Welcome to a new democratic age of social media: Shekhar Kapur

(Or how to change the world with barely 140 characters)

Shekhar Kapur | March 4, 2014




By Shekhar Kapur
(Renowned filmmaker)

Gen Next is fundamentally different from previous young generations. It started with television, especially cable television, after it moved into small towns. We are tribal people with different tribes of cultures and mindsets. Earlier, the tribe and peers were local and we were governed by local ideas. Now, a small group is connected on social media and they are becoming very tribal. For example, if AAP and Kejriwal are on a dharna, every tribe is either for or against it, which means young people are very, very able and willing to shift their tribal loyalties. Earlier, these loyalties were absolute because that was the only influence on you. As influences increase, our young people will be far more mobile in what they are support.

Merely tweeting is also an active idea because airing of information on what you think, as an individual, is not to be ignored. If you look at revolutions that took place in the past, poets and writers also disseminated their ideas and influenced people. Even Gandhi did a Dandi March and caused the downfall of an empire. So the influencing factor of a person who merely sits and tweets does not necessarily become an action. If you are a strong influencer, you can create and cause action. For social change, individual actions have to be multiplied before they bring in change. Therefore, an influential media, dissemination of ideas, and your ability to influence others, is not something to be scoffed at.

Does it provoke action? Yes, because you are disseminating ideas through social media and that itself is very important. We have seen that all over the world social media is causing more and more people to come out on the streets and protest very actively, often at danger to their lives. It also contributes to social work: I know that people came together through social media for relief in Uttrakhand: those with money gave money; others contributed in their own ways.  

With urbanisation, the impact of being physically thrown into far closer atmosphere creates a desire to struggle and retain the culture you are comfortable with. When you meet Indians living in foreign countries, you observe that the generation that went [abroad] became more rooted, conservative and traditional than the Indians here. The reason is, they are suddenly thrown into an alien environment, and tend to cling to what they think their roots are. The problem is you have not explored them, but simply accepted them, so you go back to that kind of acceptance.

In India, as against people who go and live overseas, there are urban and semi-urban areas that India is gravitating into and not comfortable with. Most people who come to Mumbai live in chawls, slums, and even middle class is thrown in physical spaces where they confront each other almost window to window. The moment that happens, interpersonal behaviour becomes different. Here you either reject it because it leads to conflict, or you embrace it, in which case it leads to dissemination of ideas of people that you would have otherwise never come in contact with. Both these things are happening to Indians.

The larger issue is that we are becoming a more globalised country. India is only an idea. You cannot say I am Indian, and therefore I am different from the rest of the world. Everywhere in the country, people have grown together, they start speaking each other’s languages, intermarry and therefore become part of more general tribe and that is a good thing. Urbanisation is globalisation of India.

On the other hand, many forces are tearing India apart. There are huge social problems of urbanisation which are largely infrastructural – lack of amenities, police force, good roads, electricity, etc. As we get over the problems, and with people suddenly getting very aggressive in closed quarters, will it mean that we will lose a large part of our infinite culture that everybody complains about? May be, but we will have to actively work towards not losing them. But urbanisation is changing mindset. Influences are reaching small towns and everybody is getting influenced by tribes that are larger, and less influenced by peer, village and town tribes. So these particular social problems are bound to arise.

While television has a singular message and can be influential, social media has a feedback effect where you can rebel against the message: you get many conflicting messages at the same time, and it does give you the ability to make up your own mind. And try as hard as people might, they have never been able to control social media. Today, if you go to twitter, you see people fighting on social media; people from different political parties trawling each other. And it is not some media house dominating how they want you to be. Social media is much more democratic, and therefore, I think, there will be more discussion and more young people will be involved with it. Earlier, it was a parent-young person or teacher-young person relationship, whereas now there is chatter amongst people, and that chatter ultimately evolves into awareness.

My opinion is that we have had, for a long time, a democratic system that is feudal in nature. When you compare yourself to China you only get one answer: “But China is not a democracy, and you have no freedom.” I argue that if you have an empty stomach, what freedom do you have? Our constitution was made for 350 million people which was our population at that time, and the demography then was much older than it is now. People at that time were not (physically) mobile and entrepreneurial. Nobody at that time could have imagined that the population would explode like it did, technology would change the world every day, that our population would become youngest in the world, and so aspirational.

Where we now have a system in place that actually responds to aspirations of people, it has created a wall of inertia to protect itself between the people and itself. To break through this wall, people use corruption as a weapon and our systems encourage corruption because it does not have responses. Every time you ask entrepreneurs, they say India is the most difficult place to start business because the bureaucracy and laws are very difficult. This is inertia. So they play with the system and succeed bribing their way through; that is what has happened over 67 years.

We need a change of system, not government, because a different party or person at the helm has much backlog of work to actually make a difference in the next five years. In the next five years, 60 million young people will be added into the burgeoning pool of unemployed people. These young people who we call India’s strength, if they have no jobs, with all the information giving them hope and unfulfilled aspirations, can have a disastrous effect.

(As told to Geetanjali Minhas)  

This column appeared in the February 1-15 anniversary issue of the print magazine – CHANGE: India on the move

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