The internet made me do it: How flying chappal short videos are normalising physical abuse

The internet made me do it: How flying chappal short videos are normalising physical abuse
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  • Admittedly, we are all guilty of laughing at infantile or hostile jokes dressed as lighthearted banter at least once in our lifetime.
  • While we have been using humour to veil abuse, short internet videos continue to normalise it and any creator is seldom held accountable for it.
  • In this article, we take a closer look at how social media challenges or trends cross the line and why people find abusive jokes funny.
“Go clean your room,” the mother orders.

“I am a grown-up, mom. Please don’t tell me what to do,” declares a popular 21-year-old social media content creator and Bollywood actor in his recent reel, who is followed by 10.3 million fans on Instagram. If you think he received a ‘flying chappal’ later for talking back, you are right. This young man regretted saying no to his mother immediately, but it was too late. She was choosing her weapon of ‘discipline’ between a chappal, a belan and a chimta (slipper, roller and steel tong) by then. After careful deliberation, she decides to throw a chappal at her son.

This recently uploaded reel garnered more than 3,30,000 likes and 1.8 million views. The comment section was filled with laughing emojis, with a fan requesting the mother to ‘use a belan next time’ and another user, relating with this content, said, “chappal is the best weapon.” A media platform that covers social media trends even did a story on his reel, calling the equation between him and his mother, ‘sweet and adorable.’

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A Facebook meme page, ‘Flying Chappal,’ with more than 2 lakh followers, defines it as a “device used by Indian parents for reshaping their kids for a better tomorrow.” Every meme on this page, as the name suggests, is about getting hit by a flying chappal from your parents, friends or partners over the slightest disagreement.
The internet made me do it: How flying chappal short videos are normalising physical abuse

From Facebook meme pages and YouTube shorts to now Instagram reels, this chronicle of ‘flying chappal’ has taken shape of various contemporary forms of expression.


Even Bollywood, which often celebrates ‘anushasan, pratishtha and parampara’ (discipline, prestige and tradition), has normalised spanking kids or throwing chappals to ‘discipline’ them in various movies.
The internet made me do it: How flying chappal short videos are normalising physical abuse
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In fact, as a popular dialogue from the movie Dabangg suggests, abuse is so normalised that we are scared of love or feeling seen, not a slap.
The internet made me do it: How flying chappal short videos are normalising physical abuse

Chappal fek ke maarungi” (I will throw a chappal at you) is a threat that could send a chill down your spine if you are a five-year-old kid, instil fear in your fragile mind and force you into doing a task that you absolutely hate. These traumatised kids, by the time they turn nine, are immune to “kaan ke neeche maarunga” (to put it loosely, ‘I will give you a tight slap’) and several other abusive threats they receive from their parents. To these kids, it is just a way of learning how to be a ‘good’ boy or a girl.

Tragedy or comedy: What does the audience think of flying chappal reels

To call out creators who normalise physical abuse with flying chappal reels, Divija Bhasin, a psychologist, a digital content creator, uploaded a counter reel last month urging her audience to think about the long-term consequences on the child’s mental health.

Bhasin says that this ‘flying chappal’ content could also be a coping mechanism.

“It’s easier to laugh at it than to realise how much it affects us. This is something that is beyond the control of people when they are growing up and humour helps them to ignore the lack of control in this situation. There are many people who don’t see a problem with it because they were brought up that way. Finding it funny is actually a consequence of seeing it happen to everyone around them. It’s the idea that if everyone else is doing it, it must be right,” says Bhasin.

Referring to sitcom Friends’ character Chandler Bing, Nikhil Taneja, co-founder and chief executive (CEO) of youth media and mental health platform, Yuvaa, also says that a lot of humour comes from repressed trauma.

“You can’t always live in pain so what you do is you start laughing about it because it’s easier to laugh than talk about pain in an honest, vulnerable manner. It's difficult to see it as a tragedy and it's far easier to see it as a comedy.”

According to a survey conducted by an online community First Moms Club of over 1,790 parents, 77.5% of parents resort to hitting children, with 28% admitting that they do this on a regular basis.

Another report launched by humanitarian aid organisation United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 2020, pinching, slapping, beating with rods, denying food were among 30 different ways Indian parents abused and punished their children. These punishments were doled out to children for perceived infractions as minor as watching television for too long, fighting with siblings or not completing homework or tasks.

These punishments leave permanent scars on kids. So, if content creators are trying to reflect on their own pain and journey, a disclaimer clarifying that their content doesn’t mean to promote abuse or normalise violence, could help.

“There is a part of the population, which would not like violence-based humour or maybe even get triggered with it, but there are people who may find it de-stressing. Hence, I think there are warnings at the beginning of videos so that people can choose the kind of humour they watch,” says Dr. Hemal Vajani, leading clinical hypnotherapist and homoeopathic consultant.

Can small 60 second reels really normalise abuse?

In today’s digital world, social media influencers hold a lot of power. A single Tier I creator can reach out to at least 2-3 million people at a time, convince them into buying new products or take another look at deep-rooted conditioning.

So, if a content creator casually slaps their friends or kids to elicit laughter, it is not very often that someone in the audience would label it as abuse.

“We think it’s “just a reel” but it’s not. It influences us on a more subconscious level because we are watching these not with the purpose of active learning. We take in this information and it changes the way we think because it is so normalised in media, we think it’s okay,” says Bhasin.

Suggesting how content creators can talk about abuse, she adds, “If people want to joke about it, they should do it in a way that shows how it is actually abuse. Don’t undermine its effects by turning it into a lighthearted reel. It’s not lighthearted. It’s abuse and always will be (even if we laugh at it).”

In the US, if a parent hits their kid, child services intervene. In India, slapping is a part of our ‘discipline’ culture -- so internalised that we laugh at our own pain.

Dr. Shweta Sharma, clinical psychologist and founder, Mansa Global Foundation, points out that humourous content around physical abuse, generalises and normalises that behaviour. “When you are promoting anything, you are generalising behaviour. People form an opinion that this is common and we can do it, too. Here, media is so effective because you are using two senses -- audio and visual. While your ‘intention’ is making people laugh, they will perceive it as something that’s normal. Whether it was [the] ice bucket challenge or Kiki challenge, people observe it from the media and start doing it.”

Most young Indians don't even understand what really trauma is, says Taneja, and so many things considered completely normal, are actually trauma.

“What [this type of content] does, is it makes a lot of people feel seen. At the same time, I think it does normalise it a little bit in people's heads saying, okay, if I'm not the only one going through it, maybe it is not that bad. So, I wouldn't like to put a lot of all the blame on folks who should do this because I don't even think they realise it. They are not really mining it for humour, they're also expressing that this is what their lives are like. We probably need to have these conversations with them as well and ask them if 'you feel like this is funny, what have you gone through. I feel for you.' At the same time, of course, we need a larger responsible creation ecosystem, where not just this but so many other things are normalised. We need to have tougher chats on that,” says Taneja.

Mental health experts who spoke to Business Insider India said that when abusive behaviour is delivered as a joke, the humour decreases the perception that the speaker needs help and it increases our tolerance for violence.

Internet users who stay silent are also indirectly endorsing it, becoming a part of the problem, too. However, the time has come to start calling this out for what it is. Abuse.