Using the art of storytelling, online project Bindi Bottoms seeks to chronicle the progression of Indian society through the tales of its women. Woven in a few hundred words and written in simple language, the stories capture inspiring journeys, evoke emotions, captivate the imagination, and draw valuable knowledge and lessons towards change or betterment.
Bindi Bottoms provides a common platform to Indian women from different walks of life to narrate their life journeys or specific transforming events. The short stories recount events in a woman’s life that reflect a personal change or a moment of emancipation from societal norms. “It is not a life biography but a specific moment of change, and moments of change are often small and subtle. The project seeks to canvas that moment and share it with other people," says Vatsala Shrivastava, who co-founded the platform in 2016 with ‘Future Ideas’, an intellectual property consultancy firm.
The initiative won recognition as the winner at the Digital Empowerment Foundation’s awards in the ‘Women Empowerment’ category in 2017.
The tales, Shrivastava notes, seek to unravel the changing beliefs, aspirations, attitudes and behaviour of women in contemporary India. Each post is usually 700 words long, written in simple English or Hindi, which can be easily understood by an average reader. The stories may be about a teenage girl running a tea stall or an octogenarian’s life after retirement or a paramilitary personnel’s life as a security official and as a mother. The posts are written by Bindi Bottoms writers in the first person narration style. Creative and popular keywords and tags are used to reach a wider audience through social media. On Facebook, Bindi Bottoms has more than 52,000 followers. The posts on average draw daily user engagement from over 1.4 million online consumers with unique views from 35,000 people daily.
The inspiration to tell the stories of women came to Shrivastava when she was following a news story about a blast in Pakistan while working as a journalist in Delhi. “I was working at an English news daily, and one evening I was about to finish work when a report of a blast in Pakistan flashed. I expected the toll of victims to rise, and decided to stay in office to update the numbers for the outgoing edition. It was then that I had this thought about how can people be just numbers. I found myself lacking empathy, and it didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to rediscover myself."
Soon after moving to the US in 2012, Shrivastava began collecting stories of women who had come to the US from different countries and gathering them on a blog. However, she formalised her work after a professor in the department of information at the University of California, Berkeley, got interested in Shrivastava’s work and the two co-founded ‘Represent’—a platform for collecting stories of women.
“I chose Bihar as my field of study and collected as many as 300 stories. The focus was to globalize, localize and democratize content. Globalize by putting the stories online. Localize by tagging them exactly by the map from where the stories were collected from. Democratize by allowing anyone and everyone to upload, edit and tell own stories," she says.
Shrivastava co-founded Bindi Bottoms after shifting back to India in 2016, to record the stories of people, their experiences, struggles and aspirations, and to map change at a societal level. One of the major difficulties she faced while recording the stories was to make women believe and realize that they had a story to narrate.
She explains that “it takes time and energy to convince them of that".
“I was in Siwan district of Bihar, when I asked an elderly woman to tell me about her story. The lady started to cry, saying no one had every asked her to narrate her life."
The blogger asserts that social media is a great equaliser as it allows women from any place to tell their stories, and as positive responses to posts are received from various demographics, especially men. “The stories are about change, and not a commentary on society. Thus, the language is carefully chosen and such that it invokes a positive feeling. I often get messages from men who say that they enjoy reading these stories."
Shrivastava now aims to create a gender neutral platform where people irrespective of their gender can narrate stories, and where stories can be told in ways that would function as healing elements for self-fulfilment, human development and societal progress.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.