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When India imposed coronavirus restrictions in late March, Arman Rathod's work dried up.


The 29-year-old had made a living washing cars and painting statues of Hindu gods in his hometown of Valsad, in western India. Broke and bored under lockdown, Rathod and his friends started recording videos of themselves in April on the social media app TikTok.


Dressed in a baggy button-down, Rathod would gyrate on a dusty patch of ground under a tree in his village, while a friend filmed him. His 15-second dance videos, set to Indian pop songs, went viral. Within weeks, he amassed 7 million followers.


He made money off it enough to support his family during the pandemic through ad sponsorships. Fans sent him gifts. TikTok even sent him an iPhone.


"My dreams were coming true!" he said. "I got calls to choreograph Bollywood movie songs and appear on TV dance shows."



But all that ended abruptly on June 29, when India's government banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese-owned apps, calling them a threat to India's security and sovereignty. 



The head of TikTok's India branch said the company complies with India's data privacy and security rules and "has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government."


The companies behind the banned apps now have until July 22 to answer 79 questions from the Indian Information Technology Ministry, including whether they censored content or worked on behalf of a foreign government, according to national news reports.


In India, TikTok isn't just a teen craze. It's a livelihood for some people. It has given birth to new social media celebrities, many of them working-class folks, like Rathod, in villages far from India's cosmopolitan megacities. They've used the app to find fame, empowerment and even a path out of poverty. But now, India's TikTok stars have become collateral damage in a geopolitical flare-up between the world's two most populous countries.



A small-town favorite


Owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, TikTok hosts homemade videos ranging from 15 seconds to a minute. In India, these mostly consist of people lip-syncing to pop songs, dancing and enacting Indian movie scenes. You can choose whom to follow, but an algorithm also peppers your feed with videos from strangers. That's how people like Rathod got noticed.


TikTok is estimated to have been downloaded more than 2 billion times. Before the ban, up to a third of its regular users some 200 million people were believed to be in India, analysts say. It was the app's biggest market, in terms of traffic, outside China.


Unlike Facebook-owned Instagram, which in India supports only Hindi and English, TikTok supports several Indian languages. TikTok's loyalists are often India's second-tier towns or villages. Many were first-time social media users, unable to read or write English, drawn to TikTok in part because it's primarily video and not text-heavy like Twitter or Facebook.


Here's a sampling of stars: a goatherd lip-syncing to a romantic Bollywood song from the 1990s; a partially blind man dancing in a field with his wife; a queer makeup artist breaking gender stereotypes.


"Before TikTok, small-town Indians who aspired to showcase their talent had to move to the big city to get noticed," says Sumit Jain, an amateur dancer who owns a clothing shop in a town 200 miles from Bollywood's capital, Mumbai. "TikTok lets us do that from home."


Jain, a skinny 28-year-old with a mop of curly hair, has 3.8 million followers on the app down from more than 4 million before the ban.


Upon hearing news of the ban, some Indian TikTokers scrambled to post final goodbye videos for their fans, before their apps went dark.


TikTok disappeared from Apple and Google Play stores in India. Even users who had already downloaded the app can no longer access any content on it. If you visit its website in India it says, "The App is currently unavailable as per the directive by Govt. of India." But Indian videos are still visible from outside the country.



A race to replace TikTok


Meanwhile, tech companies are vying to nab TikTok's millions of users in India. A handful of national competitors reportedly got a surge of downloads within 48 hours of the ban. This month, Instagram debuted Reels for the Indian market, where users can post 15-second videos with music.


"TikTok was the only platform of its kind. If I didn't post for a few days, I used to get scores of messages asking if I was OK. On the streets, people would recognize me," says 26-year-old Anita Meena, a housewife in northern India who used to post TikTok videos of herself performing local folk dances. "I was just getting to the point where I could have started making money from TikTok, but then it got banned."


She says she'll focus on YouTube now. But she's not convinced she'll have the same following there.


All of the TikTok stars say they understand why the Indian government banned the app and support that action even as they bemoan the loss.


"TikTok changed my life," Rathod says. "I felt like I was finally doing what I was born to do."


Source: https://www.npr.org

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TikTok changed my life: India's ban leaves video makers stunned

Tap "WorldWire" above  to follow us


When India imposed coronavirus restrictions in late March, Arman Rathod's work dried up.


The 29-year-old had made a living washing cars and painting statues of Hindu gods in his hometown of Valsad, in western India. Broke and bored under lockdown, Rathod and his friends started recording videos of themselves in April on the social media app TikTok.


Dressed in a baggy button-down, Rathod would gyrate on a dusty patch of ground under a tree in his village, while a friend filmed him. His 15-second dance videos, set to Indian pop songs, went viral. Within weeks, he amassed 7 million followers.


He made money off it enough to support his family during the pandemic through ad sponsorships. Fans sent him gifts. TikTok even sent him an iPhone.


"My dreams were coming true!" he said. "I got calls to choreograph Bollywood movie songs and appear on TV dance shows."



But all that ended abruptly on June 29, when India's government banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese-owned apps, calling them a threat to India's security and sovereignty. 



The head of TikTok's India branch said the company complies with India's data privacy and security rules and "has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government."


The companies behind the banned apps now have until July 22 to answer 79 questions from the Indian Information Technology Ministry, including whether they censored content or worked on behalf of a foreign government, according to national news reports.


In India, TikTok isn't just a teen craze. It's a livelihood for some people. It has given birth to new social media celebrities, many of them working-class folks, like Rathod, in villages far from India's cosmopolitan megacities. They've used the app to find fame, empowerment and even a path out of poverty. But now, India's TikTok stars have become collateral damage in a geopolitical flare-up between the world's two most populous countries.



A small-town favorite


Owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, TikTok hosts homemade videos ranging from 15 seconds to a minute. In India, these mostly consist of people lip-syncing to pop songs, dancing and enacting Indian movie scenes. You can choose whom to follow, but an algorithm also peppers your feed with videos from strangers. That's how people like Rathod got noticed.


TikTok is estimated to have been downloaded more than 2 billion times. Before the ban, up to a third of its regular users some 200 million people were believed to be in India, analysts say. It was the app's biggest market, in terms of traffic, outside China.


Unlike Facebook-owned Instagram, which in India supports only Hindi and English, TikTok supports several Indian languages. TikTok's loyalists are often India's second-tier towns or villages. Many were first-time social media users, unable to read or write English, drawn to TikTok in part because it's primarily video and not text-heavy like Twitter or Facebook.


Here's a sampling of stars: a goatherd lip-syncing to a romantic Bollywood song from the 1990s; a partially blind man dancing in a field with his wife; a queer makeup artist breaking gender stereotypes.


"Before TikTok, small-town Indians who aspired to showcase their talent had to move to the big city to get noticed," says Sumit Jain, an amateur dancer who owns a clothing shop in a town 200 miles from Bollywood's capital, Mumbai. "TikTok lets us do that from home."


Jain, a skinny 28-year-old with a mop of curly hair, has 3.8 million followers on the app down from more than 4 million before the ban.


Upon hearing news of the ban, some Indian TikTokers scrambled to post final goodbye videos for their fans, before their apps went dark.


TikTok disappeared from Apple and Google Play stores in India. Even users who had already downloaded the app can no longer access any content on it. If you visit its website in India it says, "The App is currently unavailable as per the directive by Govt. of India." But Indian videos are still visible from outside the country.



A race to replace TikTok


Meanwhile, tech companies are vying to nab TikTok's millions of users in India. A handful of national competitors reportedly got a surge of downloads within 48 hours of the ban. This month, Instagram debuted Reels for the Indian market, where users can post 15-second videos with music.


"TikTok was the only platform of its kind. If I didn't post for a few days, I used to get scores of messages asking if I was OK. On the streets, people would recognize me," says 26-year-old Anita Meena, a housewife in northern India who used to post TikTok videos of herself performing local folk dances. "I was just getting to the point where I could have started making money from TikTok, but then it got banned."


She says she'll focus on YouTube now. But she's not convinced she'll have the same following there.


All of the TikTok stars say they understand why the Indian government banned the app and support that action even as they bemoan the loss.


"TikTok changed my life," Rathod says. "I felt like I was finally doing what I was born to do."


Source: https://www.npr.org

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