The admins of the Facebook page which critiques Tamil pop culture and tradition say that they receive even rape threats for posts.

From dissecting thali to sexism in Tamil films this Facebook page is ruffling feathersFacebook/KarutthuKannammaa
Social Feminism Monday, September 25, 2017 - 12:33

From critiquing the ever popular thali (mangalsutra) sentiment to slamming misogynistic dialogues and scenes from Tamil films, the Facebook page ‘Karutthu Kannammaa’ is among the few spaces in the online world that looks at Tamil pop culture and traditions from a feminist perspective.

The page, which was set up in October 2015, has steadily grown and currently has over a lakh followers.

Facebook pages are increasingly playing a significant role in shaping popular culture in Tamil Nadu. According to a 2016 report published by PTI, the state has the highest percentage of urban internet users in the country. The influence of the medium was evident during the jallikattu protests that broke out in January this year, when Facebook pages like Chennai Memes played an influential role in passing on information and organising the protests which had no apparent leaders.

However, most of these pages are run by men and rarely take up women’s issues.

Set up by two women of Indian origin who live in Malaysia, ‘Karutthu Kannammaa’, they say, is a “platform that many Indian women have yearned for.” 

Why Karutthu Kannammaa?

The two close friends, who wished to remain anonymous, told TNM that the inspiration for setting up the page came from their own childhood experiences.

“Growing up within Indian society, we observed that there are many cultural beliefs and practices that suppress Indian women’s freedom and rights. Many Indian girls do talk about it but there are no active or viable platforms to voice out those concerns. Hence, we often entertained the idea of having a page on social media for the purpose of addressing such issues. So, one fine day – we decided to just go for it,” they said.

(A meme that questions the hypocrisy of accepting men who go to clubs but questioning women who do so.)

Asked why much of their content is focused on Tamil cinema and how it projects women, the founders said:

“You can’t deny that Tamil cinema influences the youth that consume them – they lap up everything and think that’s the real stuff. So, yes, we post defying colourism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and patriarchy, that are rife in Tamil cinema, to make a point that all those are flaws that need to be rectified, not emulated.

Tamil cinema nowadays portrays women in very tenuous angles – they don’t have a mind of their own, can’t form stances, fall in love with the very guy who cows them, stalks them, shames them, dress polices them and teaches them the ‘definition of feminism’ and of course the glorification of ‘loosu ponnu’ (frivolous girls).”

The Kannammaas on the team

With time, the two friends started working with others, writers and meme creators, from Malaysia, India, and Sri Lanka.

Describing the team, the founders said, “We are Malaysians of Indian descent and yes, KK was started in Malaysia. Then we started to get global Indian attention, especially from Tamil Nadu, and the rest is history. Our team consists of vibrant and passionate writers and meme creators from Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka – we are a team of diverse backgrounds and age groups, united for a cause.”

The group identifies with feminist and rationalist ideologies. In pop culture, the term ‘feminism’ often conjures up the image of a man-hating woman who spews venom. This is not in the least because of how feminists have been portrayed in films and television.

(A meme that questions the trolling that 'Jimmiki Kammal' fame Sheril was subjected to after an interview.)

Commenting on the underlying belief behind the page, the founders said:

“A quote from Simone de Beauvoir will aptly describe our page and work, ‘Man is considered human while woman is considered female. Thus, when a woman behaves like a human, she is said to imitate man.’ Feminism is about the acceptance that women are as much human as men and vice versa.”

Not all the memes and write-ups on the page may be aligned to academic feminist thought but the ideas nevertheless find resonance with their audience.

Of admiration and abuse

As is only to be expected, the team has received its fair share of abuse and threats for posting their views on women’s rights and feminist thought.

“It’s only because we maintain anonymity that we were able to come this far – since we challenge archaic culture and redundant beliefs, we are hated as much as we are loved. We have received rape and murder threats from Malaysian Indian guys – we are trolled and defamed by them too. The fact that we have to remain anonymous to highlight issues in relation to Indian women indicates that the society itself is very much backward in terms of mentality and change,” they said.

The women add that they’ve also received appreciation and admiration but that the abuse is incessant.

“We have been called feminazi, bitches, sluts, adanga pidari, bajari (both mean unrestrained women) and had groups of Indians slamming our efforts as misleading the Indian women and spoiling Indian culture. We take it all in our stride and soldier on. It’s all in a day’s work for us,” they said.

Their followers and detractors are mostly Tamil men and women, although Malaysian and Chinese nationals of Indian ethnicity also form their audience.

Asked about how they decide on the content that goes up on the page, the women say that they keep up with current and trending issues that are pertinent to their ideologies.

Although the page puts up several memes like many other Facebook pages, these are often accompanied by write-ups.

“Memes are a popular way to disseminate a message on social media but we believe that not everything can be conveyed by memes – detailed dissection is often required to expound an issue such as the dynamics of married daughters taking care of their parents. At first, there were complaints that our posts are drawn out. But, nowadays, we are getting messages that it’s true that all angles of an issue can’t be encapsulated by memes – the write-ups are not only justified, but necessary,” they said.

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