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Trigger warning: This article contains transcriptions of chats describing graphic sexual violence against women.
New Delhi: On January 17, 2022, a tweet featuring a video of a group of people talking with each other on the social media app ‘ClubHouse’, went viral. The subject of the discussion was “Muslims Gals are More Beautiful Than Hindu Gals (Gals Opinion”. (sic)
Below is a paraphrased transcription of the video. The content is highly offensive in nature.
An account by the name of ‘Kira xD’, was one of the moderators.
In the discussion, an account called Harsh says, “In my opinion this topic is wrong, because at the end of the day, all Muslim girls are Hindu in the end. How can you compare?”
A female account called ‘Roma’ interjects approvingly, saying “Ye baat (‘this’)” and another one says “Jai Shri Ram.”
Harsh continues, “When we do ghar wapsi (conversion), when RSS bhakts like us take Muslim women, they will become Hindu women.” Roma interjects to say that either way, 70% of all Muslims are converts.
Then comes the most provocative line. Harsh says, “Did you know, that if we hit a Muslim pussy, our sins will be washed away? Has anyone else heard this?” To which Kira xD, the moderator, replies, “In the last panel, one guy said that if you are hitting a ‘pink pussy’, you will get the same blessings as building seven temples.”
He follows up by asking, “I’d like to test this. Is there a Muslim woman here?” Harsh interjects, saying, “Kiraji, I have to correct you it’s not about 7 mandirs – Babri todna itna punya milta hai (‘You get as many blessings as you would for destroying Babri‘)”
Everyone in the group approves this vocally, but one pipes up saying that they are moving away from the subject – that “pink coochie is a priority.” The account called Roma asks, “Ek confusion hai Kira, you keep saying this again and again, Muslim pussy pink pussy – is Indian, Hindu pussy not pink?” To which the men unanimously respond, “Nahi, woh kali hoti hai, kali kalooti (No, it is black, very black.)”
In subsequent videos, the account Kira xD proceeded to outline a graphic scenario where he asked the group for aid in engaging in sexual congress with his mother, here being characterised as a Muslim woman. The conversation that follows can be viewed here:
Trigger Warning ⚠️
Here in @Clubhouse, a young group of Hindus are discussing with impunity: a) "hitting on a muslim girl's vagina is equal to destruction of 7 Babri masjids", b) "we're RSS fans, we'll convert muslim girls, & c) muslim girls' vagina is pinkish than hindus
— Jaimine (@jaiminism) January 17, 2022
After the video went viral, there was immediate outcry, with many calling for the arrest of those present in the group, equating them with mass rapists, saying they sounded like co-conspirators of the Bulli Bai app, and warning that it was the height of radicalisation.
The Delhi police lodged an FIR against the unknown perpetrators by the next day, with KPS Malhotra, DCP (Cyber Cell), saying an FIR has been registered under IPC sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on the ground of religion), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion) and 354 A (sexual harassment).
Curiously, this outrage neglected to take into account that Hindu women were also explicitly insulted towards the end of this video.
A day after this discussion took place on the Clubhouse app, a new ‘Room’ was opened with the subject, “Gals do not have the privilege to marry upper cast boys” (sic). In the video, the same account as before – Kira xD – is seen saying “Girls should have just enough privilege that they can walk on streets naked.”
He proceeds to call women ‘objects’ in the videos that follow, saying at one point, “Women should be made to lie down, have their chests opened, and be rubbed from head to foot with a hot iron rod.”
The Wire spoke to the person handling the account Kira xD, who was responsible for some of the most provocative statements in both groups, under conditions of confidentiality.
‘It was in fun’
Kira is an 18-year-old male student, and claims to be both apolitical and irreligious, having no particular political inclinations to any party, nor believing in any religion. In conversation, he seems surprised by the amount of outrage that the video has generated, saying that these conversations take place as a matter of course on the Clubhouse platform, irrespective of what political affiliation or religion those engaging might belong to.
This sentiment was echoed by multiple people discussing the situation on the app, including a Hindu woman, Sarita*(24), who circulated the videos of the caste-oriented ‘Room’ on the following day.
According to her, misogynist actions happen agnostic of religious or political affiliations, alleging that on that day, pictures of her were taken from her linked Instagram account and morphed onto lewd pictures – something which again, seems to be a regularly occurring activity on the app. Sarita says she plans to take legal action, but was hesitant as it would be difficult to explain to her family.
This is not the first time extreme misogyny has been reported on the app – BBC reported that Clubhouse hosts a sustained atmosphere of misogynistic abuse, including a mock ‘auction’ which featured 200 people watching and went on for two hours. However, unlike the Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai cases, this auction did not discriminate based on religion.
“I did this in the heat of the moment, and it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone,” Kira said, saying that these rooms and this speech was preceded by another insulting Hindus, Sikhs, his parents, and making insults about attacking India, to which he and his friends were responding. He did not provide any evidence to substantiate this.
“I only heard of Sulli Deals yesterday when I found out about this viral tweet,” he said. “On Clubhouse, when we make rooms, we put out a disclaimer saying if anything happens in the room, it should not be recorded.”
“I was not insulting anyone else – I was using myself to insult, I thought it was okay. I made a story about a Muslim mother, this is why I was not targeting anyone else, because they get offended. I took my own name, it’s my decision.”
When asked about his intentions, he said it was a form of fun. “Serious discussions were not happening there, it was in fun – I was abusing myself. I did not want to hurt anyone.” According to him, “Trolling is not a crime.”
Kira says he does not intend on doing this again, but he seems troubled at the idea that this was something problematic at all, saying that insulting people is a regular occurrence on the platform, and that the worst thing that he did was not respect his parents.
Kira seems to have been under the impression that this speech would not leave the confines of the Clubhouse room – an element which is incongruous given the anti-Muslim speeches made and disseminated by the political right wing and by radical Hindutva activists. He also does not think that these actions in any way translate to real life, saying, “Of course I do not believe (that rape is an art),” when questioned about an allegation that accused him of making this statement. “If someone was threatening to rape a girl in front of me, I would protect her.”
This again is a small but significant deviation from the Hindutva radical hate speech, which when advocating for violence against Muslim bodies, follows up the threat with very real-world hate crimes – be it against interfaith couples, Muslim sites of work or simply visible Muslims occupying public spaces.
So what exactly is going on here? Is Kira part of an ecosystem of right-wing hatred, like the trads that The Wire has previously reported on? If so, why is he disowning his ideology? Or is he the product of an osmotic effect, as the ‘official’ poison leaches into the social topsoil, producing ‘wild’ contaminations? And most alarmingly, why did nobody on the app seem to take issue against these horrific statements while they were being made?
The answer to a lot of these lies in the nature of the platform of Clubhouse itself, and the specific digital subculture within which this speech is operating.
What is Clubhouse?
ClubHouse is, simply, a place for people to talk to each other. Accounts that do not necessarily need to be linked to real-world handles, guaranteeing a degree of anonymity, engage with each other in ‘Rooms’ very similar to a conference call.
The space is currently more anarchic and less structured in nature than the usual social media spaces like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, because you can join any ‘Rooms’ publicly available, without barriers to access like the invitation of those involved – as a result, while space does create an algorithmically directed political bias (for instance, if you choose to follow ‘clubs’ about Hinduism, it will recommend popular groups on the subject), it lacks the intensely silo-ed nature of the more established social media platforms.
It also has a distinctly ephemeral nature – while many conversations in rooms can be made ‘available for replay’, for the most part, they are not, giving the conversations taking place a momentary, dynamic nature in contrast to the archival nature of other platforms.
Clubhouse was launched in 2020, making it among the youngest platforms currently available, and only recently aiming for a mass audience. In August of 2021, it was launched to the public – before that, you needed an invitation to get in. When you take the combination of anonymity, the lack of algorithmic silos making for discrete political spaces, and the ephemeral nature of the content itself, we’re looking at a digital space which resembles the early days of the 4chan message-board – and we’re seeing a subculture with very similar characteristics arising from it, with its attendant dangers.
When 4chan was first developed in 2003 by the 15 year old Chris Toole, it was meant to be a space prioritising absolute freedom of speech. While it had seven major ‘messageboards’, the ones which shot to notoriety were /pol, short for ‘politically incorrect’ and /b, a miscellaneous space for random items of speech which would be unlikely to be tolerated in mainstream spaces.
These two spaces were where the culture of ‘trolling’ was born. As Emma Grey Ellis, a specialist in internet culture at WIRED put it, this was “home to all the creepy porn and violent imagery banned from the rest of the site. Users are in it, they say, for the lulz. They make swatiskas trend on Google, tell Justin Bieber fans to self-harm, and leak celebrity nudes.” By 2010, it had “become distinguished by its lawlessness, obscene content and vindictive campaigns.”
An analysis of /b/ on 4chan made points that are pertinent to Clubhouse today – that “This language is part of the group identity: pushing the bounds of propriety in order to “hack the attention economy” and turn heads.” It also made the important point that, “Not only does anonymity invoke disinhibition on /b/, but styling the collective as “Anonymous” also suggests de-individuation and mob behavior.”
As a result, ‘ironic’ humour and the use of violent hyperbole plays a critical part of how this group understands and relates to each other, and creates an intra-group identity.
So what the literature would suggest is that when Kira creates a fictitious narrative of his mother as an object of his sexual interest, it’s plausible that his speech is not meant to be interpreted as a literal desire, as much as a provocation to a group where ‘earnest’ communication would be suspect.
This aim in this communication is to shock, to throw down a gauntlet as a form of play, to see if this ‘shock’ quotient can be met or escalated. In a manner similar to hazing, the premise is that the group will explicitly be attempting to push or violate social boundaries, and your ability to ‘take a joke’ becomes directly proportional to your status within the group.
These are rituals which have been consistently recorded in hypermasculine spaces as ways of establishing identity and creating social bonds, and as such, it is not surprising that they come along with extreme misogyny even though the groups themselves feature women.
In a conversation with Sarita, as well as in monitored conversations on the app itself, a point which came up repeatedly was that women were targeted simply for being friends with men who were the ‘enemies’ of the aggressor, and faced violence like morphed images and verbal abuse even if they didn’t say anything at all – a punishment by association.
*Name changed on request.