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Abstract

Drawing on the #LockDownMeinLockUp visual campaign against domestic violence, this paper conceptually leverages embodied resistance, performed connectivity, and (in)visibility politics to explore how gender, body, power, affect, celebrity, performance, and injustice are framed by digital media in the context of an unprecedented global health crisis. The forms, forces, and incidences of domestic violence (DV) are rooted in local power relations and unique cultural practices and so should their interventions and representations be. Since the March 2020 lockdown, the pandemic worsened the conditions of DV victims in India. Many women were forced to cohabit with abusive partners and families. Data on the frequency of violence against women (VAW) in India confirms that reported cases of DV increased 131% by May 2020 in areas with strict lockdown mandates. Media coverage has also prioritized the health and economic implications of COVID-19, and little notice has been given to the impact of the pandemic on Indian women and their daily and layered oppressions. At this juncture, select NGOs, digital platforms, and celebrities have taken to advocating against the abuse that Indian women are facing during the pandemic, of which the Instagram hashtivism #LockDownMeinLockUp is a potent exemplar. Based on an inductive thematic analysis of 1,624 Instagram images (May-December 2020) related to the #LockDownMeinLockUp hashtivism, its celebrity selfies, and digital posters, this study reveals four themes relating to representations of and interventions against DV on Indian women during the pandemic, including: (1) names, stories, and victim visibility; (2) violence visuals; (3) celebrity selfie-resistance; and (4) action, connection, and transformation. In offering visual immediacy, connective visibility, and affective mobilization against DV amidst India’s lockdown, the #LockDownMeinLockUp campaign surfaces as a tool of localized activism. The short-term material impact is the digital campaign’s success in fundraising for DV interventions and peri- and post-pandemic care and safety measures for many abused women. Yet, its enduring impact is contingent on how much is yet to be done on a structural level to address India’s sweeping gender inequities, victim invisibility, sources, and symptoms that intersectionally exacerbate the endemic of violence against women.

Note on the Author

Ishani Mukherjee, PhD (imukhe2@uic.edu), is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ishani’s research focuses on social media, gender violence, digital advocacy, intercultural communication, and South Asian media. She has published essays in edited volumes and journals, including Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, Convergence, and South Asian Film and Media Studies. She has coauthored the book Migration, Mobility and Sojourning in Cross-cultural Films: Interculturing Cinema (2020, Lexington).

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