The Internet: Helping Us Dream Up a Better World for Women: Guest Post by Vani Vishwanathan


About our guest contributor: Vani Viswanathan is a student of M.A. in Development Studies in Mumbai. She is especially passionate about women’s issues, and her M.A. dissertation explores the influence of Tamil cinema in college students’ perceptions of sexual harassment. She is also an avid writer, and co-edits an online literary magazine Spark ( She can be contacted at

When was the last time you clicked ‘Like’ on a Facebook post by a page whose cause you associated with? Or shared an article whose content you agreed or disagreed with? Or signed a petition for a cause you wholeheartedly support?

Welcome to the world of online activism. The internet has been such a big leap forward for many of us in terms of helping us know more and connect with often unknown people on shared ideas, thoughts, passions and – as this blog does – shared forms of oppression. It has especially been powerful in giving the oppressed, often silenced communities a voice. The sheer volume of information from across the world exposes our minds to things we might never have thought of before.

I personally consider the internet as having given shape to my nascent feminist ideas. I strongly believe online activism is very much a force to reckon with. I think it has especially given a boost to the Indian women’s movement, taking it to a different level by letting passionate individuals – in addition to organisations – lead causes of their own. Take, for instance, the Blank Noise project, started by Jasmeen Patheja in 2003 as a college final year project, or the Pink Chaddi campaign, started by Nisha Susan, a freelance editor/writer. While the Pink Chaddi campaign raised a lot of attention during its short life, the Blank Noise project has today grown into a national-level movement raising awareness on street sexual harassment – and all this was possible because of the internet. Additionally, it has helped spread the bases further – into the hinterlands, for causes in the hinterlands. Finally, a very positive development is that the internet has helped extend the cause to cover all aspects of gender, not just women – it now embraces the transgenders, intersex too.

One such movement that especially intrigued me was SlutWalk in Kolkata. Led by an enthusiastic group of college-going students, they survived nation-level dissent against the SlutWalk movement in general, targeting its relevance in a place like India, where arguing for the ‘right to walk dressed any way they wanted’ belied the ‘more basic’ issues of dowry deaths, female foeticide, etc. and was irrelevant in rural areas. Others argued that the word ‘slut’ was hardly used among the larger Indian populace, and therefore the movement was restricting itself to the small upper/upper-middle class aware of the word. A few wondered why Indian women, who have earlier fought against objectification, now want to be ‘called sluts.’

These concerns are beside the point: sexual harassment is as much as an urban problem as it is rural; it has nothing to do with the clothing the harassed survivor wore, and SlutWalk movements across the world have given participants the freedom to dress the way they liked, not only as ‘sluts.’ Finally, using the name ‘slut’ was a reflection of the patriarchal ascriptions to a woman’s behaviour: that she dress a particular way, behave a particular way, be out only at particular times – any transgression made her a bad woman, a ‘slut.’ One of the organisers, Shreya Sen, said that ‘slut’ pretty much captures the essence of victim-blaming, for it almost justifies sexual assault on someone. The Kolkata movement therefore wished to retain the name ‘SlutWalk,’ giving the movement a shock value, and a possibility of reclaiming the word for a positive use, such as was done with the word ‘queer’ and ‘gay.’ Indeed, the movement also had queer and transgender participants.

To me, this movement exemplifies the changing nature of the Indian women’s movement, and the way the internet is supporting it. The SlutWalk Kolkata movement was pretty much led online, with their Facebook group being the medium that helped form the organising team, the vehicle to mobilise participants, the primary information resource, but most importantly, the platform for discussion. Hundreds of discussion threads on a diverse range of topics around dressing, Indian ‘culture,’ sexual harassment, saw many, many participants, and hundreds of comments (sometimes going up to 700!), which continues to this day. While posters were pasted in college campuses across the city, and pamphlets distributed at busy junctions, the Facebook page essentially mobilised and helped conducted the actual walk, held in May 2012.

One may wonder just how much the internet is useful in raising awareness in a country like India, where barely 10% of the population is online. Statistics show that over 50% of the online population goes online using their mobile phones; with mobile connectivity growing in India by the day, it’s not simplistic to say that the number of internet users will increase, and will come from the hinterlands too. Additionally, organiser Sen says that urban users are just as important a target for such movements because equipped with communication and technological skills, it is very easy for them to spread their misogynistic views further. Some very disturbing comments on the Facebook page come from urban, well-educated users – why should they be any less of an important target in tackling sexual assault?

Julie Zeilinger, a popular feminist blogger in her early 20s, argues that the web has allowed feminists across the world to unite, see what ‘sisters’ in other countries are doing and support them, give access to real stories from people going through situations one has only heard of. I can’t help but agree. Thanks to the internet, we are opened up to a world of possibilities and a host of ideas from distant geographies, which make us question the status quo. Online activism may not change the world, but it enables us to dream of a society that respects individuals for who they are, and try to move towards such a society.

Article:Women’s activism in Kashmir


M. Saleem Pundit, “What is making the ordinary Kashmiri woman so angry that she is out on the street, throwing stones at police and leading the mob?” Times of India, August 8, 2010.

“SRINAGAR: Kashmiri women traditionally evoke contradictory images in the world’s consciousness: a dimpled Sharmila Tagore coyly rowing a shikara on the Dal Lake in Kashmir ki Kali; a group of burqa-clad women thrashing the owner of a beauty parlour in the heart of Srinagar; an ashen-faced woman standing alone by a broken window, watching a funeral procession out on her street. But the prevailing image of the last few weeks is of women walking the Valley’s roads and shouting slogans against the Indian forces.

“Last week, as the government in Delhi was busy blaming “outside” forces for provoking young children to throw stones at police and paramilitary forces, the women came out of their houses on one Srinagar street, bringing their pots and pans with them. They beat on the utensils, used them like cymbals and ran down the street, picking up stones and taking aim at a column of troops. The scene was replayed on other streets. The women — mostly housewives and young girls — had emerged from their homes to throw stones at the security forces and burn government jeeps. For a change, the police, which has felled 51 people in almost as many days, couldn’t fire their SLRs.

“Is the Kashmiri woman’s new ‘movement’ all that new? Not really. Kashmir’s women have been coming out onto the streets since 1990, when the insurgency began in the state. But this is the first time they have chucked stones, burned vehicles and led demonstrations against the police. In the years the militancy was at its peak, the women in villages, towns and cities across the Valley routinely emerged from their homes to shout slogans for “Azaadi”.

“In those years, the separatists and their sympathizers would use the women as human shields, preventing decisive action by the security forces. Every time, a militant was arrested, a sympathizer would run to a mosque and use its loudspeakers to ask the women to come out in protest. “Maajan, benan cho wanane yawa ki tem neran sadakan pat (Mothers and sisters are requested to come out on the roads for protests),” was the message that reverberated through the Valley in the 1990s.

“In this unquiet summer of 2010, the scene is a bit different. There are no urgent announcements from the mosques but the women are coming out in large numbers, on their own. They are not serving as human shields. They are leading the stone-pelting crowds. As the roads outside their houses boil with rage, many mothers and sisters have become street-fighters, joining husbands, sons and brothers in the demonstrations that have been erupting for weeks.

“Asiya Andarabi, the separatist leader, believes part of the reason is because Kashmir’s women can no longer ignore the death and mayhem outside their homes. “Every woman is affected by the turmoil here. Hundreds of Kashmiri women have their husbands in jails. Their husbands have been killed by security forces. So their anger is genuine,” says Andarabi, who founded the separatist Dukhtaran-e-Millat or Daughters of the community.

“Many in the Valley share this anger. Parveena Ahangar, who heads the association of parents of disappeared persons, says the women have suffered the most during Kashmir’s tumultuous years. “My son was picked by the BSF men in early 1990s and since then his whereabouts are not known. Who can douse my anger?”

“Ahangar, who lives in Batamaloo in Srinagar, travels to Lal Chowk every couple of weeks to join dozens of women in a sit-in protest to “remind the authorities about the missing persons”. “I have dedicated my life to Kashmir’s struggle,” says Ahangar, who is haunted by the memory of her son.

“ut it is more than the trauma of the past. The continuing presence of heavily-armed Indian soldiers seems to have triggered a deep and fierce anger. Rozy Salim, 40, joined the protests two weeks ago, saying she could no longer bear the security forces going berserk in her locality every now and then. “Let India read the writing on the wall and realize the anger of Kashmiris against the occupation of Kashmir. They should allow the Kashmiris to decide their fate as per the UN resolutions,” she says.

“In the last two months, thousands of young boys have taken part in protests against police firing. Most of the protests ended in more police firing. Their mothers are worried and fearful their sons will be injured or shot dead. The worry has provoked them to anger. Jana Begum of Rawalpora went out to protest last week after her 22-year-old son was picked up by police for taking part in a street rally. “We will demolish every symbol of the state as our sons are being targeted by the forces,” she says. Jana’s neighbour Fatima Khan says she stands by Jana and other women whose sons have been picked up by the police for pelting stones at them.

“Though many agree that the sight of women throwing stones is an indicator of the people’s rage at the state, some say there is nothing unusual about it. “Women here come out to protest against electric power and water shortage as well,” says Ghulam Mohammad Dar, 60, a resident of Pampore. But even he agrees that the sight of the security forces beating women with sticks and opening fire to stop them in their tracks is a new low for Kashmir. “It’s something I haven’t seen before,” Dar says.

“These ugly scenes may be playing themselves out in Srinagar’s working-class neighbourhoods, but middle-class women are affected too. Many say they are moved by the daily pitched battles between the people and paramilitary forces. Dr Shameem Dar says that the fact “the Kashmiri women are forced to come out on the streets when forces arrest or use excessive force against the stone pelters, is a reaction to the use of force against their sons and husbands.”

“How long can this go on? Now, the guns are being trained on the women too. Last Sunday, Afroza Teli was hit by a bullet as she stood in a protest on a road at Khrew. Another woman Fancy Jan died last month from a bullet that hit her as she looked out of her window. In Kashmir today, women seem ready for the good fight, facing bullets on the streets and at their windows.”