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Uri Exposes The Dangers Of ‘Politician-Dictated’ And ‘Media-Concocted’ Nationalism

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By Samar:

With 17 soldiers slain in the terror attack in Uri, certain arcs were certain to play out. Public anger, outrage and debate over response were chiefly visible amongst them. Justifiably so; no country’s government, media or civil society should take such mass-murder, whether of civilians or troops, lying down. Largely absent, though, from the larger discourse, was introspection. Inward-looking queries about tactical follies, preparedness, intelligence and root causes seemed sidelined by emotion. What necessitated, in part, a hard look in the mirror, has ended up on a trampoline for our highest fancies of military might.

This nuance-free whirlwind, fortified by the subsequent surgical strikes and jubilation, has brought some of our baser tendencies to the fore. What defines this behaviour is the ability to be supremely confident and vague at the same time. And as a safeguard, it presents itself as a hybrid spokesperson of the armed forces, patriotism, the government, common public and all things Indian. From online comments sections to Mumbai studios, this behaviour is manifesting itself in comfortable calls-to-arms and cheerleading.

Vacuous war-mongering and grave-dancing-jingoism is pervading a collective psyche. It is a chronic and dangerous phenomenon, especially since it is getting all the help it needs.

In Politics

Last year, Indian commandos stepped into Myanmar and conducted an operation, in response to an NSCN-K ambush in Chandel, Manipur that left 18 troops dead. At least 38 insurgents were reportedly killed in the strike. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar immediately hailed ‘changed mindsets’ and a neighbouring ‘fear of India’s new posture’, even though numerous defence analysts asserted that these strikes were nothing new.

This sharp departure from a previously tighter-lipped defence policy had an embarrassing effect; it elicited a face-saving statement from Myanmar, denying any violation of its territory, which threw more questions India’s way. Junior information minister Rajyavardhan Rathore’s use of hashtags such as #56inRocks – in reference to the PM’s much-acclaimed chest, also injected a reverential, celebratory pitch to the proceedings. Such a self-congratulatory approach to security seemed bizarre and also ran the risk of politicising national defence.

Now, in the wake of the Uri attack and the Indian counter, it has been more of the same gloating – but much more. Like #56inRocks, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu found a sly way of tying covert military action to the government by declaring the LoC ‘swachh‘. In an interview with ABP News, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy said that war between India and Pakistan has begun, it just hasn’t been announced. He went on to state in the same interview that 10 crore Indians will perish if Pakistan launches a nuclear attack. This, according to Swamy, was a nominal figure with regards to India’s total population and he claimed that Pakistan would be completely flattened in the aftermath.

Parrikar was at it again. “Indian troops were like Hanuman who did not quite know their prowess before the surgical strikes,” he declared. He likened Pakistan to a clueless surgery patient still recovering from the anaesthesia, and congratulated the Army for administering, in his own words, ‘Unke gaal pe paanch thappad’ (five blows on their face).

Apart from how unbecoming it is of a Cabinet member to thump his chest so cheaply, this jingoism is emblematic of a larger shift in geopolitical attitude. There is a new outspoken tendency, bordering on the provocative. With a gladiatorial sense of patriotism and the comfort of counting amongst civilians, politicians from the ruling party are fiddling needlessly with danger. This recent treatment of national security as a soapbox to exult or bay for blood, of airing sharp views better left to a private conversation, may cause unforeseeable diplomatic damage. It also sets a bad precedent for the public, sections of which are likely to take cues from our aggressive, verbose netas, who are quite aware of the potential electoral reward for this shrillness.

In Mass Media

That Indian TV media is reducing us to our worst and is, by and large, still ploughing deeper pits to fall into, is not a new notion. Here again, a section of the media was presented a ripe chance to display the kind of presumption and embroidery it had with the JNU situation in February.

Zee News’ Sudhir Chaudhary used his popular pulpit to openly stoke public rage: “Krodh ko gale lagane ki zaroorat hai. Krodh pe thanda paani daal diya toh shaheedon ka apman karenge,’ (We need to embrace our anger and not put it out with cold water. We’ll be insulting the martyrs if we do that.), he insisted. “Ye sirf ek aatankwadi hamla nahin, Bharat ke khilaaf ek yudh hai aur yudh kabhi shanti ki bhavnao ke saath lada nahin jaa sakta.” (This [Uri] is not just a terrorist attack but a war that has been declared against India. And a war can never be fought peacefully.)

Deepak Chaurasia, Editor and Anchor at India News, mirrored this hyperbole with the air of having personally conducted a census: “Bacche bacche ka khoon khaul raha hai, Pakistan ko sabak sikhane ki maang lagatar tez hoti ja rahi hai,” (Each and every child in India is angry. Demands to teach Pakistan a lesson is growing everyday.),   declared Chaurasia.

Sudharshan News Chief Suresh Chavhanke pitched in with the sort of talk normally seen in extremist videos on YouTube: “Kutte ki dum Pakistan kabhi seedha nahin ho sakta, ye jab pata hai, toh ham Pakistan ka naam-o-nishan mitane ki ghoshna ham kab karenge?” (When we know that Pakistan never learns from or acts on its mistakes, why haven’t we already declared a war against them already?) Then, as a video package took over from where Chavhanke left, a voiceover said, “… Pakistan ko chaar hisso mein todne ka plan turant taiyar ho.” (…We must plan at once, to destroy Pakistan.)

On the English side of things, of course, Times Now’s Arnab Goswami surprised nobody. Off the heels of the Uri attack, he said, “We have to retaliate, we have to punish. There is no time to wait! There is no time to deliberate!” Is it the job of a journalist to decide whether or not deliberation is needed on delicate matters of security? If so, then it would lend a redundancy to the high offices of the defence ministry and the Army’s top brass. If not, then Goswami is simply saying whatever he wishes to whip up a military-laced nationalist sentiment – regardless of the social confusion, damage or dumbed-down either/or binaries it creates.

“We will get you in ways you cannot imagine!” he thundered, before literally claiming that “seeking for nuance out there, we lose the meaning of our own actions”; a bizarre statement even Fox News might steer clear of.

There is a stronger case than ever that a number of channels belong to the entertainment section of television rather than news. That, post-Uri, our broadcast media near-unanimously started howling for blood is just the latest example of a long and disturbing trend. For a long time, media houses such as those mentioned above have brought a ‘Rottweiler mentality’ to news, ready to ambush anything with the force of a thousand jerked knees.

Presented with any stimulus which deviates from their narrow narrative, these anchors scream, shame, bully and will attempt to pass off the worst folly as a self-assured fact. This kind of manufactured rage always needs an identifying of the ‘other’. In the current case, an education on the Army’s sacrifice and discussion on the historical, geographic and economic roots of the issue were needed; a sober look at Pakistan and our own options.

Instead, the presentations snowballed into incoherent chants of war, nuclear posturing and potential death tolls. In the melee, the ‘other’ was created: the ‘apologists’, ‘pro-Pakistan doves’ and ‘pseudo-liberals’ – basically any person who touted a studied approach instead of prematurely whining for heads to roll. This occurs because hate cannot exist in a vacuum; it needs a foe to hurl things at.

Arnab Goswami, dissatisfied with Pakistan as the sole target, found a way to weave into the narrative the ‘enemy within’. This injects further heat into the show as now, there are two targets. It is a fast, disorienting affair and is meant to be so. None of it is accidental. These are TRP-gleaning techniques, borrowed in large part from Fox News, and they seem to be working.

In ideal circumstances, the variety of agenda-driven, unsubstantiated talk heard on these channels would not be worthy of being addressed. However, it cannot be so. This, after all, is broadcast nationally. These shows shape a huge slice of public opinion. These anchors are influential, widely-watched and enough of their audiences are willing to accept their rantings as gospel. That is the problem; that so many people do tune in to follow the trail of hate and nonsense. There is an element of viewer choice at play here, and it reflects a vicarious mentality.

The Hateful Underbelly Of Social Media

Social media is a neutral entity. When used for good, for example, to bring original, local news to people, it can deliver well. When used in a negative direction, it can become a surprisingly efficient agent of hate.

Much like propaganda masquerading as news, negative sentiment on social media succeeds in spreading due to its quality of instant gratification. Even more so than TV, the world of messages and hate memes on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter can condense issues into the tiniest format. By trapping an issue into a one-size-fits-all, easily digestible form, this new media appeals to the lowest common denominator and the lowest attention span. It completely dispenses the need to analyse. It can be easily concocted by anybody at home and relies on loaded hashtags and buzzwords to distill complex situations into ignorance and aggression.

After the terror attack last month, all manner of toxic material began circulating on social media. In the first instance, it was based on the notion of revenge, and, after the surgical strikes, on bravado. In the discreet, anonymous realm of the Internet, all gloves are off. Nothing is being held back in the expletive-ridden targeting of Kashmiris, Muslims, all Pakistanis, leftists and liberals which are circulating on mobile phones all over India. When anybody with an Internet connection can have a platform, the floodgates are thrown open. It’s what we see now. By this time, it is a phenomenon hard to de-escalate.

What the whipping up of divisive sentiment does, even in an international situation such as this, is train that sentiment inwardly in the long run. When a politician, journalist or anyone else incites hostility, it eventually finds its way to minorities, ideological opponents and the like. Even if diplomatically redundant, spreading hatred in an age of instant connectivity has consequences. It causes social unrest, indoctrination and brings out the ugliness in society – from the creation and advocacy of rumours of a direct fund for Army weaponry to make India ‘Asia’s Boss’ to fast food joints offering discounts if customers use a hate-mongering code of their invention.

Unfit Comparisons And Befitting Replies

It is vital to understand that to bring to light internal shortcomings is not the same as endorsing Pakistan. It is also necessary to know the difference between Pakistan’s Army, the government, and people. Pakistan’s Army and successive governments’ attitude to security and terrorism is well-documented. There is jingoism and immaturity on the other side of the border, reflective of the Islamic republic’s insecurity and crumbling institutions.

For India, a serious note of Pakistan’s activities must be taken, but there is another issue at play here – that we compare. As screenwriter Javed Akhtar said at an event last year, those who point to examples of intolerance and violent rhetoric in other countries to justify internal ongoings are shortchanging a unique ethos. The vast difference that India’s constitutional, secular democracy brings, puts us in stark contrast with our neighbour. To excuse needless rabidity and hate by saying there is an even worse variety available elsewhere is to set very lax standards indeed. For Indian anchors, retired Army generals, legislators and larger civil society to mirror the bluster of some of their Pakistani counterparts (and use the same as justification) is simply convenient. And, in that vein, a careless call to arms is disrespectful to the troops.

The term ‘befitting reply’ is used surprisingly often to describe comeuppance with regards to Indo-Pak warfare, skirmishes and strikes. Perhaps drawing inspiration from the Battle of Asal Uttar in the 1965 war, the jargon has fully seeped into military, journalistic and political discourse. Even in the past twenty days, BJP leaders Rajnath Singh and Nirmal Singh, IAF chief Arup Raha and Pakistan Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif have all used this old terminology. It represents a historical tit-for-tat with no end in sight.

In threat or in action, an endless game of befitting replies can satisfy nobody, except those who like to cheer and jeer from the sidelines. Actual fighting sounds like a far-off proposition in the comfort of a home or TV studio, which enables individuals to demand for it on others’ behalf. This is the vicarious tendency, devoid of all self-awareness. It takes for granted somebody else’s valour and life.

At least, it should rid itself of the hypocrisy; if the old indeed dream for wars for the young to die in, perhaps it should come with the caveat of leading by example.

_

Image source: Hindustan Times/Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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