By Mayank Jain:
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”â€• George Washington
The words ring true as the bells of warning about the dangers and perils of suppressing the voice of people. The voices of dissent, when suppressed through oppression and tyranny become rage and result in chaos, violence and turmoil that is not easy to recover from.
From Arab spring which overthrew many dictatorial regimes to the current Ukraine crises, social media has been pivotal in playing the role of information disseminator where people have come up to support, defend or debunk the ideas that float to reach a consensus. Social media stands for freedom of expression and the right of a person to speak his/her mind without being scared of being reprimanded for his/her own opinions.
However, Indian elections are one of the biggest in the world and this importance that is attached to the political process is humongous. This makes our very own political parties forget the rights of people and they turn a blind eye towards their duties to protect these rights because their eyes are lusting for the power centers.
Be it bashing Rahul Gandhi over social media or Modi spam bots that don’t let people mention this word without automatically receiving a Tweet from BJP asking for their vote, social media has been turned into propaganda platform which can be utilized to vie for anything you want, given that your ‘followers’ are enough in numbers to flood timelines and feeds.
Social media might be a boon but it definitely gives an ugly turn to things if the hatred goes untreated. Bashing becomes cool in a matter of few tweets and insensitive hashtags that hurt the sentiments of one community or spread hatred soon become trends and people join in to express their common hatred for a section of society.
A recent case in point is that of criminalization of Bangladeshi immigrants who are being held responsible for the violence in Assam in the speeches of a few leaders. Including Narendra Modi who held them responsible for sectarian killings in the state. “You are concerned about infiltrators and not your own people…they must go back, they are robbing the youths of India of their livelihood,” Modi told the rally in West Bengal.
The issue of who is responsible for the violence is for the judicial authorities to decide but this reckless shaming of a whole community of people is unwarranted. Similarly, BJP fans took over the social media and made sure they criminalize Bangladeshi immigrants and held them responsible for everything wrong with Bengal and Assam. From food shortage to lack of jobs, they held the immigrants responsible.
India used to be a tolerant country which never backed down from providing a safe haven to people in need but this hate mongering is unprecedented.
Prerna Bakshi, 29-years-old who is a sociolinguist, research Scholar and a writer, became the victim of this social media storm too where people don’t spare those with views conflicting with their own and take to abuses and slut shaming to silence them.
“When you’re a woman and a politically conscious woman holding and willing to voice strong opinions at that, life could be tough on social media, something I’ve addressed before. I get attacked by men who proudly exhibit their misogyny, sexism and slut shaming directed against me and against other women quite regularly. It does not hold me down though,” she said.
Here are a few screenshots of the message she receives for her views and how she doesn’t stop speaking up:
She tweeted her views on the issue of Assam violence and a horrific flurry of tweets flooded her account where people went from calling her a ‘bitch’ and a ‘Muslim slut’ among many other hatred filled tweets.
All she did was express her dissent on calling immigrants ‘illegal’ since she feels that it’s not sensitive to brand people like that. “I find it deeply offensive and dehumanizing. Not only is the argument inaccurate but is used as a ploy to fuel the right wing narrative which suits their political agenda perfectly. The fact of the matter is neither Modi nor BJP nor do their staunch supporters taking this insensitive view have any evidence to back the claims they are making. Many of the families, who happen to be Muslims, have lived there for generations, who are now framed as being from Bangladesh.” she told usÂ over email.
Here is another screenshot portraying the same:
If some fanatics can ask people to migrate to Saudi Arabia or North Korea just because they are expressing opinions not pleasing to them, then the day is not far when they do act on their threats and start deporting people to dungeons.Â A democracy’s power rests in the power of its electorate and if the current trends on social media are to go by, then our democracy is highly in danger. When will they let us speak our mind? When will we be able to debate and discuss contentious issues rather than shame or spread hatred against each other? Do we need a Hindu Rashtra or a secular democratic republic which is tolerant, welcoming and warm?
We all know the answers, it’s the time to act and speak up.