Updated: 21 December, 2019 10:43 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi | Mumbai

In the Internet age, can a movement leave online protests out of its ambit? Young crusaders against the Citizenship Amendment Act tell you how social media can be used to educate, mobilise and speak up

To tell the truth is revolutionary," wrote Antonio Gramsci. In the late 1800s, when the Italian Marxist philosopher was working on his treatises, and when the vast language made available to us in the age of the Internet wasn't present, perhaps the small act of speaking up had more impact. Today, however, those who share information and talk on social media are often labelled "armchair activists".

But the truth is, the larger human conscientiousness doesn't exist in a vacuum. It emerges from and is moulded by society; and when approximately 627 million of that 1340-million-large nation exists on social media, perhaps an Instagram story can do more than you think.

That's why a bunch of people helming online communities are leveraging the medium to create awareness and share knowledge around the history and problems pertaining to the contentious Citizen Amendment Bill, through posters, memes and other youth-friendly content that first captivate, and then educate. We speak to a few trailblazers opposing the CAA about the revolutionary act of, as Gramsci said, telling the truth.

On the subject of intersectionality

Libertarian discourses on the concepts of justice and equality have unequivocally argued that these are basic rights that cannot and should not be subject to political bargaining. Therein lies the argument for intersectionality — any law or act is bound to impact all social and political identities eventually. At 23, Anish Gawande, founder of the Pink List, a forum that explores the intersections of politics and queer identity, is cognisant of that.

Anish Gawande

"The fight against the CAA and NRC is as much a queer fight as it is a Muslim one. As queer people, we cannot afford to stay silent when the rights that we fought for not so long ago, like the right to equality, are being taken away," the Prabhadevi resident shares. But how can an Insta story or a meme convey the gravity of socio-political issues?

"People relate more to visual language than they do to the written word. If I am making an issue relatable, like the connection between trans rights and the NRC and CAA, it's much better done through a poster than a long document. Also, that poster is based on information found in long documents," Gawande says, explaining how Internet imagery can often serve as simple translations for pedantic subjects. But can sharing, posting and reposting be enough? "It is better to speak to an echo chamber than to not speak at all."

Insta reccos
@imray1895 (on Twitter)

Protest coloured in pastel shades

Four years ago, when Priyanka Paul started Artwhoring, the idea of using her skills as an illustrator and poet to engage netizens in social dialogues was already in place. It is only the circumstances that have changed. Her work, as such, finds fresh fervour amid the ongoing protests as a platform where you can understand important issues in a legible and engaging manner.

This poster has been illustrated by Paul for a song by Delhi Sultanate and Seedhe Maut. Pic credit/azadi records
This poster has been illustrated by Paul for a song by Delhi Sultanate and Seedhe Maut. Pic credit/Azadi records

At a time when political parties are actively using social media to their advantage, voicing your opinion online is not only important, but also natural, the 20-year-old from Navi Mumbai tells us, adding that the accessibility of the Internet makes the entire process a lot more democratic.

Priyanka Paul

"In situations like this, an image or slogan can do a lot," Paul asserts. Talking about her style and reliance on, for example, pastel shades, she explains, "My work has always been political. I take concepts that would be difficult to understand in a textbook and make them approachable. When you talk about serious subjects and paint them in red and black, you automatically distance people because you leave them thinking, 'Arre, this is too serious. I am not like that'. It is important to talk to the youth in the language they understand, which is a millennial language, layered with jokes and puns."

Insta reccos

And justice for all

"I do not support the idea of delegitimising someone's protest just because they aren't stepping out of the house," says Malad-based entrepreneur Mira Malhotra, who along with a few others launched Creatives Against CAA, a website that provides creatives, posters and slogans created by artists from across the world that you can download and use. For the 36-year-old, the argument that "if you're not out on the streets, you are no revolutionary at all" is able-ist, because it doesn't account for the differently-abled, for example. But the website was launched with the purpose of making things easier for those who want to be part of the countrywide protests.

Illustration by Kruttika Susarla
Illustration by Kruttika Susarla

Currently, the platform, which is crowdsourcing content, has close to 70 posters since it went live on Tuesday, but they hope to put up educational resources, too, that will include brochures and other textual content, Malhotra says, adding that the team behind this project also needs to differentiate between editorial cartoons and comics, to sift out visible and legible illustrations that can be used on ground. Arguing for the need to speak up online, she shares, "The IT cells of political parties have already put out a particular narrative online with things like fake news, and the only way to counter that is through social media."

Insta reccos

Studying politics online

Bengaluru-based illustrator Sharath Ravishankar, who goes by the moniker @shirtshanks on Instagram, has a smorgasbord of visual content that is extremely educational. Ravishankar, who is also an animator, has a bunch of carousel posts on the social media platform that offer insight into varying subjects and social issues.

Illustration/Sharath Ravishankar
Illustration/Sharath Ravishankar

From funny takes on tweets by politicians, to a series explaining why the CAA is problematic, this is a page that is perfect for beginners or those who do not have a background in politics. Now, he has also roped in peers to translate his works in languages like Tamil and Kannada.

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First Published: 21 December, 2019 10:35 IST

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