Arpita Chaudhary, a newly recruited police constable in India’s western Gujarat state, became an overnight celebrity after posting a clip of her 15-second gambol — clad in her civvies — on the smash-hit social video app, TikTok.
Then she paid the price. A snippet of her gyrating to a Bollywood song against the backdrop of a prison cell went viral and, days later, Chaudhary was suspended from her job. She had danced inside the police station while on duty.
The short video app wildly popular with lip-syncing teenagers around the world has taken India by storm. Police officers, city workers and physicians looking to escape the humdrum of their work lives are finding its lure irresistible. They are regaling their countrymen with at-times cringe-worthy videos, shot inside police stations, public offices and government hospitals.
In a recent TikTok video, two women officials of the Delhi Police groove to a movie song, and local media speculated that it appeared to have been shot while they were guarding VIPs in India’s capital.
“Indians are bitten by the TikTok bug as the app makes it easy to create content using nothing more than a phone,” said Prasant Naidu, founder and CEO of the Bangalore-based digital technology consultancy Lighthouse Insights. “But it’s raising apprehensions because it’s Chinese-owned, stores Indian user data overseas and its mass base makes it easy to spread propaganda.”
More than 200 million users in India devour and share videos mimicking Bollywood dancing, movie dialog and comedy, making India TikTok’s biggest global market. ByteDance Inc, the Chinese internet giant behind TikTok, has a separate app called Douyin with similar features in China, where TikTok doesn’t operate. Videos of cavorting public officials highlight the lack of control over its use among government and law enforcement agencies and is lending strength to a backlash in India against the app. Some even say it’s a security risk.
Prominent lawmaker Shashi Tharoor of the main Congress party last summer told Parliament that apps like TikTok are a “national security” threat and Indians are vulnerable to spying through the app because of the country’s lax data protection regulations. He is concerned that like other apps from China, TikTok has too close a relationship with China’s government. Tharoor said ByteDance’s paid influence could affect India’s democratic processes.
Economic groups aligned with the ruling BJP have called for banning the app, saying it’s being used for “anti-national” content including videos advocating religious violence, inciting sentiments against particular social groups and poor treatment of women.