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India’s TikTok Alternative Thrives After Ban on Chinese Apps

Heightened geopolitical tension has boosted many Indian startups.
Mobile phone users in Mumbai.

Mobile phone users in Mumbai.

Photographer: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

Jiya Kiran Valambhia’s success story as a social media influencer is a familiar one in the age of TikTok. Each day she uploads a short clip for her 300,000 followers featuring her doing dance moves such as the thumka hip shake or the dhak dhak chest thump, set to hit Bollywood songs. Jiya, the daughter of a carpenter, earns about $500 a month by endorsing smartphone makers and online tutoring and gaming companies.

But because she lives in Jamnagar, a small town in western India, none of this happens on TikTok. The Indian government banned the app in 2020 as part of a broader crackdown on Chinese tech services, which it says are a threat to its sovereignty and security. So the 14-year-old Jiya uses Josh, a local app designed to mimic the TikTok experience.