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The hashtag revolutionaries

The hashtag revolutionaries
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First Published: Sat, Apr 09 2011. 12 07 AM IST

Long road: Are you an overnight protester or a marathon man? Photo: Subhav Shukla/PTI
Long road: Are you an overnight protester or a marathon man? Photo: Subhav Shukla/PTI
Updated: Sat, Jul 02 2011. 06 34 PM IST
As I write this, almost everyone on my Twitter timeline is hashtagging Anna Hazare, India’s most marketable social activist. Head-in-sand Lounge readers should know that the new world routinely uses the # symbol with a keyword in a tweet to categorize it and so it shows up more easily in a search.
Long road: Are you an overnight protester or a marathon man? Photo: Subhav Shukla/PTI
@probablytrippy, who describes himself, among other things, as a smoker, joker, midnight toker, is all seriousness today. He wants to lead a simultaneous flash mob fast in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. He’s currently looking for someone who can take responsibility for each city and marshal the full-day fast tentatively being planned for Sunday. Let’s do this, he is urging.
Others are reviving must-read stories about #annahazare and sharing video links. One gent recalls how he first heard of Hazare in Reader’s Digest and became a fan, someone else is recommending replacing Twitter and Facebook profile pictures with Hazare’s.
Offline, the response to Hazare’s protest to enact a stronger version of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill has been swifter. Thousands of political workers have already been there, done that in support of Hazare’s fast outside Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, Mumbai’s Azad Maidan and elsewhere across the country.
But why should speed matter? “They” have more experience at raising their voices than “us”, right? Now, thanks to social networking, at least we no longer need to end every cocktail party discussion with that dreaded question: But what can we do? And so what, if in this case, just the act of anointing Hazare the poster boy of anti-corruption makes us feel like we actually have contributed something to modern India. Anything’s a start.
Thus far, social networking in India doesn’t have a very impactful resume. Yes, thanks to all the badgering on Twitter and Facebook, Indian Premier League team Indi Commandos Kerala did become the much nicer sounding Kochi Tuskers. A certain tweet did result in a certain minister losing his job. Public art effort The Wall Project got tremendous online support when a stretch of freshly painted wall in Mumbai was defaced by movie posters. Members of the film fraternity eventually apologized on Twitter. Alas, since then more posters have been stuck on the wall.
Of course the smaller revolutions go mostly unreported.
Recently on the Delhi Metro, when a man inappropriately touched Dharini, and slapped her when she protested, Roselyn D’mello, a friend of hers, wrote a note about the incident on Facebook. “I urge you not to let this go. Let’s make a f****** mountain out of a ‘molehill’ (this is what the men in the metro accused Dharini of doing). Let’s start a serious debate about the reservation for women in the Delhi metro. Don’t stay silent about this. We need to protest! We need to have our voices heard. It’s our city too,” she said.
D’mello says her note last month went viral and resulted in much online debate. Eventually, a group of 30-35 people met to debate what they should do next. In addition to planning the details of a flash mob to protest the incident, the group now has a list of demands it plans to present to the DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation).
I know all female commuters in Delhi would be happy if the Metro okays their charter: regularly announce that harassment is a punishable offence; ensure that CCTV footage is available on all trains; set up a help desk at every Metro station; tell women what procedure they should follow when they are sexually harassed on the Metro; ensure the Emergency Button is clearly visible, within reach and working on all trains; enforce the no-men-in-a-women’s-compartment rule etc.
But in a world with a 140-character attention span, the thing that sets apart any truly successful campaign is staying power.
One ongoing online marathon initiative that wowed me was conceptualized by bloggers Kiran Manral and Monika Manchanda on a long drive. They came up with the idea of a month-long awareness campaign on child sexual abuse, something that (officially) 53% of Indian children have encountered while growing up. The campaign hasn’t attained #annahazare cult status, but I’m a huge fan of this type of activism. All through April, around 40 people will blog on this subject, share gut-wrenching, matter-of-fact true stories and offer expert help on dealing with sexual abuse. Many NGOs such as Arpan, Enfold, Rahi and Tulir have supported this effort.
Responsible traditional media has increasingly realized that they can “own” an issue too. So Hindustan Times and Mint have relentlessly pursued their Tracking Hunger campaign for nearly two years now. Last month, CNN announced that throughout 2011, it will take on the issue of human trafficking with its “The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery”. The network said that through the year, its reporting would “expose the horrors of modern-day slavery, highlight the growing efforts to stop the trade and exploitation of human beings and amplify the voices of the victims.” And, of course, who can forget The Times of India’s now-on, now-off Aman ki Asha campaign.
Go on, pick your channel of communication, be a revolutionary.
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Apr 09 2011. 12 07 AM IST