WhatsApp wars over India protests divide families

Young Indian women are hiding their identities on social media to voice outrage over the new citizenship law and find alternative families. (AFP)
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Updated 24 December 2019

WhatsApp wars over India protests divide families

  • Young people, particularly women, have been at the forefront of the ongoing wave of protests over the law
  • But this can be dangerous in a largely conservative and patriarchal society

NEW DELHI: With their parents bombarding them on WhatsApp with misinformation and even abuse over their stand on India’s new citizenship law, young women are hiding their identities on social media to voice outrage and find alternative families.
Young people, particularly women, have been at the forefront of the ongoing wave of protests over the law, but this can be dangerous in a largely conservative and patriarchal society.
When Priya takes part in protests, for example, the fear of the riot police — 25 people have died in the past almost two weeks — comes second to the terror of her bigoted Hindu father finding out her whereabouts and halting her education.
“He just has this hatred of Muslims — every opportunity he has lost in life, he blames them,” says Priya, 20, too scared to give her real name in case her New Delhi family find out.
“I have tried so many times to talk to him. But every conversation we have ends with him threatening to pull me out of college and get me married off,” the student says.
Her story is reflected across India’s dining tables, FaceTime chats and WhatsApp family groups in what is turning out to be the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he rose to power in 2014.
“My father keeps spamming me on WhatsApp with fake news and videos — it’s really frustrating,” says Priya.
She used to hit back with links to fact-checking websites before his threats to end her education forced her to hide her political views from her parents.
Her father, she says, has no idea about her Twitter account, where she uses a handle that shields her identity.
These WhatsApp wars have effectively upended personal relationships, says Anshul Tewari, editor-in-chief of Youth Ki Awaaz, a crowdsourced news website focusing on India’s youth.
“Young people today care enormously about having a voice and being heard,” Tewari says, pointing to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and climate change marches around the world.
But unlike their global counterparts, young Indians have to find ways to express themselves against the backdrop of a culture which places a huge premium on parental authority.
“In many cases, Indian parents feel entitled to decide who their children should love, how they should live and even how they should think,” says Tewari.
That sense of control is particularly pronounced when it comes to the lives of young women, he adds.
At 27, Sweta Bagaria — not her real name — describes herself as the black sheep of her family because she insisted on getting a job, the first woman in her family to do so.
Bagaria accuses her conservative Hindu parents of physical and financial abuse — controlling her bank account, beating her, and refusing to hand over documents required to rent a flat.
Like Priya, the Mumbai-based video editor has been actively involved in the demonstrations against the citizenship law, which she calls “a gross violation of human rights.”
Her views have driven an even bigger wedge between her and her parents, who she describes as bigots unwilling to employ or work with Muslims.
“I used to feel really alone until this year, when I found an online community on Twitter who are going through similar conflicts at home,” she says, referring to them as her “alternate family.”
“Also, at the end of the day, I know that my struggles are nothing compared to what others in this country, especially Muslims, are going through,” she says.
“That makes it even more important for me to show up.”
Since the demonstrations kicked off, Bagaria — who is an avid Twitter user — has shared pamphlets and produced a video urging others to protest.
She has chalked up a few successes on that front, such as convincing a friend who had never even bothered to vote to participate in a string of demonstrations.
But she has little hope of ever being able to persuade her family.
“I tried for years. There’s no reaching them,” she says.


Arab films set for Red Sea Film Festival screening

Updated 24 February 2020

Arab films set for Red Sea Film Festival screening

  • MBC Group to support young film makers with training from industry professionals

LONDON: Young Arab film makers will have the opportunity to have their work showcased at next month’s Red Sea International Film Festival as investment in Saudi cinema gathers pace.

The Red Sea International Film Festival has announced a partnership with MBC Group, which will also broadcast the event’s opening ceremony on March 12.

As part of the deal, MBC Al Amal, MBC’s corporate social responsibility arm, will hold a Shorts pitch competition.

Ten short film projects will be selected from Saudi Arabia and the MENA region, with filmmakers being given a one-day workshop to prepare for a pitching session. 

Italian director and producer Stefano Tealdi will train the candidates to strengthen their skills and give them tips for better pitches, MBC said.

“We strongly believe that this new generation of talent is key in influencing change and creating the difference to the region’s media and entertainment content landscape, which of course includes independent film and mainstream cinema,” said Peter Smith, managing director of MBC Studios.

The region’s biggest broadcaster will also host talent days on March 17 and 18 to support Saudi scriptwriters, directors and producers.

The inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival takes place March 12-21 in Jeddah Old Town, under the theme “Changing the Script.” It aims to support and help grow Saudi Arabia’s emerging film industry which is attracting a slew of investment from homegrown dramas shot in the Kingdom to the construction of cinemas countrywide.

Real estate broker CBRE estimates that 45 new cinemas are expected to open this year.

The boom in cinema construction coincides with a push to develop the domestic Saudi film industry.

That is being driven by both the big and small screen as video-on-demand players that include MBC, Netflix and Amazon compete to deliver content that speaks to a young Arab audience.

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