TikTok Ban: The Hypocrisy of the Indian Elite

A few days ago, someone wrote a Facebook post saying she was glad she could finally rid herself of “unbearable” TikTok videos – referring to the recent ban on the popular social media platform that allows one to upload and share short videos online.

She isn’t the only one thinking along those lines. A lot of Indians, typically those from the upper class, urban and well-to-do families, have expressed their relief on being spared the trauma of “cringe-worthy” TikTok videos on social media platforms.

It is to be noted that India had around 200 million active TikTok users, and the country spearheaded TikTok downloads globally as well. The app has been particularly popular in tier 2 and 3 cities, mainly in the country’s heartland – unlike its more elite counterpart, Instagram. This is primarily due to the fact that it is available in local Indian languages, thereby making it accessible for the non-English speaking population.

According to the 2011 Census, only 10% of our population reported that they could speak English. A more recent survey, however, pegged the number at 6%, largely made up of the urban upper caste. It is therefore not a surprise that unlike other social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, which require a decent command over the English language, TikTok has a huge rural base.

Of course, most of the videos posted on TikTok are not ‘polished’, so to say. Unlike Facebook display pictures, they are not accompanied by popular quotes of famous authors. Unlike Instagram stories, they don’t come with a brilliant display of one’s vocabulary.

A lot of TikTok videos showcase the talent of young people who would have otherwise found it difficult, if not impossible, to cross barriers of class and caste to get their share of the limelight. For instance, a TikTok video of a man dancing on a popular Bollywood song went viral on Twitter recently. This no-frills video, where the man displays his jaw-dropping dancing skills, is one of many such instances where TikTok has served as an equalising platform. In fact, many small town youth credit TikTok for an unprecedented expansion in their business ventures as well.

Also read: Stars of TikTok, Safe Haven for Artistes, Voices on India’s Margins, Speak Out on Sudden Ban

The reaction of a section of privileged Indians, who have always looked down upon the ‘crass’ content of TikTok and similar platforms, is elitist to say the least, but it is definitely not unexpected.

While on one hand we cheer for the Black Lives Matter movement, we desperately pray for fair, slim and convent-educated wives for our sons. While we comment on apartheid in South Africa with contempt, the thought of an inter-caste marriage in our family makes us lose sleep. While we shudder when we read about the Holocaust, we don’t bat an eye when we hear or read about the detention camps being set up in our own country. While we do love the small town girl/boy who make it big, we do not shy away from cracking a joke at the expense of anyone who dares mispronounce an English word.

We are quick to draw a clear line between what is posh and what is not in our own lives. It should therefore not come as a surprise that urban elites are glad that the recent ban ensures that platforms akin to TikTok cannot infiltrate the snobbish filters of their Instagram and Facebook world.

Anwesha Basu is a doctoral candidate at Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai. She has previously attended Delhi School of Economics (MA Economics 2014-16) and Jadavpur University, Kolkata (B.Sc Economics 2011-14). 

Featured image credit: Reuters