Welcome To The Silently Resilient Bigotry Of Online India

Posted on September 8, 2014 in Politics, Specials, Staff Picks

By Devang Pathak:

The new Prime Minister of the country was officially declared on the 16th of May this year. But for anyone who had an internet connection, he was the Prime Minister 6 months before the election results. How? Because he was the top trending topic on Twitter. He was a topic of daily discussion, with many voices predicting that he would be the right man for the post, and win decisively. There was the obvious opposition and denial by many including me. But for better or worse, Narendra Modi is now the Prime Minister of India.

I wish Twitter had stopped there. But as anyone who has used this medium knows, the ugly sometimes overpowers the good, and if you start a thorough investigation, you will be shocked at the power that these ‘minorities’ have.

Twitter, Facebook, and dozens of other social mediums took our daily chatter and activities to a digital platform. Naturally, that included the ugly and the bad too. Bullying, heckling, provocation, and harassment have made their transition into our digital lives as well. While we keep such experiences on the fringes in our personal lives, they have started to dominate the digital world, and the behaviour which concerns me the most is bigotry.

A bigot is someone who is so deeply rooted in his/her own beliefs, that he/she is prejudiced towards anyone who does not share the same beliefs or is opposed to them. At some level, we are all bigots, who have to dig ourselves deep into something, and ignore the rest of the world, to function. We find it difficult to accept that two opposing views can be right and wrong at the same time. This conundrum forces a majority of the people to sit at the fences and maintain a status quo. But what does one do about the extremes – those who revel in their beliefs and show blatant intolerance to any idea or person who does not conform with their understanding?

This type of behaviour first came to my notice in the run-up to the elections. There were two kinds of supporters of Narendra Modi – those who sought a legitimate change in the guard of the future of India, and had logical reasons to approve of his governance style and views. The other type of supporters were those who called themselves ‘Hindu Nationalists’, who sought an end to what they deemed was an anti-Hindu, secular Congress rule, and sought the establishment of a Hindu identity. Their appeals were more emotional, provocative and divisive, rather than factual. They seemed to drop certain implied prejudices in their views. After the elections, there was nothing to infer any-more.

Their Trend of #BanMadrasa on 18th August. It was one of the top ten national trends on Twitter.
Their Trend of #BanMadrasa on 18th August. It was one of the top ten national trends on Twitter.

The messages became bold and direct. If you are to simply glance through some of the messages these trends advocate, you might shudder in disbelief. There were many provocative and disheartening images and views expressed, which I could not include in this article. The ideas and messages were started by a few opinion leaders, based on facts whose veracity could never be confirmed.

HDL

At this point, you will construe that I am constantly pointing out a single facet- Hindu Extremism. This is because I did not come across anything which might be construed as extremism by any other ideology in India. Does it exist? I am certain of it. The reason that I have taken this as an example is because their voice is powerful, or at least it gives the illusion that it is. Their trends such as #BanMadrasa, #IsraelUnderAttack quickly became national trending topics. This means that they got the majority of the Twitter users to talk about or share the opinions they wanted.

Their trend of #WeHindus on 18th August,2014.
Their trend of #WeHindus on 18th August,2014.

Ignorance and perversion are being used to generate curiosity among the online users. It gets worse when they try to enforce these beliefs in issues and events which are far more complex, such as the Israel-Gaza conflict.

#IsraelUnderAttack

It gets worse when such views are echoed by educated political leaders.

Property Law in the 16th Century when Modern Democracy was not even born.
Property Law in the 16th Century when Modern Democracy was not even born.

If these individuals were out for rallies, and on television, giving such speeches as some of their tweets advocate, they could be charged with criminal cases under the existing laws of the country.

At this point, someone would shout ‘Freedom Of Speech’ at me, while the other would accuse me of being anti-community. Firstly, freedom of speech is essential. However, one is accountable for one’s opinions and actions, and can be called out and criticized for them. Secondly, I am not siding with any extreme ideology. I am simply asking for equality, irrespective of religion, gender, sexual orientation, identity, nation etc.

You may not have read about this bigotry in the papers or even heard about it from your grapevine, but it exists. Internet is a powerful platform, and no one can be naive enough to think that the voices of the web will not affect our future. These perverted ideas and inflammatory calls to action will soon permeate the mainstream, and may have already reached the gullible and the ignorant. A stone can be snatched, a gun can be stripped, but an idea which is seeded in a human being goes on to define his/her actions and words, and eventually, his/her legacy.

I am a bigot too, but just a little less extreme and accommodating to criticism. I am a bigot for good cinema, good humor, stupidity and views on life. I find it extremely difficult to talk to a person who thinks that the fifth Die Hard movie was good. But I still do talk to them without ever bullying them or vowing vengeance on them. The problem with being a bigot is that you shut your eyes to the world so tightly that you fail to see reason and logic beyond your own perversions. You deem that an idea, a person, group or even a race of people, are guilty of something which they might not have had any role in.

India is not suffering with just religious bigotry, nor is it the only country that does. Identity conflicts have happened for centuries in almost every land of the world, and irrational bigots are present in ample numbers. Why is it so?

My guess is because we humans seek an answer to a simple question – Who Am I? If you take away my name, ancestry, religion, gender, the colour of my skin, the things I love or lust for, the land where I live, the beliefs I was taught, the people around me, all the things I possess and strip me down to the bare naked – Who Am I? To avoid this confusion, we cling on to any of the above listed features. We just forget the answer which is right there in front of us.

You are still a Human Being, and so is everyone else.

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