When I went to Delhi’s Connaught Place in September 2019 for a feature story on TikTokers, I met hundreds of them who were lip-syncing to songs from Gully Boy, while others were crying, laughing, dancing and acting like film stars. I found their confidence astonishing.
I also came across a group that was sitting at a distance and laughing at their moves.
When I talked to one of the members of this group, I discovered how a section of the Indian population thinks TikTok is mainly for the ‘lower castes’. The boy proudly boasted about his ‘upper-caste’ identity and said: “These jokers are lower-caste people, and no one from the upper castes would ever make such videos”. He also added: “The traits of this app are very similar to those of people from lower castes — ridiculous and funny. Why would anyone aspire to be like them?”
Later on, during my conversations with some more ‘upper-caste’ people, I got a sense of what they think about this video-sharing app — “idiotic”, “frivolous” and “cringeworthy”. They, however, never categorically said that TikTok only suits Dalits or the lower castes.
In a recent tweet, which went viral but has now been deleted, a user categorised social media platforms into caste-based hierarchies. He put YouTube and Instagram under the ‘Brahmin’ category, Twitter under ‘Kshatriya’, Facebook under ‘Vaishya’ and TikTok under ‘Shudra’. This led to more arguments about whether to support or reject this caste-based division of social media platforms.
जातिवाद को फ़ोटोशॉप से भी नहीं छिपाया जा सकता। pic.twitter.com/6sElTvOndj
— Puneet Sharma (@PuneetVuneet) March 6, 2020
While some supported this division, quoting the Bhagavad Gita to establish that Kshatriyas are known for their bravery, Brahmins for their knowledge, Vaishyas for commercial trade and Shudras for ‘low-profile jobs’, others were left fuming.
The rigid, hierarchical caste system divides Hindus into four broad ‘varnas‘: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. ‘Untouchables’ are ranked below these. Kshatriyas are rulers and warriors, Vaishyas are traders and Shudras do the menial jobs. These groups have also been assigned certain personality traits, with Brahmins allotted the most socially-desired traits, by conventional standards.
Instagram life an aspiration, TikTok life an aberration
The irony here is that social media platforms were supposed to offer a democratic space for equal representation of every section of society. But Indians, consciously or unconsciously, have divided social media into a caste system too.
Instagram has become a place for privileged elites who flaunt their destination weddings, dinners at fancy restaurants and coffee at expensive chains. The highly romanticised and lavish lifestyles of Instagrammers have led many to consider them privileged ‘Brahmins’.
Twitter is seen as a place for people who govern India and those who set the dominant narratives about the country. People here are constantly arguing with each other over different issues, such as liberals and conservatives over politics.
An important question is: Why are TikTokers being labelled the ‘Shudras of the internet’? This could probably be because the settings of some of their videos show them ploughing in their fields, cooking in their one-room homes, or making bricks.
But why are the TikTokers subjecting themselves to this mockery? Because they aren’t ashamed of their torn clothes, tanned skin, malnourished bodies, and, most importantly, their poverty.