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Indian Men Are Twirling Their Mustaches on Social Media to Protest Discrimination

Twitter

As smartphones and social media become more and more ubiquitous around the world, many are using new platforms to protest discrimination that dates back centuries. 

From #BlackLivesMatter, a movement that addressed police brutality against black people in the United States, to #NotYourAsianSidekick, which protested discrimination against Asian girls and women, hashtag activism has emerged as a powerful way for the previously voiceless to be heard. 

Now, Indian men are taking to Whatsapp, Twitter, and Facebook to protest racial discrimination against members of India’s Dalit caste, who make up 16% of India’s population and are routinely brutalized by wealthier Indians on account of their skin color. Roughly two in three members of the caste live in poverty. 

They’re posting selfies sporting twirled mustaches to protest a cultural more that says only members of India’s upper class can wear a mustache, CNN reports. The selfies have been accompanied by hashtags, including: #MrDalit, #DalitWithMoustache, #RightToMoustache, and #DalitLivesMatter.

The hashtag campaign comes in the wake of three alleged assaults against members of the Dalit caste, who are considered to be the lowest rung of Indian society. The three separate incidents involved mustachioed Dalits being assaulted by upper caste perpetrators. 

The first attack took place on Sept. 25 when Piyush Parmar, 24, was beaten by a group of men in Limbodara village in the region of Gujarat. As of now, no arrests have been made, according to NDTV

The second attack came just three days later, on Sept. 29, when a law student Krunal Maheria, 30, was “intercepted” by a group of men on his way to visit a friend. The assailant, Bharatsinh Vaghela, “verbally abused” Maheria, telling him that he could not “become a Rajput [a member of a higher caste] by just sporting a moustache.” 

A third Dalit boy was assaulted on Oct. 3, according to the Indian Express, which catalyzed the #MrDalit social media campaign. 

Read More: This Photo Series Will Make You See Race in a New Way

The rate of violence against Dalits is on the rise, according to CNN, and according to statistics from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, an estimated four Dalit women are raped every day. Just one in 50 of these rape cases lead to a conviction, versus one in four for non-Dalit women. 

But there is hope for the Dalit caste. 

In July, for the first time ever, a Dalit was elected President of India. While the title of President is largely ceremonial, the symbolic significance of this election was not lost on the estimated 200 million Dalits in India. 

Read More: India’s Next President Could Be a Member of the ‘Untouchable’ Caste

"There's a disillusionment among the Dalits," said Satish Misra, a senior fellow at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. "That's why it's necessary for the ruling party to send a signal that we are with you."

That Dalit men are now speaking out against the injustices they face is another step forward. 

“I ain't scared to sport my new look,” one Twitter user wrote. “Symbolical protest.”