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Inside The IT Cell – The Adventures of Ram Raj Shukla

Written by Aditya Burra & Kartik Sundar,

November 8th 2020,

Perhaps due to some morbid curiosity or undiagnosed masochist tendencies, we have always had a fascination with right-wing internet forums. But our interest had a purpose. Conservative meme culture – both unbearably cringe-worthy and outright repulsive – has been central in the rise of populist governments world over. With just a few creative individuals behind keyboards churning out seemingly poorly produced memes, IT cells can sway public opinion in minutes. 

At home, the Bhartiya Janata Party’s IT Cell has acquired widespread notoriety or fame depending on which side of the aisle you fall on. With the current user base of Facebook in India nearing 300 million, the campaign for India’s votes is as much warred on virtual battlegrounds as it is on the streets. According to Christopher Jaffrelot, a leading academic on Hindu nationalism, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the nucleus of the Sangh Parivar – has always prioritised prolonged grassroots efforts to draw the masses into their fold. In a digital age, social media was their next avenue.

Since reporters often make arduous efforts to cover the ground reality of campaign rallies, we thought we’d try our hand at the same in the virtual realm. As bonafide generation Z armchair reporters, well versed in the mysticism of social media that beguiles those operating in the mainstream, we set out to investigate – how does Hindutva spread online? 

The Plan

Meet Ram Raj Shukla, Facebook bio: “anti-sickular, proud Brahmin”, just a little bit of religiousness thrown in for good measure. His profile is replete with photos of our revered commander-in-chief. Predictably, he hails from Ayodhya. Although he might remind you of your older relatives, you’d be glad to know he doesn’t quite exist in the real world. We created Shukla, a manifestation of this warped desire to find out how the right-wing Indian echo chamber works on Facebook. The answer, as we quickly found out, is that it works shockingly well. 

To begin his adventure, we answered a few questionnaires to become part of Hindutva Facebook groups, mostly typing out “JAI SHREE RAM” and “VANDE MATARAM” to prove that our persona was a son of the soil. We also sent out 30 friend requests to a random assortment of seemingly like-minded individuals to start solidifying our alter-ego’s online presence. 

We figured we’d need at least a week to build a substantial enough friend list that would legitimise Shukla’s profile. But shockingly, we underestimated the rallying power of this political regime and the ever-impressive Facebook algorithm. Within 48 hours of our scarcely limited initial outreach, we had to accept 1300 friend requests from nigh identical profiles. Contrary to what you might expect, Bhakts on Facebook are extremely friendly. There are a few minor terms and conditions, though. 

  1. The right name – A person aptly named Har Har Mahadev inadvertently helped us in this regard quite a bit.
  2. The right upbringing – Reflected by the shade of orange in your profile
  3. The right culture – The more God-like you are, the merrier, your FB cover photo needs to be resplendent with Hindu deities.

With the profile now virtually indistinguishable from the masses we sought to imitate, the real journey began to take shape. After a month of painfully scrolling through our newsfeed via our comically over the top Hindutva alter ego, we had seen enough. To make the rather depraved findings more palatable, we chose to report on this from his perspective.

TRIGGER WARNING : Sensitive Imagery, Islamophobia, Casteism, Sexism.

About Us

Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

Kartik Sundar- Founder

Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

Who We Are

We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi-medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture by investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society.

Disclamer

All views and opinions expressed in the articles, videos are personal to the Author/Editor(s) and don’t mean to offend any individuals, organisations, institutions or communities.

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