Why banning TikTok takes away hope for rural communities

On the face of it, it is just one of the many video sharing apps available to users. But for the rural community of India and Pakistan, it is a lifeline and a chance to stay connected with the wider world. A ban on it disconnects the majority of both countries from the world.

TikTok Indian women

When India banned TikTok, it closed a window to the wider world for legions of Indian 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. TikTok is also reportedly under greater scrutiny elsewhere including in the United States and Australia.

TikTok is a favourite among rural communities, and is a source of livelihood for many in rural areas.A prospective ban on TikTok may send a strong message to China, but will also hurt citizens. Considering that the government of Pakistan is considering a ban on TikTok as well, it seems that the rural communities of both India and Pakistan will be stripped of access to the wider world.

Pakistan considering banning TikTok

Pakistan’s telecommunications regulator has banned video streaming platform Bigo and issued a final notice to Chinese video social media giant TikTok over concerns they are encouraging “immoral, obscene and vulgar content”.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) said on Monday that it had earlier raised the allegations with both companies and had received responses that were “not satisfactory”.

“Therefore … PTA has decided to immediately block Bigo and issue final warning to TikTok to put in place a comprehensive mechanism to control obscenity, vulgarity and immorality through its social media application,” said a government statement.

Pakistanis lament probable ban

Romaisa Khan, 20, is a TikTok star in Pakistan, with 2.8 million followers and videos that regular register more than 500,000 views.

“I don’t think banning is a solution, because there are a lot of people who are earning [a living] through TikTok or getting work through TikTok, so its kind of a good thing as well,” she told Al Jazeera.

Read more: Should TikTok be banned in Pakistan?

Khan’s TikTok fame helped her break through in the country’s television industry, she said, with the exposure she got on the platform helping her first get modelling jobs with large national and multinational brands. This year, it helped her land her first role in a major television soap opera.

“The industry has a lot of nepotism, and its kind of hard to break into the industry if you don’t have anything behind you,” she said. “[TikTok] helps you to get into this, people want to work with you.”

India: TikTok gives Indian women a chance for secure earning 

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 told AFP by phone, but TikTok she liked.

She started to record and upload videos of her own.

Read more: TikTok to be another casualty in US-China Cold War

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

Soon, she had more than a million followers and was earning about 4,000 rupees ($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.

Tiktok: helping Indian women break the glass ceiling?

“Before TikTok, I didn’t have the confidence to talk to people. I would just do my work, and as a stay-at-home wife I never made eye contact with people or even spoke much,” Verma said.

Speaking 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 big cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi.

Amitabh Kumar from Social Media Matters, a group encouraging “social media for social change”, said that for many people in this huge hinterland, 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 told AFP.

Read more: US ‘looking at’ banning TikTok and other Chinese apps: Pompeo

Its different tools were simple to use for those who don’t speak or read English or Hindi, and the app worked well on low-speed internet.

“Twitter cracked the short-form storytelling in text — with 140 and then 280 (characters). I think TikTok did it with 15 seconds,” he added.

And it reminded the urban elite of India’s vast diversity and chasmic differences in wealth.

“What we, people sitting in Delhi, probably judged and made fun of was high-class entertainment for a lot of people who never got a chance to express themselves,” he said.

“Here was for the first time a space that rural India was enjoying.”

Tiktok the only ticket to fame for many Indian women

Another minor star was Rupali Manoj Bhandole, 29, a housewife and mother who left school at 14 living in a small town in Maharashtra state that gets piped water for an hour a day and endures frequent power cuts.

She would upload videos of herself poking fun at her weak economic status — and soon amassed 300,000 followers.

Read more: TikTok denies Indian allegations that it shared user data

“A person who works with a Marathi TV show called me a star… I can’t tell you happy I felt,” she told AFP.

“I only studied until Class 9. I’m not a big person.”

Bhandole said she wept when TikTok was banned.

Hopes that fame will last after ban

Archana Arvind Dhormise hopes the benefits she derived from the platform will last.

The 35-year-old from Pimpalgaon in Maharashtra seldom left home for fear of censure from her conservative family and neighbours.

But then the home beautician became the “Rani Mukherji of TikTok” — a reference to a famous Bollywood actress — dancing and miming to famous songs, and gaining 75,000 fans.

Read more: No Chinese allowed in Delhi restaurants after border clash

She won a local competition for one of her TikTok videos. Now she has landed a part in a short film.

“I had never in my life gone up on stage and spoken or even initiated a conversation without having a million thoughts in my head,” Dhormise told AFP.

“But being on TikTok and seeing all the love I was getting gave me the confidence to keep that going, and also be confident in the real world.”

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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