We are all influenced by social media’s omnipresence in our daily lives, and some have made it their mission to use these platforms as a tool for activism. You would recognise the names and channels of people like Harsharin Virk (co-creator of The Indian Feminist), Leeza Mangaldas and Moose Jattana all of which were panelists of the Australian Indian Digital Creative Festival hosted by the Australian South Asian Centre. They inspired attendees from Sydney to Surat with their insight and experience in fostering social movements and change. Here’s what I learnt about their personal journeys as activists:
#Speaking Up about Sexuality
Leeza Mangaldas, a prominent Youtuber and Instagram personality grew up in different cities across India before moving to Manhattan for college.
“I’ve never felt as unjudged as I did in my college environment in New York City, it was a utopian place to come of age,” she spoke of fondly. It was a place where she didn’t have to be overly anxious about other’s reactions to what she did, said, or wore. Although, that may be because of the lack of judgmental Indian aunties. The accepting environment shifted her perspective on “what it means to be an acceptable, young, Indian woman”. Her internalized feelings of shame, guilt, misogyny, and societal conditioning were being challenged.
Unfortunately, when she returned to India after her graduation, she struggled to find resources that she had easy access to during her time in the USA. One example used was that she found it incredibly hard to source a gynecologist comfortable with discussing contraception with an unmarried woman.
“I found it so perplexing that as a woman you have to lead this double life. Why is your sexuality this force that has to be hidden, not acknowledged, or something you have to be ashamed of in every context – even with a doctor?”
She realized that there was a need to make topics such as sexuality, consent, and contraception, normal to talk about. Her journey on social media began with the need to bring awareness to young Indian women and create a community that is empowered by her work on Instagram. Leeza is now one of India’s foremost sex-positive voices who creates judgment-free educational content revolving around sexuality, sexual health, relationships, gender, and the body that reaches millions of young Indians via Instagram and YouTube.
#Existence is Resistance
Based in Melbourne and originally from India, Moose’s journey into social media began more on a personal level as your average teenager. Succumbing to the TikTok craze she started posting for fun but was soon on the receiving end of hate revolting comments for her videos.
At the time, she thought about her younger sister who is in her early teens, and what she would feel if she saw the same comments directed towards her sister.
“I realized that while I’m strong and can take those comments, a lot of young girls under the age of 18 are dealing with really sexual comments…It’s objectifying and sexualizing people that don’t want to be sexualized,” says Moose.
She realized that there were a bunch of girls that needed her and looked up to her as a big sister and that spurred her journey into social activism as a role model. As a socio-political activist and feminist Moose has been featured on Indian media outlets such as NDTV and BBC Punjabi who fearlessly uses her voice to advocate for gender equality and the empowerment of youth in India.
#Challenging the Status Quo
Unlike Leeza, Harsharin, the co-creator of Indian Feminist, grew up in New Zealand with very traditional parents and like most of us had to balance ideals, norms and expectations of both our Western and traditional cultures. “Some of the ideologies I was surrounded with growing up, I didn’t necessarily agree with.” At this point we were all nodding.
She met the co-founder of The Indian Feminist, Simran Kaur, at a kirtan camp and they got to conversing about their shared experiences within their homes and amongst extended family. Realising that there needs to be a progressive, feminist space where South Asian women could openly share their stories The Indian Feminist was brought to life on Instagram a few years later. The Indian Feminist is now an international multi-media platform with 300k+ followers.
Hearing from each of them, their motivations and growth was truly inspirational. It shows us all that anyone can be a role model, take charge, advocate and make positive change for our communities. But, alongside such a big role comes a lot of pressure, and luckily, they had some advice for us all on that too!
Advice for people diving into social media activism
#Pressure to post
The pressure to post all day, every day is worth resisting. The important thing to remember is that everything is not doable in 15 seconds or five minutes or even a day. You have to do the work that resonates with you, your story, your talent, and your goals. Do not let the numbers impinge on your creative process.
#Dealing with the negativity
Keyboard warriors abound because of the anonymity that the digital world offers them. Seeing a deluge of unwarranted vitriolic comments takes a heavy toll and sometimes it’s imperative to take a break. It’s also vital to have thick skin and choose your battles as the sad reality is that many are forced to self-censor due to fear.
#Public consumption vs Personal Boundaries
Each of these social change advocates set their boundaries for their digital presence. Actions taken to protect their personal space include recognizing the limits of what they can handle, turning off comments on a post, visualizing the process of content creation as more a production of informative content rather than a documentation of daily life, and keeping certain aspects of life private. A key point is the ability to still be vulnerable and honest on social media while still maintaining boundaries.
Do follow @australiansouthasiancentre for all the latest updates on the Australian Indian Digital Creative Festival. Tune in on 29th April at 7:00 pm AEDT (2:30 pm IST) for the second event of the festival, Advocacy through Spoken Word Poetry.
Written by: Annalie Gracias and Tiara Rajesh