Beyond the social media horizon

Privacy Matters is an attempt by artistes, activists and writers to take the debate to the grassroots

“For more information, read the Constitution,” says the last scene of the recent Privacy Matters video, featuring musician TM Krishna, rapper and activist Sofia Ashraf, writer Perumal Murugan and Dalit rights activists Shital Sathe and Sachin Mali.

The video, which is a Justice Rocks production, conceptualised by Krishna and Nityanand Jayaraman, a city-based activist, breaks down the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement on Right to Privacy, with assistance from Usha Ramanathan, an internationally recognised legal scholar. Jayaraman, one of the producers of the video, says “Especially in these vitiated times, when we have forgotten the Constitution, we need to remind ourselves, how important a document it is, whether you are anti or pro Indian.” The video is blunt in its criticism of all kinds of State surveillance.

This is not the first time that activists and artistes with a social conscience have used social media to spark a debate. While some have snowballed into political movements, some also peter out after being momentary social media hullabaloo. This is also a time when anyone can be seen as an activist, if they click the right links and sign online petitions. However, Privacy Matters wants to set off a trend that skilfully uses the social media platform to bring the attention of people to an issue and then champion for it at the grassroots level. “The best part of social media is that anybody with a thought can put it out there. It has its other side too, where people tend to form clusters. But, that can be altered as people from across society, not necessarily the English-speaking crowd, but also those who speak regional tongues become assertive in social media exchanges,” says Krishna.

Not just an ID

The note under the video makes it clear that its intent is to start a debate on Aadhar enforcement, beef bans, the Hadiya issue and Love Jihad — instances of State intrusion into the lives of individuals. For instance, Krishna, through a Hindi song written by Bhasha Singh, a journalist, voices how Aadhar affects even the lowest denominator in the social ladder.

Interestingly, in order to be pan Indian, the video has chosen three vernacular languages — Marathi, Tamil, Hindi — as its main medium. Murugan reads out a poem about policemen invading a poor man’s house.

“You can use social media as an entry point to create a certain conversation. From there, it has to move on to people who are not in that network. Before, it would be brought out in the press. Now, because of social media, the press takes interest in it and then it moves into different vernacular papers. People from Kerala have been calling me after seeing the video,” says Krishna.

Ashraf, the young rapper, is the connecting factor among the performers. With an intense gaze that averts the camera’s eye, she speaks loud and clear: “My data is mine to have, my privacy is mine to keep, and I refuse to be Id-ed.” And, Murugan, like a beautiful contrast, renders his verse in a patient, yet resolute voice, about how the cops invade a home and record the slightest movements of the family there, including the time they ate, slept and bathed.

Murugan says social media has helped Tamil-speaking intellectuals to express freely in a language they know. “Even if it does not appear in the Tamil print media, these discussions surface in the online media. It offers freedom to anyone to raise their voice. And, it is any day more instant than mainstream media.” Towards the end, Sathe, and her companions from the Navayan Maha Jalsa (NMJ), sing a tongue-in-cheek song criticising the Aadhar enforcement by the Government and censorship of freedom.

An open debate

The best part is how the video has brought to the table the discourse on Law, otherwise alien to the common man. In fact, this is not a new outcome. The Web and Internet give agency to anyone to take up any matter. Take for instance, the Pandora’s box opened by the #MeToo campaign, an outcome of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predatory acts, that call out sexual harassments faced by women and men across the world.

“The problem with most things that happen as far as the Constitution or the Court goes, is that the conversations are always so abstract. In fact, anything that happens in the court has a direct impact on every citizen. And, it is important that citizens like Perumal Murugan or I try to understand it in our own way and communicate it to everyone else,” adds Krishna.

But, what are the chances that this debate will extend beyond the community that consumes YouTube and social media the most? Jayaraman and Krishna make it clear that their main goal has been to extend the debate beyond the online space. “And, that’s why we made it multilingual. The next stage is when the video is picked up by the local language press. More than the hits on YouTube, what matters to us is this,” says Krishna, who feels it is also important that people who work at the ground level use this video as material.

Jayaraman says they will be distributing the video to human rights groups, so that they can use it as their educational material; along with a three-page summary of the Supreme Court judgement that can be seen in three broad categories of right to choice, dignity and privacy, and State intrusion into individual freedom. “None of our works are fixed exclusively to social media. We can’t afford that. Be it the Chennai Poromboke Paadal on the campaign against encroachment on Chennai’s Ennore Creek or Kodaikanal Won’t against mercury poisoning in Unilever’s Kodaikanal plant, we have used these productions as conversation starters both on social media and in real life.”