India's TikTok ban hurts its rural women

AFP
When India banned TikTok, it closed a window to the wider world for legions of women outside the big cities that provided fun, fame and even fortune.
AFP

When India banned TikTok, it closed a window to the wider world for legions of women outside the big cities that provided fun, fame and even fortune.

The government outlawed the video-sharing platform, and 58 other Chinese apps this month, citing data security fears.

Married soon after she completed college, 27-year-old stay-at-home mother Mamta Verma lives in a small town in Madhya Pradesh state.

One day, her daughter got her to install TikTok on her phone to watch the dizzying array of zany videos uploaded from across what used to be the app’s biggest international market.

Instagram and YouTube are for “the big people,” Verma said. But TikTok she liked.

She started to record and upload videos of her own.

“I started with five likes on my first video. That was a big boost for me,” Verma said.

Soon, she had more than 1 million followers and was earning about 4,000 rupees (US$50) per video with her slick robot dance routines shot inside her small, simple home.

“It’s not a lot but my earnings from TikTok helped in running the house and also in managing finances for the new house. You know even 10 rupees is a huge amount for us,” she said.

But it wasn’t just the money. “Before TikTok, I didn’t have the confidence to talk to people. And as a stay-at-home wife I never made eye contact,” Verma said. With a vast number of languages and dialects, around 70 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people live in rural areas, a world away from Mumbai and New Delhi.

Amitabh Kumar from Social Media Matters, a group encouraging “social media for social change,” said that for many such people, TikTok was a “glass ceiling breaker.”

“Instead of Bollywood and rich people, finally there was a chance for common people to create something in 15 seconds which makes you laugh or cry or think or engage,” he said.

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