A resurgent India, it’s level of patience boiling over, a dire need for change where all the social evils such as violence against women, corruption, red-tape, governments more used to lip-servicing than real work on the ground, need for enhanced conscientious governance – that’s what social media in India has come to represent.
Even as the world bid goodbye to 2012, a year of challenges and large-scale gloom, and political and economic paralysis, we Indians can celebrate the year of realisation of our social media enablement and maturity. Where everything else failed, we Indians turned to social media – not that there were no attempts to silence our voices in the virtual world too – and we, won in more ways than one.
Take for example the death of constable Subhash Tomar, who collapsed during the agitation sparked by the 23-year-old paramedic’s gangrape in New Delhi. If the helpless, ‘avenging’ Delhi government had its political ways, Tomar’s death would have been pinned on the agitators as the authorities version was that he suffered injuries inflicted by the protesters. Normally, as has been seen in police cases in the country, the administration’s claims stick to the lie far, making the truth a prey to all conspiracies. But this time around, it just could not happen as social media went viral, eyewitnesses putting their bits, and the mainstream media prodding the government to come clean.
The result: According to ‘The Economic Times’, “The Tomar episode, when social media set the agenda and put the government on the back foot, is one more example of rise of people’s power online. The political class in India has been shaken by the speed and efficiency with which the recent protests were coordinated. Some of them, like Abhijit Mukherjee (President Pranab Mukherjee’s son), have ended up putting their foot in their mouth while others like Congress’ youth icon and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi have not even cared to react.
“The reason for Tomar's death is still unclear, but the post-mortem report has attributed it to external injuries.”
The Tomar incident was but perhaps a small significant exclamation mark in the anti-rape protests that literally caught like a wildfire, thanks to the social media campaigns against such heinous crimes that portray depravity of human beings to new lows. ‘Citizens against Rapists, Molesters and Atrocities’; ‘India Against Rape’; ‘India Against Rape and Molestation...’ are some of the sites on Facebook that literally put the finger to the masses’ eye and tell it in one voice, “WAKE UP!”
In fact, such sites have done more. It has woken up the world. Owen Jones, the British author and commentator, wrote in ‘The Independent’ in his comment titled ‘Sexual violence is not a cultural phenomenon in India – it is endemic everywhere’ that “Rape and sexual violence against women are endemic everywhere. Shocked by what happened in India? Take a look at France, that prosperous bastion of European civilisation. In 1999, two then-teenagers – named only as Nina and Stephanie – were raped almost every day for six months. Young men would queue up to rape them, patiently waiting for their friends to finish in secluded basements. After a three-week trial this year, 10 of the 14 accused left the courtroom as free men; the other four were granted lenient sentences of one year at most.”
Owen goes on to say that even in Brtiain, according to the Government’s Action Plan on ‘Violence against Women and Girls’, 80,000 women are raped a year, and 400,000 women are sexually assaulted.
Owen says: “It is a pandemic of violence against women that – given its scale – is not discussed nearly enough (in the West).”
But we are talking of the reach of social media here, in India, and not only about the atrocities against women – the awakening of Year 2012 to the power of Indians – across caste, creed and colour – singly exhibited online.
India has had many prime incidents to celebrate the rise of social media in its horizon: Whether it was the anti-corruption campaign which was fuelled online; Aseem Trivedi and his drive against censorship of the internet; the national outrage against the Guwahati mob molestation of a girl, which ultimately led to the conviction of 11 accused; the arrest of former Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra and his neighbour Subroto Roy for their arrest in the middle of the night for circulating a cartoon of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly recommended that the state government pay Rs 50,000 each to the two and also take ‘suo motu’ cognisance of the incident recommending departmental enquiry against the officer in-charge and sub-inspector of Jadavpur ‘thana’ who arrested them; and finally, it was anti-rape campaign that spilled over to the New Year.
There were others like in Palghar, where Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan were arrested for their Facebook comments when Mumbai observed a shut down following Bal Thackeray’s death. The incident not only ignited nation-wide protests against the Maharashtra government and the police but also kicked off a full-scale free-speech debate in a country where right to speech is promised to every citizen by the Constitution.
According to ‘The Times of India’, “The unbridling of the power of the social media was undoubtedly a top, if not number 1 trend of 2012 in India.”
Indeed. Social media has come a long way since Bollywood stars and celebrity cricketers have been using it to connect to their fans. Even politicians such as Shashi Tharoor and Omar Abdullah joined the Twitterati to often opine on topics that they may not be directly associated with, but are burning social issues. The year gone by has just made us all realise that social media is all that, and also the collective voice of the masses, as the cases mentioned above reveal.
In a country where there are 120 million internet users, with over 16 million on Twitter and 60 million on Facebook -- and that is only a tenth of a population -- the power of the social media is poised for a growth that can be best described as a phenomenon. What is likely to further make India fully realise its social-media potential is the increasing 3G penetration, as Times of India says, “so much of growth still left to come”.
ToI cites technology market researcher Gartner to support this growth story – While about 221 million mobiles were sold in India in 2012, sales are expected to touch 251 million units in 2013.
All those in the government who think that bridling social media will be the only way to ‘kill’ its resurgence, are reading the silence wrong. They must understand that the country – and as much as its democracy permits – is in the middle of a gargantuan economic and social upheaval. According to ‘statuspeople.com’, “What we are seeing is an industrial revolution almost on the scale of what occurred in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries… (It) points towards an already large base of people who are social media aware but there is also massive room for growth. Currently, Facebook has only penetrated 4.85 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion population; and grow it will, especially when you consider that one in every four online minutes is spent on social networking sites.”
Let’s understand that for India the times are changing and the availability of technology is becoming more widespread where social media is not only a platform to congregate upon to say hello to the rest of the world but also to introspect, mull, decide, think, retrospect on common causes of sorrow, socially or individually. 2012 was just the beginning. More is bound to follow.
The author is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4media Group