Back in the day, anonymous messages meant opening your pencil case or tiffin box to find a neatly folded handwritten note staring back at you. Some were nasty, a way for bullies to attack you without the teacher ever finding out. Others were kinder, from friends who wanted to see you break into a smile and look around the room with searching eyes.
As far as intentions go, not much has changed.
Sarahah, the next big internet rage after Pokemon Go, is an app, originally developed in Arabic, to message pretty much anyone on the internet anonymously.
The recipient needs a Sarahah ID that just about anyone in the world can message to without ever disclosing their identity. The sender, interestingly, doesn't require a Sarahah account to achieve this feat.
The English-langauge version of the app has 10 million downloads on Google's Play Store alone. It's also on the top of Apple Store's download charts across 30 countries. But if you've spent any time on Facebook in the past week, you wouldn't need numbers to understand how big a fad this app is.
Sarahah is no novel concept. Ask.fm and a few other platforms have made room for Anon before, but on every such instance, it has ended in internet harassment, death and/or rape threats, even suicide.
Despite that the aam junta is flocking to this app that, honestly, serves no real purpose. There's no way of verifying if the messages are genuine. Most people tend to flood Facebook timelines with the anonymous messages they receive, thereby opening themselves to more trolling, or even bullying.
Anyone with half a brain can latch on to a message you've received and shared and follow it up with more such messages. Anyone can claim to be the sender of a message you particularly enjoyed. And absolutely anyone can be tracking your reactions, your anxiety, and using it for their benefit. You yourself can send your ID a message and share it so everyone thinks a certain way of you. The possibilities are endless.
And thus, the app is a dream for predators, sadists, and stalkers.
The dangers the app poses are best illustrated by the feedback on the app's Google Play Store page. Here are some examples:
Sarahah though, unlike all its predecessors, has really captured the Indian imagination. And market.
In a time when Game of Thrones – only the world's biggest TV show – is on air and most pop culture references tend to veer towards that, Indians have found a way to make room for another internet sensation. And that's in equal parts baffling and troubling.
Indian Sarahah fandom
It's not just the anonymity that attracts Indians to this app, for there have been countless examples in the past that prove otherwise. We loved Orkut for its testimonial feature, writing long essays for our friends who would often demand them for validation.
Hi5 was another such platform where friends could leave each other cutesy messages. In fact, before Facebook became cool and got timelines, we all tried our fair share of writing on 'walls'.
Most of this embarrassing literature is freely available on the internet. And here, I hypothesise, that Indians adapt better to such social media for the thrill of being able to express freely.
Our society, which is increasingly getting conservative, finds an apt release in an app like Sarahah where anything goes. While the app's USP is that the sender maintains their secret identity, for us, the desire to assume that secret identity is often also a secret.
A large number of LGBT Indians lead a closeted life due to our laws. Women often hide their sexuality due to censure. People from other persecuted communities may find a voice within their own spaces, but they're often kept out of the mainstream.
An anonymous app strips us of our identity and yet creates an even platform for all identities, each hiding under the garb of anonymity. For a society that's based on secrecy – don't talk about periods, don't sit with boys, don't take sex ed classes – Sarahah is the perfect answer.
Except, the question here is a rhetorical one.