Dalits and Social Media

 

Anitya Sanket

sanket garud 1Since the commencement of social networking and its popularization in India, the Indian masses have successfully exploited it, so much so that today we are the third largest online population in the world with 73.9 million people. Out of all, this has benefitted the marginalized communities the most. The Dalit community which arguably is under-represented in the Indian mainstream media, with the awakening of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, has been using the respective platforms to educate people about the idea of India that Dr. Ambedkar envisioned. Considering the amount of space that the Indian textbooks give to Dalit history, without the use of the internet, the politicization of the oppressed classes and solidarity at the times of atrocities and injustice would have been arduous.

Looking at the numerical strength of the right wing Hindutva pages on both, Facebook and Twitter, one becomes cognizant of the fact that the spaces occupied by the Ambedkarites lag far behind the right wing elements. But, the growing importance and influence of the assertion of the oppressed classes on the social media and the audience, at large, cannot simply be ignored. The anti-caste activists and their audiences on Facebook and Twitter have created their own unique space, which is unquestionably commendable. Often these pages bring out statistics concerning the plight of Dalit Bahujans, the uncensored stories of discrimination, which otherwise would not have happened with the upper-caste dominant Indian media.

Round Table India, a Dalit Bahujan portal, is one such website which gives space to Dalit Bahujan intellectuals to articulate on several topics, ranging from research articles to critiques of the appropriation of Dalit history by the Brahmin-Savarnas. With over 300 published authors and a published book, 'Hatred in the belly', Round Table India's growing popularity is indeed a success for the marginalized communities. With the rise of Dalits using the Internet for activism, the amount of tension and panic among the right wing elements seem visible. Along with other popular platforms, YouTube, too has paved a way for the oppressed masses to voice their grievances and agitate through various short films, lectures and documentaries. The epitome of these efforts is the channel Dalit Camera Ambedkar, which speaks about the Dalits and oppressed.

Along with other websites which focus on the assertion of Dalit rights, Facebook and Twitter handles too are generating huge impact. Among such Facebook pages, the 'Babasaheb Ambedkar' page and 'Dr. B.R Ambedkar's Caravan' are recently gaining popularity with over 50,000 and 30,000 facebook likes respectively. Babasaheb Ambedkar page, as they say, is an alternative media platform to voice the unvoiced and Dr. B.R Ambedkar's Caravan, to promote ideas of equality and justice.

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Dr. Ambedkar's thoughts are to be found on the Internet in the forms of articles, research papers and other forms. But promoting ideas of an egalitarian society amid anti-affirmative action pages and sponsored pages busy appropriating Dr. Ambedkar, is no easy task. One such dedicated facebook page, Dr. B.R Ambedkar Quotes with an immense audience of almost 42k likes, articulates on several untouched issues along with, of course, sharing Dr. Ambedkar's pictured quotes in proper context. They have a blog by the name 'essentialambedkar.blogpost.in' as well.

Social Media's growing power is not to be, in any way, underestimated. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why every political party and political figure use their official pages and accounts to reach larger audiences. One recent incident which proves how powerfully the Dalits have used social media is the Rohith Vemula 'suicide' case. Not only country wide agitations but also a huge uproar following debates on the same were witnessed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The hashtags with #DalitLivesMatter #JusticeForRohtih trended on both Facebook and Twitter which forced the Indian Media to touch the untouched stories of discrimination, academic untouchability, denials of stipends and scholarships to the SC/ST students.

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Earlier, the banning of APSC too united the online Dalit Bahujans to become one voice against the ill-treatment of Dalits in elite institutions. Among several incidents, the Dalits used the space for agitating against the denial of allocations, to the tune of 61% and 53% for the Dalits and Adivasis respectively, under the SCSP and TSP Budget by the Modi government; the arrest of Sheetal Sathe, a Dalit rights activist and folk Singer, the Delta Meghwal murder case, Faridabad atrocity which mainly went unnoticed through the mainstream media's eyes. Havells Fans which recently tried promoting an anti-constitutional ad was forced to take it down when their change in the wind (that the ad suggested) was found fusty.

Highlighting the upper caste hypocrisy, a humorous Twitter and Facebook page with the name, 'Just Savarna Things' (JST), too has come up and is set to reach 8,000 likes. JST, administered by Dalit and other intellectuals exposes the forms in which the caste has transcended its identity. Just Savarna Things brings out the cases of appropriation of Dalit history and intellectuals by Brahmin authors along with the casteist taunts the Dalits face on a day-to-day basis. No wonder JST, for its satirical memes has made its way to the TOI, Firstpost and the Bombay Times (some of the memes are interspersed through this article).

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With the power of social media and its trolls, the political parties are busy fighting the internet battle to woo the Dalits, who have marked their presence with grace. The Dalit movement on the social media would not be irrelevant if compared with the movement of Blacks on the same platform. With the great success of 'Dalit History Month', 'Father of Modern India' campaign, 'Dalit Lives matter', 'Dalit women fight', the Dalits have demonstrated their strength. Perhaps that could be one of the reasons why the 125th Birth Anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar was a grand event for wooing the Dalits by political parties. With the emergence of Dalits online, the battle for Equality, Justice and Fraternity envisioned by the father of modern India, Dr. Ambedkar, is running steady on its course.

To be continued.

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Anitya Sanket is a student of Arts, based in Mumbai. He can be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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