Reflections on Online Activism in India

Anja Kovacs’ article excerpted here:

“Research and activism on the Internet in India remain fledgling in spite the media hype, says Anja Kovacs in her blog post that charts online activism in India as it has emerged.

Since the late 1990s when protesters against the WTO in Seattle used a variety of new technologies to revolutionize their ways of protesting so as to further their old goals in the information age, much has been made of the possibilities that new technologies seem to offer social movements. The emergence of Web 2.0 seems to have only multiplied the possibilities of building on the Internet’s democratising potentials, so widely heralded since the rise of the commercial Internet in the 1990s, and since then, the use of social media for social change has received widespread media attention worldwide. From Spain to Mexico, activists used the Internet as a central tool in their efforts to organise and mobilise – be it to express their stand against a war in Iraq, against a Costa Rican Free Trade Agreement with the United States, to mobilise support for the Zapatistas of Chiapas, or more recently, to push for a change of guard in Iran.

In 2009, when Nisha Susan launched the Pink Chaddi campaign, the ‘ICT for Revolution’ buzz finally seemed to have reached India as well. Phenomenally successful in terms of the attention it generated for the issue it sought to address, the campaign sought to protest in a humorous fashion against attacks on women pub-goers in Karnataka by Hindu right wing elements. In only a matter of weeks, Facebook associated with the campaign – ‘The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women’, which gathered tens of thousands of members. It was ultimately killed off when Susan’s Facebook account was cracked by rivals. The campaign was perhaps the singular most successful account of ‘digital activism’ in India so far, and an impressive one by all measures.

The creativity of the campaign should not come as a surprise to those familiar with the long and rich history of activism for social change in India. Organised social actors have been critical influences in the emergence of new social identities as well as on critical policy junctures from colonial times onwards, developing a fascinating and unmistakably Indian language of protest in the process (see Kumar 1997 and Zubaan 2006 for examples from feminist movement)...”

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