Caste, Internet studies and everyday digital cultures - Part I

Casteism in everyday digital culture calls for nuanced and sensitive critical engagement with the existing and predominantly western oriented academic scholarship and solidarity-alliance mode approach with the critical race and digital studies.

At the practical level, dominant caste men often vilify mobile phone technologies as girls’ and women’s access to phones, resulting in inter-caste relationships. For example, men from 12 villages belonging to the Thakor caste in Gujarat have warned parents that their unmarried daughters should not own mobile phones to stop inter-caste marriages. At the same time, in India, Punjab and Haryana high court has made it clear that “casteist remarks made over the mobile phone against a member of Scheduled Caste community (Dalits) does not constitute any offence.” Caste-affected societies try to preserve caste networks by manipulating and restricting mobile networks.

The BBC Asia network, UK often produces programmes on contemporary pop British Asian culture where caste receives frequent mentions. For example, a caller and second-generation Jat proudly admitted to his caste pride and “wouldn't marry outside of his caste.” According to a news report, contemporary modern “British-Asian” bhangra music in the UK often showcases jat pride and caste prejudice.

In the US, Silicon Valley continues to reflect and amplify caste discrimination through the caste patterns of employees. Rohit Upadhya, an activist of the tech workers coalition, wrote, “organising Indian workers in Silicon Valley is a powerful idea, but the obstacles and contradictions must also be acknowledged. Nationalism, communalism, and casteism are problems here, just as they are in India, especially with the rise of Hindu nationalism to state power in the last decade.”

“Disruptive” and “interconnected” technologies can exclude, excommunicate, and discriminate against oppressed caste people. For example,, an online matrimonial company registered in the US, was accused of a caste-based algorithm that did not allow mixing profiles of various caste groups in search results. On the other hand, tech corporations have begun to follow caste-based social norms to preserve market presence. In the following two parts, the syllabus guides students to understand various global, regional, and local aspects of caste-based digital cultures and measures taken by resistance movements. The first part focuses on user experiences, while the second focuses on (lack of) efforts by tech corporations and algorithmic and network patterns of caste in social media.

Christopher, N ( 2019). TikTok is fueling India’s deadly hate speech epidemic. The Wired.
Desk, F. W. (2019, November 6). Why Dalit activists are furious with casteist Twitter. Free Press Journal.
Kamath, A. (2018). “Untouchable” cellphones? Old caste exclusions and new digital divides in peri-urban Bangalore. Critical Asian Studies, 50(3), 375–394.
Thakur, A. K. (2020). New Media and the Dalit Counter-public Sphere. Television & New Media, 21(4), 360–375.
Upadhya, R. K. (2021a, November 2). Indian Tech Workers in the US: Bourgeois Individualists, Saffron Trumpists, or Proletarian Insurgents? Jamhoor.
Wankhede, H. S. (2021, November 22). The Internet Belongs to Dalit-Bahujan People Too. The Wire.
Yadav, J. (2020, March 9). TikTokers dubbed ‘Shudras of internet’: Indians didn’t spare even social media from casteism. ThePrint.

Reading list of Caste-hate speech and online harms
Banaji, S., Bhat, R., Agarwal, A., Passanha. N., & Sadhana Pravin. M. (2019) WhatsApp vigilantes: an exploration of citizen reception and circulation of WhatsApp misinformation linked to mob violence in India. Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK. 
Chandran, R. B. (2022, April 10). India’s Booming Creator Economy Is A Battleground For Dalit Artists. BOOM.
Kain, D., Narayan, S., Sarkar, T., & Groveer, G. (2021). Online caste-hate speech: Pervasive discrimination and humiliation on social media. The Centre for Internet and Society. Stephen, H. (2021, June 24). By Stifling Marginalized Voices, Social Media Mimics Real Life Casteism. The Swaddle.
Shanmugavelan, M (2022). Caste-hate speech and digital politics. Journal of Digital Media and Policy.
Shanmugavelan, M (2020). Caste-hate speech: Addressing hate speech based on work and descent. International Dalit Solidarity Network, Denmark.
Udapa, S. (2019). India needs a new strategy to tackle online extreme speech. Economic and Political Weekly 54 (No 45): 7–8 
Verma, A. M. (2021, April 16). How Instagram reels is a mirror to modern casteism in India. ThePrint.