The Weapons of the Snake: Fugitive Cryptography in the Indian Activist Diaspora

6 Oct 2022
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

3335 Dwinelle Hall

Event Type

Sareeta Amrute

Image Credit: Phule, Bakery Prasad, 2021.

The snake, taught by a sage to refrain from biting, forgets to use its hiss and bare its fangs. Begining with story of this snake, which is well-known in modern Indian thought, this paper explores strategies used by anti-caste and progressive activists in the United States, England, India, and elsewhere to communicate through vulnerable channels. Drawing on critical Black theory and Dalit theory, I argue that these ‘weapons of the snake’ help create fugitive publics–spaces to gather and to support marches, protests, and social movements. Just as fugitive publics need to be started and restarted again, so do the weapons of the snake need to be learned and relearned. Organizing online means making individuals vulnerable to surveillance, bullying, and arrest. To create safer spaces, activists engage in forms of cryptography that involve using encrypted software messaging applications, analyzing messages circulating online from dominant voices, and doing risk assesments about proposed projects. The techniques of encrypting and decrypting messages activists use draw on both technical expertise and arrived-at mutal and contested understandings of safety. This self-generated idea of safety carves out a space between the ideologies of state-backed security and individual inviolability, since it drawns on ideas of shared knowledge and communities of practice rather than on notions of national security on the one hand, and the rights-bearing individual on the other, though it often draws on the latter for its wider rhetorical force. I analyze fugitive cryptography as a necessary but largely neglected aspect of currrent debates on mis- and disinformation and social media infrastructures. Paying attention to fugitivity makes clear the rich seam of resources–affective, technical, interactional–activists draw on to produce movement infrastructures today.


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This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  CSTMS

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