‘Culture of Downloading’ in Khandesh region and the Story of Transfer of Media – An Auto-Ethnographic Study
In this post, Shiva Thorat, one of the researchers who received the Social Media Research grant for 2016, introduces his proposed work.
Shirpur is the place where I did ‘download’ work. Download work refers to the process of transferring media formats (audio, video images) onto the memory cards. Shirpur is located in the Dhule district of Khandesh. Khandesh is a region in Maharashtra that is one of least developed in the country. Its administrative borders include the districts of Nandurbar, Jalgaon and Dhule. The prominent town of Malegaon in Maharashtra and Burhanpur district of Madhya Pradesh historically constitute what is known as Khandesh. Marathi is the official language of Khandesh. Speaking in Marathi connotes a higher class location. Notably, the upper castes do not associate with or indulge in the use of Ahirani and Pawari languages which are extant here. If language is any indication, there are more than 19 lakh Khandeshi speakers, (Census of India 2001) besides Pawari.
Shirpur is known for its water management project and the gold refinery factory. My customers were mostly from the lower castes and Bahujans. My address in this district is Baudhwada, which gives an indication of my caste status. In Shirpur, the place of dwelling and livelihood are circumscribed by caste. Shirpur has a population of more than a lakh and almost sixty percent of the people belong to lower castes and the Bahujan community. Movement and social exchange is restricted. To complicate this, apparent class mobility is in turn a function of caste. For example, mobile phones which were not common in the region became ubiquitous after the arrival of ‘China mobile’ in India. These phones became emblematic of class and caste. In the region they are lovingly known as the poor man’s iPhone. Linked to the politics of surrounding and its consumption, class mobility in this region helped increase the ‘download’ work and the proliferation of music, images and videos.
Small businesses of ‘copy-paste’ and transferring media material onto the memory card was common to small towns like Shirpur and even in metro cities like Pune and Mumbai. One commonly finds boards announcing ‘Yaha pe gaane, movies download kiye jate hai’ (we download songs, movies onto the memory cards). Locally it is referred to as ‘downloading memory cards’. This downloading culture became more widespread with the advent of smaller memory cards which matched the chassis of the china mobile (cheap Chinese made mobile phones).
Seven years ago I started this business. I had a desktop computer for my personal work as well as for teaching my nephew. My friends used to regularly ask me to get songs and movies for them. . Initially, not serious about this venture, .the first copy I made was of Michael Jackson’s album, ‘Dangerous’ for a friend. I converted the videos to 3GP so that my friend could play the album on his ‘China Mobile’ and practice for an upcoming dance competition. A few days later, my friend paid me Rs 500 and stated, ‘I did not win the competition but your labour needs pay’.
I rented a house near my home and set up my trusted desktop there. I pasted wall posters of Bollywoodz and Marathi movies in that rented house, to make it more ‘office like’ and entice more clientele. On an average I earned Rs.15000 per month for two years. I was happy, I interacted with many people, and was able to observe their demands – such as their likes, their age, and the conditions that match their taste. My cousin Bapu, who was a fan of Hrithik Roshan, asked me to download songs featuring Hrithik Roshan, especially dance tracks like ‘Kaho Na Pyar Hai’ (2000). Heartbroken lovers always demanded ‘Gam wale gane‘ (Sad songs). The religiously inclined demanded God-devotees songs. Some people, mostly from Patil community, who were landlords, asked me to download patriotic songs from Bollywood movies. I had a few women customers who always demanded TV serials and songs like ‘Kasauti Zindagi Ki’ and old Mohammad Rafi-Lata Mangeshkar songs. Dalits demanded Babasaheb Ambedkar’s songs or other format of media consumption like videos and images.
On demand, I made available pornography ripped from DVDs and other cell phones. I sold this content at a more expensive rate than usual. I was warned twice by the police to not sell pornographic material as it was ‘illegal’ and immoral. I saw many people who were involved in these small scale businesses in the main market get arrested by the police. Despite being aware of the dangers, I continued to sell porn as it was convenient. As downloading was expensive on the internet, copy-pasting saved data and the process of transferring content onto memory cards made it affordable to a class whose voice is rarely heard in the context of technology.
The act of transferring mobilized people, in some ways, allowed us to hack media technologies and partake in cultures surrounding mobile media and its ‘embodiment’ (Rai, 2013). This produced an affect through intermediated behaviour. The act of dancing and listening, through the songs-images was made possible through the entrepreneurial work of the ‘downloading worker’ that produces a circuit of consumption among the Dalit-Bahuajans communities. This I argue is of significance culturally-economically and politically.
In this auto-ethnographic study, I am a data source, along with other ‘downloading workers’. I have already contacted a few of them. I will be looking at five places: Khandesh-Shirpur which is a tehsil in Dhule district, Dhule, the headquarter, Boradi – a village, Jalgaon town Jalgaon district, and Malegaon in Nashik district. Of these, Malegaon came into focus for various reasons including Malegaon Ka Chintu (2010) a Television serial and Supermen of Malegaon (2009), a documentary. I have selected these places because of the diversity they present vis-a-vis the ‘downloading culture’. All these places have a variety of communities, religions, castes and creed that have their own choices for ‘downloading or transferring the media’.
I will be interviewing mostly those who own desktop computers. The reason for this is that those who work in shops are paid by the owners of the shop after downloading 3-4 memory cards, and will not be paid otherwise. Secondly, most of those involved in these enterprises are migrants and they do not have much knowledge about the consumers. I will also try get a couple of interviews of migrants from urban areas to stress the connections of urbanism through this culture.
I cannot generalise the juxtaposition of the Khandeshi download culture to their overall cultural practices. Since I am involved in this download culture, I have seen that the perspectives of the consumers depends on the societal structures. Indeed, the perspective of downloading and the action of playing and showing the songs to others oscillates between ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘privacy’ (Sundaram, 2004) and among other things, it is a power struggle.
Economical social life of consumers with their political stands are ‘dependent on audacity’ (Rai, 2009) such as ‘downloading culture’ which is also a part of the society. Lavnaya Latha (2008) deems it as an interpretation of the ‘small scale industry’ which has ‘played a significant role’. In this study demographic profiles and community backgrounds will be observed in order to understand the different download cultures. I am more interested in the ‘present scenario and situation’ of Khandesh regarding ‘downloading culture’. I had left this work five years ago. I heard there are major changes going on presently. This project will thus be based on this self-reflective process of revisiting the many emerging downloading cultures in the above mentioned regions.
Rai, A. S. (2015). The Affect of Jugaad: Frugal innovation and postcolonial practice in India’s mobile phone ecology. sagepub.co.uk, 18.
Rai, A. S. (2009). Untimely Bollywood: Globalization and India’s new media Assemblage. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Latha, Lavanya (2008). Small scale entrepreneurship in India. Serbian Journal of Management 3,
Ravi Sundaram, et all (2004) Crisis/Media, The Sarai Programme, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Reader 4.
Malegaon Ka Chintu ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw6uFBED65w
Yeh Hai Malegaon Ka Superman ~ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1587388/
Superman of Malegaon ~ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1587388/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl
Kaho Na Pyar Hai ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4km-4leWyTI
Dangerous, Michael Jackson ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQR8c7S67nA
 One of the states of India.
 One of the states of India.
 Interestingly Census 2001, lists Khandeshi as consisting of Ahirani, Dangi, Gujari and Khandeshi under the head Khandeshi. It does not indicate the number of Pawari speakers. In spite of being close, Ahirani, Khandeshi and Pawari function as language.
 An actor in Bollywood industry.
 A TV serial or soap opera produced by Balaji Telefilms which is owned by Ekta Kapoor.
 Malegaon ka Chintu captures the eventful life of Chintu. Chintu is a lively young man who lives in Malegaon and loves only three things in life; his coat, bicycle and Pinky, the most beautiful girl in town. He is full of life with a heart of gold. He is very emotional and cannot see anyone in trouble. The show takes the viewers through different situations in Chintu’s life that make for a laughter riot. Malegaon Ka Chintu is directed by Shaikh Nasir who is well-known for his comedy spoofs; Shaikh Nasir is all set to makes his presence felt for the very first time on Indian television. He has won several accolades and his films like Malegaon Ka Superman; Malegaon Ka Sholay has received national and international recognition.
(Youtube caption ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw6uFBED65w)
 Documentary film by Faiza Ahmed Khan on the Khandeshi movie Yeh Hai Malegaon Ka Superman (Nasir Sheikh, 2009, who was a protagonist in the Supermen of Malegoan)