Internet generation

Social media addiction has its perils, but Instagram is where young Indians come to bare their soul

When strangers online become your community, where else do you go to discuss sexuality, art and politics?

Before he committed suicide on July 31, 14-year-old Manpreet Singh is reported to have shared one final picture of himself on social media. For adults who see platforms like Facebook and Instagram only as a way to pass time or share vacation photographs, this might seem macabre – but there appears to be a clear gap between their casual approach to social media and the near-constant curating and sharing of moments by those who go through life scrolling through an Instagram feed.

India has the world’s second-largest population of smartphone users. Its social media addiction has been compared to alcoholism, linked with depression. The largest number of people that die trying to take the perfect selfie are Indian. As phone screens begin to consume ever more of our time and attention, Scroll.in spoke to three young people who spend several hours of the day sharing vulnerable aspects of their lives on Instagram – to learn the rules of navigating the internet with self-esteem and sanity intact.

Dual lives, dual Instagram accounts

Mohini Ki Almari is an Instagram account run by a 21-year-old bisexual person in Lucknow, who asked for their gender and identity to be kept secret. Their family has no idea about their sexual orientation, so Mohini Ki Almari is where they feel they can be their most authentic self. The account, with over 1,600 followers, is a carefully curated feed comprised of LGBTQI-friendly art, photographs and memes. Mohini uses Instagram Stories, and camera feed to reveal as much as possible without compromising their identity. On the day of Lucknow’s pride parade, Mohini streamed the march live.

Love Story of a Cloth 💟 Part 7 __________________________ This is my story. I’m the cloth who got out of the closet. I'm the cloth who fell in love and will not be shy about expressing it. I'm the cloth who doesn't owe anyone any answers. I’m not the queen they thought I am, I’m not the king they now think I am. I am the Jack of all, the annoying misfit who seems like the useless card when in hand, but unveils its strength with time. If you don't drop it, that is. __________________________ Credits 🌹 Written by @nehakarode & @barahdari Modelling and costume design by @barahdari Photography by @nehakarode __________________________ Source : https://www.behance.net/gallery/55108583/Love-Story-of-a-Cloth

A post shared by Mohini Kumar (@mohini_ki_almari) on

Mohini’s Finstagram (as Fake Instagram accounts used by those who lead dual or multiple lives online are called), is less populated and active than Mohini Ki Almari. “[The Finstagram] has nothing related to the LGBTQI community, and I’m very picky about who follows me,” they said. “That’s where I post things about my ‘real life’.”

Even though Mohini ki Almari doesn’t specify their gender on Instagram, the name means people assume the account is run by a girl. “I get direct messages soliciting me,” they said. Most public comments appear to be positive, and when they are not, Mohini said, “I don’t take it to heart.”

A bit much now

Tanya Maheshwari, a student at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, uses Instagram to show her art, for which the medium is her body. Her presence on the platform has grown consistently since she joined in November 2014, garnering over 1,600 followers. Among admirers of her work are famous photographers like The Sartorialist.

Instagram is Maheshwari’s internet – she uses it to find new artists, designers, and at times even current events. She learnt about the spate of lynchings, including young Junaid Khan’s murder on a train, and followed the #NotInMyName protest through her friends’ Instagram feeds.

Maheshwari photographs herself constantly, but the pictures aren’t exactly regular selfies. Instead, she uses her image along with everyday objects to create conceptual art (along the lines of French artist Gina Pane’s Art Corporel). Body hair is addressed through an on-going series in which she glues colourful threads and black wires to her armpits. In another series aimed at de-stigmatising menstruation, she uses tampons as accessories.

Unfollow / meh #electroarmpit #noshave

A post shared by T:a/ny-"a (@tanya.maheshwari) on

The comments on most photographs are encouraging, albeit in emoji-speak: a fire emoji, a laughing face with tears, hearts with cherries and a red rose.

tampjewels

A post shared by T:a/ny-"a (@tanya.maheshwari) on

But validation is not always the mainstay of the experience online. The picture she shared in September 2016, in which she wore tampons as earrings, garnered harsh words in the comments section:

“Dude, are you autistic?” a commenter asked.

“I’ll show you the horrendous messages I get in my direct messages [folder] sometime,” Maheshwari said. “They can bring somebody’s self-esteem down like, wow.” She’s been told she is not beautiful enough, had her work described as disgusting and ridiculous.

An older person’s reaction to the messages might be to ignore them and move on. But Maheshwari insists on engagement. “I feel compelled to reply to these kind of messages,” she said. “Like, I don’t want to deem these people as sexist, or ignorant, or whatever. You can just educate them rather than belittling them.”

One time, a stranger messaged to say she should stop sharing “controversial photos” because she was “such a pretty girl”. Maheshwari had a detailed exchange with him about her art and the body as a canvas. It was an engagement, she admits, made possible by the fact that there was little chance she would meet the man (or most people who follow her online) in real life.

lookism.

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“I do my best to explain, unless they get really aggressive,” she said. If the exchange becomes abusive or starts going in circles such that the person refuses to see her point of view, she stops messaging.

Whose lens is it anyway?

Aamir Wani stumbled into social media stardom a few months after he joined Instagram in September 2015. His posts – pictures and videos of everyday life in Kashmir – have earned him over 31,000 followers.

“When it comes to Kashmir, people only see the extreme,” he said. “What I try to do is to show and write about Kashmir as a common citizen.”

Wani captions his pictures with poetry, which he also discusses on a live Instagram feed. “I think for anyone who wants to understand Kashmir, knowing Aga Shahid Ali’s poetry is extremely important.”

While his audience responds well to this softer side of Kashmir, Wani also tracks current events, such the recent attacks on Amarnath yatris on his Instagram. On July 10, he posted a picture of the sprawling Gulmarg Valley, purple Delphiniums lining the edge of the photograph.

My heart goes out to the dead and injured Amarnath yatris who were attacked last night by the terrorists. Killing of an innocent is an act of terrorism and the people who did it are nothing but terrorists. Yatra has been going on for decades and an incident like this has never happened before. We Kashmiris starve ourselves but we make sure that our guests are well fed and treated warmly. Last night's incident has left a pain in our hearts. There's not a single Kashmiri who doesn't stand against this heinous crime. Whoever has done it has no religion or love for humanity. I hope and pray the culprits are caught at the earliest. To all the people who visit us for tourism or for Amarnath pilgrimage, I would like to thank each one of you and at the same time I'd like to apologise for what happened last night. However, I'd also like to say that the people behind this act are not us, we Kashmiris condemn this barbarity. The media, as always, is busy fabricating hatred for us. I really hope sense prevails. We Kashmiris, are just common people, like you. We have basic emotions as well. We condemn such brutal and inhuman acts. Pray for love and peace.

A post shared by Aamir Wani (@kashmirthroughmylens) on

On the day of the Amarnath attack, Wani posted this photograph with the caption: "We Kashmiris starve ourselves but we make sure our guests are well fed and treated warmly. Last night’s incident left a pain in our hearts… There’s not a single Kashmiri who doesn’t stand against this heinous crime.”

Images of Kashmir that highlight social issues get the most engagement from his followers, he said. “That’s when people comment more and not just social, but also about their political views.”

12 years ago Mohammad Rafiq Shah – MA Student at the University of Kashmir was picked by Delhi Police. His crime? He was alleged to have planted a bomb in a bus in Delhi in 2005. 12 years later on Feb 16, he was acquitted of the crimes after spending more 12 yrs of his youth in jail, for a crime he was found not guilty of. Rafiq said that he was forced to drink urine, kept naked & sexually abused, all in order to perhaps break his spirit. What hurts me the most is when he had said, “IT SEEMS I AM BEING VICTIMISED ONLY BECAUSE I AM A KASHMIRI MUSLIM.” Although he has been released from the jail but who is going to give back 12 years of his life? Irony is that the officers who framed him in false charges must have gotten promotions & awards. This is for Rafiq.. . . Nights strip me off my skin, The days are cold My blood has frozen, Days turned to weeks Weeks to years, My winter does not get over, Spring never returns, I have not seen mother in so long. She waits for me on the stairs at Khankah of Shah-i-Hamdan I remember her eyes, their light is what keeps me alive, Her voice resonates here, in this venomous air, Someone go and tell her, I am not anymore, how I was strong, I have not seen mother in so long. The cold wind keeps me warm, when it comes singing to me I recognise your voice even in the wails, I recognise our song and I have not seen mother in so long. They try to break me my soul has been bruised, every inch scarred I often find myself scattered Vultures eat away my flesh the moment I feel I must die I see you walking along through these alleys of pain and I have not seen my mother in so long. The shackles of hatred shall rust slowly, but will I ever be same again? I will write even with blood I am innocent, I was always Is it me or are they wrong? I have not seen mother in so long. The marks on my body will fade away But who will clean the scars on soul? I might even forgive but how does one forget? My body may live but what about soul? Leave the darkness, today it is me, tomorrow it could be you, If this is justice, this is wrong Do not ask me more Let me die in peace, Let me go to where I belong and I have not seen mother in so long.

A post shared by Aamir Wani (@kashmirthroughmylens) on

But when he posted about Mohammed Rafiq Shah, who was wrongly imprisoned for 12 years, during which time Shah alleged he was tortured and sexually abused, the comments included people thanking him for speaking up. Also in the mix were statements like: “Why you Kashmiri youth earn money by throwing stones at Indian army. Why? You Kashmiris are still supporting Pakistani terrorist and give them shadow in your houses. You. Whoever you are. It’s cause of people like you who spread the wrong message. I am sorry. But I am against you.”

He said he has been threatened “from both sides” – by Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris. If a post appears to be causing too much trouble, Wani does remove it. Constantly plagued by commenters who ask him on every post why he doesn’t talk about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, Wani recently took a walk through Haba Kadal area in the Old City where several Kashmiri Pandit families once lived. As he panned his phone camera across abandoned buildings, he told his audience: “The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits had a deep impact on our society, and I feel Kashmir isn’t complete without them.”

Still, Wani’s family discourages him from sharing his opinion on politics or current events. “I know it’s only because they don’t want me to get into trouble,” he said. “I have received messages asking me to take down a post or else the persons would come to my house. That shook me, because they knew where I lived.”

Shahid had said, "Kashmir is a country without post office". The statement still holds true. It still is a country without post office. Today, the government ordered a ban on social media websites in Kashmir. The ban is here for a month and then they'll review the situation and decide the future course of action. I find this funny because only a couple of weeks ago the Supreme Court of India declared that Internet access was a basic fundamental right for all Indians; and this right cannot be curtailed and blocked at any cost. Now, I see there are two ways this action could be broken down - either Kashmiris are not Indians or the government has no regards for the Supreme Court of India. There are a lot of people who run their businesses/enterprises on social media and now that the ban has been enforced, it means no business for them. No source of income, no growth. Less sustainability, more suppression. More importantly this censorship is nothing but a tool to oppress and suppress people, we're not allowed to voice our opinions and if we don't say what the state wants us to say, they cut down our throats. They've done it before and they've done it yet again. I don't know if I'd be able to post from tomorrow or not. Pray for Kashmir and Inshallah I shall keep you all updated.

A post shared by Aamir Wani (@kashmirthroughmylens) on

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.