The Internet is increasingly becoming a tool for social transformation. The content creators are the key drivers triggering such social change within the masses.
Giving the mainstream creators a run for their money are Abhiraj and Niyati. Popularly known as Abhi and Niyu, the couple boasts of humble beginnings, starting with video stories stating a hundred reasons to love India, to building a cult following of million subscribers on social media.
Whether it is about offering tips to adopt a sustainable lifestyle or breaking down the impact of a country's budget on a common man, Abhi and Niyu have been at the forefront of educating netizens.
The Logical Indian caught up with the duo to understand how they are using social media for the social good, being on the edge of criticism and appreciation, and their recent initiative to raise funds for the victims of Uttarakhand floods.
TLI: 'Social Media' for 'Social Change'. Why and when did you decide to get into content creation that would not just be for entertainment purposes but also educates and make people aware of the changes around us?
Abhi & Niyu: The reason we started making positive videos was that our feeds were (and still are) becoming overwhelmingly negative. Negative sells, so everyone ignores the truly transformational power of positive content. And in the bargain of clicks, we noticed that people had no idea or no pride about their own country. All they could see were the problems. And this is a very problematic trend.
A person who has no feeling of belonging will not do anything to change any problem. That is why we started our series, '100 Reasons to Love India.'
We forayed into solution-based content while discussing problems in our country. Let's talk about Ganesh Chaturthi, a festival that everyone enjoys and then every year we get videos talking about the broken POP idols on beaches and how water is polluted. To us, this sort of approach felt very wrong. Did it make a difference to criticize after the festival was over? People who could make a difference and changed their habits didn't get a chance to.
In 2019 July we made a video about eco-friendly Ganesh idols which highlighted three eco-friendly options. That was the first video that truly went viral.
For us, that was the proof that people want to change. All they want is someone to tell them how – in a constructive way, not an insulting one. Encouragement is a stronger motivator than guilt.
TLI: Do you ever feel overwhelmed when you have a massive following of over a million internet users and a sense of concern that nothing should go wrong especially on social media where a creator's credibility is at stake with every single tweet/video?
Abhi & Niyu: Yes, we do. With the Internet, there is a constant demand to speak up about every single issue out there. We are not a newsroom with a huge team. We are two individuals who try to create content and maintain their sanity at the same time. That's why we focus on solution-based content where people can participate to make a difference.
To us, simply reporting and cribbing about problems is not the way we function. We like to think of a solution or two. Who knows if that one suggestion can actually make waves. We experienced it when we made the Ganpati video. People actually cancelled their bookings and got eco-friendly murtis.
So, that's why we bring some solutions at our level, limited to our thinking so that we can collectively start a discussion on how we can address a problem at hand. That's why we can't instantly react to every item of news. And I think, because we tend to react and judge quicker than we think, it is making social media all the more toxic and a lot of people are at the receiving end of a social media trial, which can be very damaging.
We feel a huge responsibility for the content we put out, which is why we try and think, recheck and double-check everything we put out.
TLI: What is the process that goes on behind creating each video?
Abhi & Niyu: There is no set process. Each video has different challenges. Most of the times it is a lot of reading. We continue to read even after the video is shot so that we can find something else that will give value to the people.
TLI: Being an influencer with an opinion puts you under the spotlight—attracting negativity and criticism too. Have you been subjected to online trolling? How do you respond to such people?
Abhi & Niyu: All criticism is not alike. Sometimes people provide feedback with genuine intentions of making our future videos better. We consider it constructive criticism and we respect that. Trolls seek validation through recognition. The best way to dismiss them (or at least reduce them) is to not respond. We would rather focus on the 99% positive comments than the 1% that are negative.
That's not to say we're immune to the after-effects of trolling or mean comments. It takes a huge toll on us mentally. But there is no way out for this, except to figure out how we react to it.
TLI: You have been travellers telling stories about people and places in India. Do you think the natural landscape of the country is being changed under the banner of development? Can we, as a country, develop as well as preserve nature and the natural habitat?
Abhi & Niyu: We think this is a global problem. As long as our population keeps increasing, there will always be pressure to provide facilities to people, grow enough food to feed everyone etc. There are so many people who are working on how a future population of 10 billion people can be fed efficiently without overburdening our existing system.
When it comes to our country, the human-nature conflict is severe because of the high burden of our population. Not enough gets spoken about the impact of our population on nature.
We can preserve our natural habitats once we start getting more cognizant about the impact of small actions on the environment. For example, a city like Mumbai throws out 10,000 tons of waste every day. 73% of this is bio-degradable waste.
We are losing out on space because we are wasting landfill space. These landfills catch fire, are a health hazard for rag pickers, generate a lot of methane. The garbage collection trucks also release CO2 and SO2 because of the multiple rounds that they take. There is also money that gets spent to collect waste which could have been slashed significantly because we didn't segregate our waste. So, you see, taking care of nature starts right from each individual.
TLI: Please explain about the fund-raising initiative for the victims of the Uttarakhand Floods. This was not the first time that such a calamity struck the state, where do you think we are lacking to give rise to such a situation?
Abhi & Niyu: We donated ₹35,000 through our ad revenue. We didn't ask people to donate, instead, it was our own money that we donated. It was the entire sum raised by the video in the month it was released.
We didn't think it was correct to make a video about a tragedy such as the Uttarakhand Floods and make money off it. We reached out to our friends at healing Himalayas who have been doing amazing work to clean, protect, and preserve the mountains.
Once again, I think when we look at such incidences, we forget to look at the problems of climate change as a global whole. Human activities in the mountains make it susceptible to frequent landslides, but we have to realize that with rising temperatures, our country will experience more climate emergencies.
There will be flash floods, deficient monsoons, sky-high temperatures, water scarcity. This is our reality unless we all work together to avert it. A lot of the floods in the mountains are because of flash rains or melting glaciers which is accelerated by higher global temperatures. We have to understand that things don't happen in isolation. Everything is connected. If climate change is an accumulation of our wrongdoings, then changes in our lifestyle will help us prevent it.
What we are lacking is the ability to break down the climate crisis into small implementable steps that can be taken by each individual and also shape policy into smarter steps that can lead to sustainable towns and cities.
What we did for Uttarakhand was a post-disaster salve, as a way to prevent waste accumulation in the mountains. But what we want to especially focus on this year, are steps to delay the inevitable brunt of the climate crisis.
We saw wonderful examples of that when we visited Latur to meet marginal farmers who had shifted to natural farming. They now save money, earn higher than before, and make more profits because they don't have to spend on fertilizers. Fertilizers cause significant pollution in their manufacturing, denude the soil of nutrients, pollute water because of fertilizer run-off. Instead, these farmers used a garbage enzyme, made with fruit and vegetable peels, jaggery, and water, to improve their yield.
They are also working on building community forests in villages to improve the green cover of villages through agro-forestry. In that sense, what we are lacking is a solution-based approach. Merely cribbing doesn't help us solve climate change. Finding solution-oriented people does.
TLI: Any incident or message on social media during all these years that moved your heart or has stayed with you for a reason?
Abhi & Niyu: I think there are many. When we went to Leh, we met Padma Shri Chewang Norphel who has worked for 33 years to improve water security in remote villages of Ladakh. His method involves building bunds on rivers, diverting water so that it freezes during winter and melts in summers. His work is monumental. Yet, he was so humble when we met him, we just loved the time we spent with him. When we made a video on him, we asked people to comment YES if they thought he was a hero. He was emotional when he saw that.
All of this reminds us that even though the world outside may seem overwhelmingly negative, at least online, people innately want to do good, if only we decide to give them an opportunity to. And it has taught us the incalculable power of the positive, how the positive can rewire brains and make a difference.
To help the victims of Uttarakhand floods, you can donate to the Healing Himalayas.
Healing Himalayas organises clean up treks where the volunteers and community members clean up the trash while trekking along the scenic routes in Himachal Pradesh.