, punishment can be a term of simple imprisonment up to three years. If someone found your contact details online and tries to contact you constantly against your will, then that could fall under Section 509 as an intrusion of privacy intending to insult the modesty of a woman.
  3. The above-mentioned laws are gender specific and apply only to women. There are some other laws which apply generally. Section 294 of the IPC punishes any obscene words uttered in a public place. In case of religious abuse, section 295A of the IPC punishes words, either written or spoken, which insult someone’s religions or religious beliefs. For caste-based abuse, the SC/ST POA Act has a specific provision, section 3(1)(x) that deals with such abuse.

It’s no longer limited to abuse! Now they are sending threats to hurt me physically.

The threat of physical injury or harassment can be more intimidating. Depending on the nature of the threats, this could fall under the purview of section 503 of the IPC. This section deals with threatening to injure any person, their reputation, or their property. The punishment for criminal intimidation is given in section 506 of the IPC. The offender can be punished with jail for seven years and a fine.

Account hacked/fake account in my name?

If your account has been hacked, then there some options within the social media networks that can help you recover the account. Read them here.

Now let’s check the law. If your account has been hacked, and/or a fake account has been created in your name, different sections of the IT act would apply:

  1. Section 66C deals with identity theft. This would be useful in case your account has been hacked. For the section to apply, it must be shown that someone stole or dishonestly used your password, digital signature, or any other unique identifying feature. The punishment for this can be jail for three years and a fine of a lakh rupees.
  2. Section 66D applies to cheating by personation by using a computer source. If someone has created a fake social media account in your name and cheated anyone through it, then this section would apply. The punishment here can be same as for the section given above.

When do you file a complaint?

There is no minimum threshold, for how much abuse is too much, or when you should file a complaint. In the first instance, it may be useful to report such instances to the platform on which the abuse is taking place. In case that is ineffective, you can check whether the harassment falls under any of the provisions of the law given above. For the IPC sections, the medium on which abuse happens is not important, it’s the behavior that constitutes an offense that is important.

How do you file a complaint?

  1. Gather as much information as you can. Taking screenshots of relevant messages, conversations and comments can help your case.
  2. For online crimes, you can approach the cyber-crime branch of the police. Unlike other crimes, cyber-crimes are not limited by jurisdiction. You can report to the cyber-cell of any city, even if the offense was committed when you were in a different city. A list of details of cyber-crime cells can be accessed here.
  3. In case you are unable to file a complaint in the cyber cell, you can file a FIR with the local police station. Not sure how to file and FIR or what to do if the police refuse to take your complaint? This guide should help. A lot of the offenses mentioned above are cognizable, which means that the police can act, without waiting for the magistrate to issue a warrant.
  4. The women and child development ministry has also set-up a dedicated cyber cell to help women receiving online abuse.

A lot of the abuse and threats come from anonymous users, what can we do in that case?

For filing a FIR, it is not necessary to know the name of the person responsible for the crime to lodge a FIR. You should try and tell the police whatever you know, but you don’t have to know all the details.

There is also section 507 of the IPC, which says that any anonymous communication, which constitutes criminal intimidation as explained above, can be punished under this section. It allows the victim to file a complaint without knowing the identity of the harasser.

While the laws do exist, implementation has been questionable. However, with more awareness of the law and how it operates, engagement with authorities can help to improve implementation as well in the long term.

This article was written by Nyaaya, which is a free, non-profit resource explaining and documenting all Indian laws. If you want to read more about this law, then go through their explainer on this act, where they have explained the different sections of the law in simple English.

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Female journalist sentenced for ‘obstructing’ Sudanese security officials #FOE

Female journalist sentenced for 'obstructing' Sudanese security officials


A Sudanese court has sentenced journalist and rights activist Amal Habani to a fine of 10,000 Sudanese Pound (US$1,499) or serve four months in jail on the charge of obstructing public officials.

She refused to pay the fine on Monday and chose to serve the jail term despite offers by other activists to pay for her release, her husband, Shawqi Abdel-Azim, told local media Sudan Tribune.

The complainant is a National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) agent who claimed to have been stopped from doing his work during the trial of a group of rights activists in Khartoum last year, Sudan Tribune reported.

Amal Habani had said earlier that she was arrested, manhandled and detained by the security agents who had no identification and had accused her of taking pictures of them during the trial.

A NISS officer slapped me on my face, and I was released after two hours of detention and they gave me back my mobile phone.

“A NISS officer slapped me on my face, and I was released after two hours of detention and they gave me back my mobile phone,” she was quoted by the website.

Journalists in Sudan have faced a lot of censorship in Sudan including arrests. In February last year, the NISS agents seized print runs of 14 newspapers without stating reasons for their actions.

On Monday, the NISS seized copies of two sports newspapers for publishing stories on the ongoing crisis of the Sudan Football Association (SFA) after decision by FIFA to suspend the sporting body.

On several occasions the media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders has denounced the attitude of the National Intelligence and Security Services.

NGOs have also called on Sudanese authorities to check these measures considered as a serious infringement on freedom of speech.

Sudan is 174 out of 180 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index placing the country as one of the worst in terms of press freedom.

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BJP Asansol IT Incharge Tarun Sengupta arrested for spreading fake video

Alt News Impact:

Tarun Sengupta, Secretary BJP IT Cell, Asansol, WB, arrested today for spreading fake news and creating communal harmony

The logo inside the circled region in the screenshot above is that of Alt News. West Bengal police this morning announced the arrest of BJP Asansol IT Cell Secretary Tarun Sengupta who had posted a video on his Facebook timeline and had claimed that Muslim IPS officers were beating up a Hanuman Bhakt on Hanuman Jayanti this year. The video was in fact many years old and has been available on YouTube for the longest time. The arrest has been made on the basis of a Alt News story dated April 23, 2017. In our story, we had exposed Tarun Sengupta and Postcard News, both of whom had published the old video with similar fake stories.

Asansol BJP IT Cell In-charge Tarun Sengupta posted a fake pic

We had also captured Tarun Sengupta’s mischief on a Youtube video and can be seen below.

The aforesaid video however had nothing to do with Hanuman Jayanti which was celebrated on April 11 2017. This video has been available on Youtube for a very long time and following are some of the instances of this video on YouTube along with the dates on which it was uploaded to YouTube.

Posted on September 30, 2014 –
Posted on April 7, 2015 –
Posted on June 27, 2016 –

For spreading communal discord via fake videos, West Bengal Police has now arrested Tarun Sengupta.

Interestingly, when Alt News had first published this story, BJP MP from Asansol, Babul Supriyo, had called this story a fake story and had claimed that no such person called Tarun was the IT incharge in Asansol. He had also said that he will immediately enquire. We didn’t hear of any such enquiry, subsequent apology or retraction from Babul Supriyo. In fact, Tarun Sengupta, while sounding offended, had tweeted stating “Surprisingly U r so near, but unaware 2 me”, thus indicating that he was indeed associated with BJP IT Cell in Asansol.

Babul Supriyo denies Tarun Sengupta

While Tarun Sengupta has been arrested, the owners of Postcard News are still out there continuing to spread fake news on a regular basis. The article in which they had made the same false claim that Tarun Sengupta had made is still up on their website.

The owner of Postcard News resides in Karnataka but Congress ruled Karnataka has failed to take cognizance of this issue.

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Is Facebook going to play a serious role in 2019 India elections ?


Inside Facebook’s bid to become the Indian government’s default town square

Since the Free Basics failure, Facebook is going all out to woo the government, political parties and lawmakers, even launching voter registration reminders last week, in 13 languages. How serious a role is it going to play in the 2019 elections?


On 20 April 2017, the Press Information Bureau (PIB), the Indian government’s official communication department, held an unusual event: an official workshop titled ‘Instagram for Better Government Communication’. Besides PIB officials, it was attended by union ministers Venkaiah Naidu and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. The workshop saw the two ministers and bureaucrats learn the nuances of Facebook’s photo-sharing app, Instagram, and its potential as an outreach tool. It was the first such initiative by Instagram in Asia, where John Tass-Parker, its key global politics and government outreach official, participated, among others.

While the event itself did not make headlines, it highlighted something that got Facebook officials excited. That the government itself was looking at its products and services with a great deal of promise, which, if fulfilled, could make Instagram a potent communication tool, especially ahead of the general elections in 2019. According to sources, more such workshops are being planned over the next 12 months.

“Events like these are part of a concerted attempt by Facebook to win over the government. It demonstrates a very clear tactical shift from its Free Basics approach,” says a New Delhi-based technology professional, who knows how the BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) IT cell operates. He doesn’t want to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media. “These workshops and interactions will only get more common as we get closer to the 2019 elections. Wait and watch.”

What also emboldened Facebook India officials was a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Mark Zuckerberg’s February essay on ‘Building Global Community’. Zuckerberg wrote, “In India, Prime Minister Modi has asked his ministers to share their meetings and information on Facebook so they can hear direct feedback from citizens.” The officials felt that Zuckerberg’s reference was a public acknowledgement of how far Facebook had come in India, and how much further it could go from here.

There’s a certain urgency about Facebook’s approach in India. Its Free Basics initiative was shot down in February 2016 by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, which ruled against the unlimited access to the restricted internet that Facebook was offering. Now, Facebook wants to become THE platform for government officials, both for information dissemination and citizen engagement because it has the critical mass of users and a range of products to offer. And, in the process, leave Twitter behind. Meanwhile, the government has realised that while Twitter keeps a certain type of audience engaged, Facebook is where force multiplication happens. Where its messages could trickle down to the voters.

Therefore, over the last 12 months, Facebook has been growing its policy team in India led by Ankhi Das, its director for public policy in India, South and Central Asia. It has also been more proactive, funding policy research to think-tanks, industry associations, consulting companies, in areas like privacy. Essentially, Facebook has realised the importance of starting early—a departure from its approach in 2014, which was largely last-minute.

We have the people…

Being early means getting the politically inclined to use Facebook products even before they’re elected to power. At the candidate stage. “What Facebook does well is work closely with the local unit of the political parties, as we observed in the recent Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections, to create and verify candidate pages even before they become MLAs,” says the technology professional quoted earlier in the story. The BJP, sources say, currently has nearly 50% of its 312 elected representatives from UP on Facebook.

“In the political process, Facebook’s goal is to make it easier for people to get the information they need to vote and have a voice. During the state elections in 2017, 35 million people in India had over 300 million interactions and over 5000+ Facebook live videos were executed by key leaders, candidates, political parties and media partners,” writes Das in an emailed response to The Ken.

The social media giant is clearly pitching it right. To understand Facebook’s pitch, it’s important to consider some facts. India, today, is categorically, the largest market for Facebook outside of the United States. A June 2017 eMarketer study said that India has the largest share of Facebook users (32.6%) in Asia-Pacific while forecasting that 182.9 million users are expected to log into Facebook at least once during 2017. This amounts to 69.9% of all social network users and 42.6% of the internet users in the country. This, remember, is just Facebook. WhatsApp, also from the Facebook stable, recently clocked over 200 million active users in India, making it the dominant market for the messenger app. Instagram’s active user base in India, while in its nascency, is around 31 million, as reported by The Ken in March. Facebook virtually dominates India’s social communication space. Four of its apps—WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Facebook and Facebook Lite—are among the top 10 most used apps in India, as per the Mary Meeker 2017 Internet Trends report.

Facebook has been among the significant beneficiaries of Reliance Jio’s entry in July 2016 and its domino effect on data rates. It acknowledged this trend to its investors during both its Q4 2016 and Q1 2017 results. It added nearly 30 million Indian users since 2016.

One of those new users, was Paresh Kumar, a parking assistant in South Delhi’s Defence Colony market. Every day, he spends close to three or four hours on the platform he joined in November last year. “Facebook gives me everything. I chat, watch videos, read news, keep tabs on what is happening within my state (Bihar) and what the central government is up to. I follow most of the big ministers,” he says.

“Facebook’s post-Jio growth seems to have come largely from first-time smartphone users,” says a Gurugram-based digital marketing professional, who requested not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media. “What Jio and its trigger-effect also did was change the nature of content consumption. All of a sudden, watching videos on Facebook over 4G became a primary use case, which might come in handy not just for brands, but lawmakers too.”

…And therefore, your potential voters

Facebook’s bid to become the default platform for the government comes at a time when its rival, Twitter, is struggling in India with several shortcomings. For a start, a stagnant user base, with no more than 25-30 million users in India, according to industry sources. The eMarketer study quoted earlier says that only 10 million Indians are expected to use Twitter in 2017, a fraction of Facebook’s user base in India.

Twitter also suffers from a perception problem, as one populated largely by journalists and “influencers”—i.e., people who have amassed a large number of followers over the years owing to their opinions or ideological bias. And it is expensive from a marketing standpoint, with products like promoted hashtags costing a client upwards of Rs 6 lakh. While Twitter is an important channel for the government and all political parties to set the mainstream agenda, its utility remains restricted to feeding an echo-chamber and triggering reactions. With Facebook, the government sees measurable, real-time reach with the aam aadmi (common man).

It’s not surprising then that 46 out of 51 ministries, along with its ministers in charge—both Cabinet and Minister of State—has an active Facebook page, which they are asked to update. After every speech, meeting, announcement, visit, rally or any other official or parliamentary activity. Ministers are encouraged to write detailed blog posts, to be posted as a ‘Note’ on Facebook. The same holds for India’s 61 diplomatic missions abroad. All of them have an active Facebook page, with regular updates about events within the embassy. “There’s a big push under Digital India for all ministries, agencies and ministers of the government to have a voice on Facebook and other platforms to share activities, report cards and take feedback,” Das adds.

Screenshots of the pages maintained by Indian embassies on Facebook

Every press conference organised by a ministry or even the PIB is simulcasted on Facebook Live. The thinking here is that Facebook with a potential user base of 180+ million has a wider reach than any television news channel. Every minister, from time to time, has been asked to do a Live session, ranging between half an hour to an hour to update people about his ministry’s policies. On its part, Facebook has made its other tools, like ‘Q&A’, available to the government.

Screenshot of a Facebook Q&A session featuring union minister Maneka Gandhi

In some instances, the government has been careful with its messaging, especially on Facebook. “If you noticed, PM Modi’s speech the other day about gau bhakti was not posted on Facebook, while it was being live-tweeted on Twitter. Why? Because they understand the audience Facebook represents: the voters,” says Gaurav Pandhi, a member of the opposition Indian National Congress’ social media cell.

The BJP has, so far, managed to onboard 325 out of its 340 members of Parliament (MPs) on Facebook. The party also sends a rigorous weekly report card for each of its MPs, along with rankings of top-performing MPs in social media engagements. In the next six months to a year, sources say, it plans to rope in the rest.

“What we’ve observed so far is that on Facebook, engagement is 10X more than what it is on Twitter. At the individual MP or MLA level, Facebook gives us ample interactivity—not just likes or comments, but actionables,” says Arvind Gupta, head of the BJP’s IT Cell. “The feedback loop is more and more active at that level. The moment someone notices an actionable feedback, it can be taken offline. Most of the feedback is dealt with directly from the MP/MLA’s office, hence helping in a faster response.”

The importance of being early

The United States (US) experience with grassroots political engagement gives Facebook a head start in India. And it serves two purposes. One, it gets a trove of data. It can narrowcast users who follow a local official from that constituency using demographic indicators like age, gender, political ideology and economic strata (based on other preferences or ‘Likes’). Unless the said figure is a popular actor or a musician or a minister, only users from that particular constituency are likely to follow him/her to keep track of their activities and achievements.

Two, it helps advertisers (or politicians) target their campaigns more effectively. So in the next election cycle, if a rival party wants to capture the seat, it could well resort to targeted advertising on Facebook, where the ad is very likely to show up on the user’s page.

What Facebook understands is that as more and more people join its platform, even the last-mile governance, the gram panchayats, will eventually join the online party. It’d mean a vast swathe of the population is open to organising themselves on platforms like Facebook. The end result: local issues get discussed more often, giving rise to more local content.

The Facebook page of Jalmana, a gram panchayat in Haryana

Since the start of the year, Facebook has been trying to play a more proactive role in politics in the US, launching tools and features that help people reach government representatives. These include “Town Hall”, which allows users to “easily locate, follow and contact their local, state and federal government representatives,” according to a report in TechCrunch. Apparently, Facebook has also integrated a feature to send reminders for local elections in the US “to encourage users to vote in state, county, and municipal elections”.

In June, Facebook said it was rolling out three more features for its US users: constituent badges, constituent insights and district targeting. It also launched a version of its election reminder feature in India last month, in partnership with the Election Commission of India. Except, in this case, the campaign was a three-day voter registration reminder between 1-4 July. In 13 Indian languages.

Facebook says, it is “creating new ways to make civic participation a daily habit.” According to Das, “Most of us don’t know who our representatives are, especially at the local level and the work they do is the most consequential to our daily lives. Facebook makes it easy for people to find, follow and contact that elected representatives.”

Facebook’s government relations strategy has seen a shift over the last year—from policy influencing to product adoption. It must be seen as a long-term investment, arising out of its setback. If it ever considers rolling out something similar, it would have a ready base of legislators and policymakers by its side. “Its hope is that with these politicians being on the platform, they would be more open and willing to its future initiatives, than how it went about,” says the digital marketer quoted earlier in the story.

2019: India’s first Facebook election?

If all of this comes together in two years as India heads to the general elections, Facebook could have a significant role to play. Maybe not to the extent it influenced the US presidential election last year, but certainly as a tool for campaigning. WhatsApp has already emerged as the default channel for information dissemination for all parties. Facebook, with tools like Q&A and Facebook Live, could be a handful. “In these platforms, politicians see a time-saver or even a money saver,” says the digital marketer. “What is stopping a candidate from sitting at home and recording three speeches in three different languages and targeting them specifically?”

Or for that matter, by age, with different messaging. For instance, women empowerment targeted only towards women, GST or taxation towards traders or sports and employment policies towards youth. “The possibilities are endless,” he adds.

Political parties, in general, believe that Facebook is now the default public square. “Facebook is an important force multiplier. It is where the best content goes viral. That is one thing we can’t deny, and that is why for us, it’s always Facebook first, Twitter next,” says Pandhi.

Inside Facebook’s bid to become the Indian government’s default town square

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