Home >Mint-lounge >Features >The selfie with a cause

Our war veterans claim that thousands of them have returned gallantry medals to the government to protest the dilution of the Orop (One Rank, One Pension) scheme. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar says this behaviour is “unlike that of a soldier". Why not consider another idea that’s really unlike soldier behaviour: a selfie campaign? Imagine all those dignified army faces holding up their medals on social media, with a line telling us how they got the medal. Wouldn’t it be better than destroying/returning the medals in frustration? Besides, we all know the Prime Minister closely tracks selfies on social media.

I was a late adopter of selfies and only began taking them after we brought Babyjaan home in 2010. They recorded the fatigue and exhilaration of new motherhood. They were private; I never shared them on social media (probably because I looked more fatigued than exhilarated).

In the decade since selfies took over our lives, we’ve debated them down to the last pixel. Hell we even had a #SelfieOlympics (don’t tell me you don’t secretly dream of doing a #doorselfie).

The verdict is still out on whether selfies encourage women to objectify themselves for the male gaze or, on the contrary, help them control images of themselves that go out into the world. In men, selfies have famously been linked to narcissism.

A Wikipedia page painstakingly records death by selfie, i.e. a scary-funny assortment of people who fell off cliffs across the world or shot themselves while attempting to take a selfie with a gun. And the craziness continues. A Japanese tourist fell and died while trying to take a selfie at the Taj Mahal in September. A teenager was electrocuted when he tried to take a selfie from the roof of a Mumbai train earlier this month. The Russian government has even introduced a cautionary illustrated booklet alerting people to dangerous selfie scenarios such as standing in front of an oncoming train or posing near a wild animal.

There’s a ton of advice out there on how to take the perfect selfie. Andrej Karpathy, a student at Stanford University, US, used a neural network to analyse two million selfies and found that high-rated selfies are usually shot by women (selfies on the whole are more a female pastime) and often consist of images in which the face occupies about one-third of the image. His tips for shooting a good selfie, based on the analysis: Cut off your forehead, show your long hair; add a filter and a border; and oversaturate your face.

What’s interesting in this mass of self-imagery that clogs up the tickers of our lives is that governments and assorted organizations are now using the selfie for reasons other than just because.

In Gujarat, government employees opposed to fixed pay posted “Thumbs Down" selfies on Facebook and Twitter. In Andhra Pradesh, the government launched a selfie campaign to get people to support the new capital of Amaravati. Rohingya activist Wai Wai Nu started a My Friend selfie campaign to protest intolerance in Myanmar. Get a selfie of yourself getting your flu vaccine, the Vermont department of health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US told people when they launched their campaign.

Selfie campaigns, already popular with consumer brands such as Samsung and Dove, will soon be as popular as online petitions and candlelight marches. Orop is just crying out for a selfie campaign (cc Gul Panag).

The ongoing Selfie with Doctor campaign of the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (Mard) hopes to reconcile an increasingly strained doctor-patient relationship. Sagar Mundada, president of Mard, says the organization started a Facebook page last month after a series of recent attacks on doctors in the state. Doctors in public hospitals struggle to manage the flood of patients and are often abrupt with patients. Patients feel doctors don’t communicate and when things go bad they are, increasingly, reacting violently. Private hospitals where doctors must function as employees of a corporation also alienate patients. “It’s becoming more of a client-consumer relationship," says Mundada, who came up with the idea of launching the selfie campaign to create goodwill. “If you click a selfie with someone you’re close to, it automatically inspires an unconscious bond," he adds.

He says he was inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign encouraging fathers to take selfies with their daughters. That Beti Bachao, Selfie Banao campaign, promoted by Modi on one of his radio shows, was actually launched in Bibipur, Haryana, by sarpanch Sunil Jaglan.

Jaglan, who usually always has a hundred ideas whirring in his head, tells me over the phone that after Modi mentioned his #selfiewithdaughter campaign again during a recent visit to the Silicon Valley and Wembley stadium, UK, the selfies have been pouring in on WhatsApp. He estimates he’s got about 8,000 selfies since he began the campaign in June, a few days before his birthday.

Jaglan, who has two daughters, Nandini and Yashika, rattles off some plans that are underway: a free library for girls equipped with books and six laptops; computer coaching classes; replacing the traditional nameplates in each house with those that carry the daughter’s name and email address; sex education for schoolchildren. He wants Haryana schools to have a daily prayer that includes the ideas of women empowerment and gender equality. “Do you know there are no books available on female foeticide?" he tells me. “We should be teaching six-year-olds to think about why their brothers go to school with them but not their sisters."

And to think it was only because of the humble selfie that the rest of India got to hear his ideas.

Priya Ramani will share what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable every fortnight. She tweets at @priyaramani and posts on Instagram as babyjaanramani.

Also read | Priya Ramani’s previous Lounge columns

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