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Malayali Culture In Cyberspace

Malayali culture is something we take pride in. The sum of all the prevalent values we practice and uphold as part of Malayali society. In today’s world, a lot of our social engagement is happening through onl ine interactions. So what exactly is Malayali culture in cyberspace? Is it different from what we practice offline? Some of the answers to that question come as part of a report called – “Walking on Eggshells  – A study on gender justice and women’s struggles in Malayali Cyberspace”.

This report, authored by J Devika, Chithra Vijayakumar, Darshana Sreedhar Mini, Resmi P S & Elizabeth Alexander, is part of a wider research project coordinated by IT for Change & Web Foundation. Over the next few days, we will be sharing a handful of excerpts from the report through a series of posts on our WCC blog. We thank the authors for this valuable work and for allowing us to reproduce parts of it.

To explain the egg shells metaphor, here’s a quote from an interview with one of the ladies in the focus group discussions done for the report.

“I took the ‘Cinderella’ approach. I was never even curious. I got internet only after Class 12, into Facebook in the second year of year B.A, and into WhatsApp in the first year of M.A. I got an Instagram account only a month ago. My Facebook account was safer than the Swiss Bank! There are no men on it, except a cousin, and a boring friend of my father’s. For a long time, I wouldn’t log out — I deactivated every day, and then logged in the next day. When I started responding to people’s comments, I would comment, and then deactivate because I was scared of what the response would be.  I was scared to put up a profile picture. I added one only after becoming a researcher.”

These words sum up the diffidence and trepidation with which women in Kerala approach the internet. Why should women in Kerala be so fearful of getting onto the internet? With good reason, it would seem. Another extract from the report paints us a picture of the lay of cyberland for Malayali women…

“Women’s engagement with online spaces has become news in Kerala, yet the seriousness of the violations of women’s rights online has not sunk in as far as the authorities are concerned. There are two faces to this unhappy situation: first, we now hear of an increasing number of instances in which women have been misled and violated online with serious offline consequences to their lives and reputations, and secondly, we hear of women being punished for online engagement, especially when they try to critically engage with discourses that deny women full citizenship. The first sort of violence came into view with discussions around the case of a young woman whose husband abandoned her because nude images of her circulated through WhatsApp two years back, and who has been recently vindicated because the analysis of those at CDAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing)  revealed that they were not of her; another instance of shocking violence was in Kannur, Kerala, in which a young schoolgirl who had faced sexual violence from her father was lured by predators pretending to be friends using fake Facebook profiles and gang-raped. Then she was made to submit to further sexual violation with the threat that images of the rape would be circulated on Facebook.

Meanwhile, the Kerala Police has been sharing advice of safe online behaviour which focuses on – (a) the reduction of internet use and access to it among students, (b) greater surveillance by parents and others of internet use by students, (c) special restrictions for girls, such as avoidance of selfies with boys and uploading their images on FB and WhatsApp, as well as the promotion of greater awareness of sexual touch among them, and (d) the strengthening of family communication.

In sum, the unhappy situation is this: even as women face violence online and their right as citizens to be part of digital publics is attacked by patriarchal forces and curtailed by the judiciary, the police issues ever-more restrictive ‘codes of conduct’ which target young women and girls in particular for greater surveillance and control. In a context in which digital publics become all the more crucial for democracy and the interpenetration of online and offline spaces is all the more intense, the struggle for women’s rights in the online world as full citizens becomes vital.”

It is against this environment that WCC has felt the need to once again highlight the gender inequities in Malayali cyberspace and call for an end to gender based cyber violence. Hence our ongoing Refuse The Abuse campaign.



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