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This book gathers a selection of essays on the multifaceted aspects of cyber culture in India, both online and offline. It presents an in-depth analysis of cyberspace and its components, while also exploring its lived reality. The respective contributions highlight theoretical perspectives that address questions of relationality regarding all aspects of cyber culture in India, from the physical to the virtual. Bearing in mind India’s vast cultural diversity, which is shaped by different levels of political, social, and economic development, the book offers nuanced studies that analyze the complexities of cyberspace and digital culture in India. The book appeals to all readers interested in technology, cultural studies, online communication networks, feminism, virtual diasporas, and sociology.



Chapter 1. Introduction

Inhabiting Cyberspace in India: Theory, Perspectives, and Challenges
In a recent survey on Internet users in the world, conducted in March 2020 by Internet World Stats, Asia tops the graph by 2300 million users and India takes about 24.3% of that share which is only second to China.
Simi Malhotra, Kanika Sharma, Sakshi Dogra

Cyber-Critiques: Of Exclusion, Surveillance and Co-optation


Chapter 2. Finless Fishes in the Cyberian Sea: Internet and Exclusion in India

This paper seeks to enquire whether the Cyberian turn in culture, especially in the case of India, can truly be called a turn, or is it yet another seamless straight-forward extension in the exclusionary path that the country has treaded thus far? Is participation in cyberspace voluntary? Or, is it a forced necessity—especially when governmental policy-decisions are considered? What is the nature of the efforts to bridge the digital divide? Whose interests does this attempted bridging serve the most? What politics enables the major institutions of the country to function (sometimes solely) through the Internet? When information is currency, what happens to the vast majority who cannot tread the information-highway? Where can we locate cyberspace at the margins of the ‘global village’? Seeking answers to the above questions—most of them rhetorical, the paper seeks to understand, first, the nature of technology and, second, the nature of the Internet. More specifically, how do these forces react at the behest of the powerful and the privileged—politically and economically? The paper also seeks to measure the extent of the digital divide in India and its impact on the underprivileged of the country.
Satadru Chatterjee

Chapter 3. Surveillance as Norm

With the advent of sophisticated technology, there is a huge debate on the role of surveillance and its interference in ‘private’ life of people. The debate generally goes in a moralistic direction into the surveillance mechanisms intruding the life of people on one side and how surveillance can help prevent ‘terrorist’ activities and regulate conduct of people on the other. With the advent of computers and Internet, this anxiety over surveillance, which was limited to the panoptic gaze of humans and later onto cameras, has been extended into the realm of written exchanges of people. There are people in favour and others against surveillance as far as content on the Internet is concerned. This paper would go on to argue that such moralistic views, may it be in the case of cameras or Internet, are not possible. The reason for it is that surveillance is a widespread virus and therefore a norm. The spread of surveillance on Internet is such that more of less every alphabet and space buttons pressed by the user are being recorded and viewed. Thus, if we try to debate whether or not to control the limits of surveillance, we would be at a loss politically, as that is what the capitalist system wants the public to do: be caught up in trying to understand the means and ends of surveillance. This paper would go on to argue that we have to take surveillance as norm and thus its products as simulations. Such a view would be politically productive in combating capitalism as after using these surveillance mechanisms what the system would be left with would be heavy loads of data which cannot be classified or used. The desire of the system is to create a fear of surveillance, and thus, it is necessary for us to understand this as norm and not as an exception.
Joshil K. Abraham

Chapter 4. Cyberspace and the Illusions of Ultra-Democracy

There is an outpouring of newfound faith in communicative openings in cyberspace and the coming human conversation, beyond borders and ideologies. However, the new technologies could in fact pave the way for greater centralised control and surveillance, as well as the explosion of majoritarian sentiments. The dangers of ideological manipulation and a glut of inane textual production under the guise of citizen production of textuality is emphasized, along with the opportunities for governments and corporations to indulge in total surveillance and propagate a myth of public opinion.
Prashant Gupta

Cyber-Politics: The New Media and Alternative Modes of Resistance


Chapter 5. Digital Feminist Interventions: A Critical Assessment of the Pink Chaddi Campaign and #MeToo in India

The Pink Chaddi Campaign (PCC) was launched in 2009, and #MeToo has gained momentum in 2018 in India. While the first has run its full course, the second is like a sleeping volcano, waiting to erupt as and when the pressure mounts. They both have changed the digital landscape and its uses in the Indian context. While one was a much smaller movement in scope and reach, the later has managed to shook civil society out of its complacency. Both, the former to a lesser and the latter to a much greater degree have succeeded in mainstreaming the discourse on gender-based violence, launching a conversation, democratizing the spread of information, impressing that instances of sexual violence are not individual, isolated incidents, exposing the larger systemic nature of gendered violence world over, connecting people across boundaries, creating transnational solidarities and showing that sexual violence is endemic and ubiquitous. The current paper aims to critically analyse the two and answer questions like: What have they achieved, what has made them successful, what have been their shortcomings or limitations, what is their relevance in the Indian context in the long run and what is the way forward. The paper concludes that cyberspace has tremendous potential to be appropriated for progressive causes and that such movements can become revolutionary interventions only when they have the lowest common denominator at their centre, not at their periphery.
Sapna Dudeja

Chapter 6. New Media, Identity and Minorities: The Role of Internet in Mainstreaming of Muslims in India

India is home to over 172 million Muslims (14.2% of population), but most of them live an abysmally miserable life. For Muslims, questions of survival and security had taken centre-stage after independence. They were either ignored in the larger narrative of the country, at best or worse, stereotyped in the mainstream media and popular imaginations. The economic liberalization has helped a section of Muslims grow on the economic ladder, although much needs to be achieved. This new generation of Muslims considers themselves as active and equal citizens of the country. This has been possible largely due to mediatization in the increasingly wired global world. Internet and social media have provided an alternative “third space” of communication, and have given them voices that they hitherto had difficulties finding in the traditional media. Taking three examples: an online news portal, a Facebook group, and Twitter trends, this chapter analyses how new media is helping Muslims engage with the larger society by giving them an alternative platform to assert their identity. It concludes that Indian Muslims are actively using the internet and new technologies smartly to counter prevailing narrative and breaking stereotypes.
Mohammad Reyaz

Cyber-Aesthetics and Narratives of Leisure


Chapter 7. Cyberspace and the Aesthetics of Contemporary Perception

All cultures constitute heterotopias, counter-sites, in which the all the other sites that can be found in that particular culture are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted. The function of the heterotopia is to serve as a space of illusion that would expose the world of a particular culture either as even more illusory or to compensate for and perhaps gloss over its shortcomings. How is one to assess cyberspace within this paradigm? The essay places cyberspace within this Foucauldian framework and further explores the need for the creation of an artificial topology through the use of words such as wallpapers, carbon footprints, chatrooms etc. It draws heavily on Paul Virilio’s theorization of technology and dromology to emphasize the creation of a concomitant “aesthetics of disappearance” that is being brought about in contemporary perception.
Sunil Kumar

Chapter 8. A Cyberian Turn in Pornography: Understanding Internet as a Sexual Medium

The mass media of internet has made pornography, more than ever, part of the Indian popular culture. Uncritical focus on the moral, legal, feminist aspects of it only tries to mask the said fact. Since pornography is bound to be disseminated at a much larger and faster pace with the emergence of internet-enabled mobile phones, the counter-dialogue lies not in dismissing it but rather critically, academically studying it. A small venture is undertaken in that direction through this paper. My paper undertakes a case study of the events and discussions that followed the “porngate” incident in 2012 in the Karnataka state assembly. The focal point of this investigation is the import of medium and mediation in understanding the significance of a contemporary method of communication such as the internet. That is to say that the popularity of internet-enabled pornography is not only due to accessibility, affordability and anonymity but rather because cyberpornography undoes the traditional contours of public and private space leading to the emergence of a new space of public privacy. Simultaneously, with the introduction of genres such as amateur pornography, it produces an effect of realness and directness.
Sakshi Dogra

Chapter 9. ‘Yeh Bik Gai Hai Gormint’ Understanding Meme Culture in India

This paper will try to investigate memes generated, enjoyed and popularized in India, and then largely through the study of the form of a meme, it tries to understand as to what makes a meme relevant. The ease of production and consumption and the popularity of memes in general, forces one to question, how a meme goes on to document seemingly fleeting episode present in public domain and through different social commentaries on the same episode, archives it into an ever circuitous and constantly recurring trope etched in cultural memory. The paper will also argue that these memes when read as instances of cultural politics hold a larger potential for academic research as it presents an untapped domain of rich cultural memory and collective identity that it envelopes within its not so serious garb of seemingly fleeting and ever drifting satirically dank social commentary.
Kanika Sharma

Chapter 10. From Underground ‘Sutta’ to Mainstream ‘Kolaveri Di’: Understanding Social Media Through Changing Perceptions of Popular Music in the Indian Subcontinent

In April 2005, Saqib Abdullah, born to Pakistani parents in Saudi Arabia, recorded a song, now famously known as ‘BC Sutta’ at a live jam session in a Karachi studio and released it on Internet for free download. The song was downloaded 7600 times in the first 21 days, and within a month, it was being shared and downloaded all over the Internet. On 16 November 2011, the song ‘Why This Kolaveri Di’ composed by Anirudh, and written and sung by Dhanush was released on YouTube. It went viral, with 3.5 million views on YouTube and more than 1 million shares on Facebook within the space of one week. In between the two megahits, there have been numerous lesser hits, such as ‘XL ki kudiyan’, ‘GMD’ (a bawdy song making liberal use of expletives), ‘ye condom hai’ (a bawdy parody of ‘ye jeevan hai’ from the Hindi film Piya ka Ghar) and many more. While in 2005, songs such as Sutta and GMD were said to be ‘underground’, the word was not heard in reference to Kolaveri. The latter was monumentally popular and that was that. It was ‘mainstream’. That the production, distribution and consumption of such music are a consequence of social media is a foregone conclusion. However, such dynamics of Internet social media as effect this phenomenon still remain under-recognised and under-appreciated, the correction of which is the undertaking of this paper. In other words, the paper seeks to understand the characteristics of social media that have brought ‘agency’ back to where it belonged, i.e., the people, whereas cyberspace, which in the Sardarian paradigm, was another dark side of the West, seems to have turned into the site of renewed agency of the people. The questions that then make themselves asked include, among others, has the McLuhanian retribalisation of the world finally been achieved? Does cyberspace require a new understanding? What implications may this new understanding have for our future engagement in cyberspace? It is through the prism of the phenomenon of the underground music going mainstream that this paper attempts to understand this apparent transformation.
Vikas Jain

Cyber-Narratives: Roleplaying, Interactivity and Authority


Chapter 11. Virtual Slaves, Real Profits

Commodity Fetishism and the Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game
This paper seeks to trace the relationship between Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games and the economic reality, as well as the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of contemporary global capitalism. Using Marxian theories, it shall outline how commodity fetishism operates in these games, reinforcing consumerism through both production and consumption. The fantasy genre, with its dynamic of wish-fulfilment and the quest structure it inherits from the medieval romance, exacerbates this ethos in games like The Lord of the Rings Online, as indicated by sartorial extravagance and the fetishizing of luxury items. This glamorizing of and attachment to surfaces and commodities within fantasy MMORPGs is underpinned by an ontology of permanent lack, and a schism between appearance-forms and reality within capitalism. Later sections of the chapter examine the production and consumption of these games within the globalized world economy, highlighting the nefarious practice of ‘gold farming’. Finally, it shall focus on gaming in India, discussing why MMORPG cultures and gold farming have not become widespread here, despite India’s burgeoning IT and gaming industries.
Prayag Ray

Chapter 12. What Is Playing Cyborg: An Investigation of the Gamer as a Figure

The current paper is an exploration into the question as to whether the gamer figure that emerges in India in the 1990s can be thought of as a cyborg and if so, then what kind of cyborg is the gamer? Can one think of the gamer-cyborg as a posthuman, liberator figure or is the gamer-cyborg still all too human. The intent of the paper in asking these questions and problematizing the figure of the gamer is to launch an investigation into the more pressing question that one encounters in the wake of the Cyberian turn, i.e. how does one contemplate, comprehend and articulate the ‘new’ in the identities that are formed and acquired with the advent of what has been identified as the Cyberian turn in culture? Can the connection between biological and technological be the sole basis for considering them as something new? or do they offer a new subject, a new politics, a new relationship to power? Is this ‘new’ democratic, free of discrimination, and based on an egalitarian principle or is the ‘new’ an optimization of old and existing structures and modes of oppression?
Prabhash Ranjan Tripathy

Chapter 13. Encountering Digital Hypertext Fiction: Postmodern Potentialities of a Cyborg Reader

The cyberian turn in the 1990s has unarguably amplified the innovative potential of technology, making it the laboratory of postmodern experimentation. While this permitted an explosion in various mediums of culture, its inventiveness when it came to the field of literature presented a moment to return both to the singularity of literature—a turn to literature’s inventiveness, but also highlighted the singularity of the reader. In this paper, I’ll try to underscore a certain concomitance between the experimentation in form enabled.
Janhavi Mittal

Chapter 14. ‘Moving’ Poetry: Affect and Aesthetic in Instapoetry

Instapoetry refers to a new form of poetry that is usually found on social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. In the past decade, Instapoetry has emerged as an immensely popular phenomenon especially among young digital natives. The digital medium acts as its primary mode of circulation and this has a fundamental bearing on Instapoetry’s literary and visual aesthetic. At the same time, it is characterized by strong emotional ethos as it invites readers to participate affectively with poetry. This chapter will discuss Instapoetry as a form of digital or electronic literature in conjunction with the flow of affect or emotions in digital spaces. Essentially, it establishes a dialectic relationship between theories of digital or new media narratives and the production and flow of affect. I argue that the ‘always already incomplete’ nature of digital texts facilitates movement of affect in cyberspace. This, in turn, leads to new forms of political engagement which is premised on banality, sensations and affect.
Shweta Khilnani
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