New Delhi: Babita Parmar, who lives with her husband and in-laws in a Haryana village, looks every bit the coy Indian bahu in her sari and ghoonghat.
But with her recipe for the “world’s toughest vegetable preparation” and videos milking cattle for “grandma’s-style <3” tea, she is also a social media star, with as many as 2.4 lakh subscribers on YouTube.
Her videos offer a peek at life in the countryside, and she is one of a bunch of women tapping social media to spread their wings within the limits of local conventions.
When Facebook first appeared on their horizon seven-eight years ago, it was a forbidden pleasure for women in India’s rural hinterland. Social media was a largely alien phenomenon in their realm, and a subject of much suspicion with its potential for misuse.
But, over the years, the proliferation of smartphones and cheap internet have tackled some of the fear.
The wave of social media apps thus introduced to them, like video portals TikTok and YouTube, has exposed women of the hinterland to an audience eager to hear their story and experience the charm of the rustic life.
The result is a social media universe where rural women are charting their own paths, claiming their space with confidence, and finding their feet on terms that are compatible with the general sensitivities of their hometowns.
Meet ‘Indian Girl Babita’s village’
Parmar, whose YouTube channel is called ‘Indian Girl Babita’s Village’, started her social media journey two years ago, and today earns a tidy income off it.
Much like the urban vlogger presenting regular updates on their life, apart from hacks and recipes, Parmar seeks to share her day-to-day life, besides secrets about local delicacies that “will leave your guests licking their fingers”.
In one video, she is seen suggesting to her mother-in-law that they add dry fruits to a chutney. After getting a “no” from her mother-in-law, she tells the viewers that she will do it some other time.
Others offer advice on what to eat when you are fasting, and cooking chapatis on the chulha, or coal stove. She has 2.4 lakh followers and her videos often notch views in the millions.
Sidhi Marwadi: A toast to royal Rajputs
Kaushlya Chaudhary runs a YouTube channel named Sidhi Marwari, a toast to her roots in a Rajasthan village.
Just a month old on the platform, she hosts videos in traditional Rajput get-up, complete with a poshak and borla (a forehead accessory), addressing her viewers in Marwari.
Her videos, which have already fetched her nearly 53,000 subscribers, centre on quaint recipes of traditional delicacies like laapsi, a kind of sweet porridge, and bajre ki roti.
She is active on Instagram too, but uses the photo-sharing portal to post throwback pictures and events from her day-to-day life.
USHA village food: An inspiring story
For Usha Devi of Allahabad, the journey began when her husband, a grocer, gifted her a smartphone.
She soon found herself watching videos on YouTube, and developed a desire to launch her own channel. Not educated, she feared she would not be able to host videos properly, but she tried, and today her channel USHA Village food has over 1.6 lakh followers with her content racking up millions of views.
Her bio on the channel is a humble promise to do what she can with what she has.
“My name is Usha Devi. I love to cook,” it reads. “So, I thought, why not share the recipes with you all? I am from a village so I don’t have many facilities but I will try to give my best. I am new on YouTube and I don’t even know the YouTube settings. I am taking training to learn all these technicalities.”
She travels up to 40 kilometres for some of her videos, which show her picking fresh tomatoes, coriander and green chillies from fields, and also how to milk a cow. Her cover photo tells us: “No farms, No food, No life”.
Talking to ThePrint, Usha’s elder brother said she was “mocked by everyone in the beginning but now they all want to feature in her videos”. “She is making money as well,” he added.
Her success has driven Usha to open a second YouTube channel for charity purposes. She has also helped several neighbours make their debut on the platform, and all of them often invite each other and their families for guest appearances in videos.
The captions on these videos are more interesting: “Beautiful women”, “Little cute girl”, “Little boy helping mother”.
Poonam’s dilemma: To help her mother or not
Poonam from Haryana’s Mahendragarh goes to the fields with her mother and aunts. Once there, she sits under a tree and clicks their photographs, which she later shares via WhatsApp Stories and Instagram with funny captions: “Oh! So much work to do”, “It’s time to face the sun”, “To do Lavni (harvesting) or not”.
The trend seems to have caught on with several other young girls in Haryana as well, evident in the photos they share to show how they carry buffalo food on their heads.
Speaking to ThePrint, one of them said it gave them a “sense of familiarity” when they saw their favourite TV actresses doing the same videos on TikTok that they did. More importantly, she added, it gave them confidence.