The great republic of India is suffering the acute effects of a severe identity crisis.
1. We have come to enjoy (and to an extent, take for granted) the marvels of modern technology. Most of us carry smart devices, whether unnecessarily overpriced or amazingly under-priced. Competitive pricing by different network service providers has also made it possible for most people to enjoy, waste or exploit (depends on how you look at it) the endless possibilities of the internet.
2. We, as a people, are terrifyingly proud and wary of our heritage. We cherish our religion(s), our caste (often if we belong to the upper tiers), our traditional ways of life and our holy rituals. Publicly, we fight over religion and things like what we eat and wear. At home, we dominate those whom we have collectively declared to be weaker.
What do we get when we combine technology with questionably wrong (and bordering on ethically illegal) ideologues? Trolls, sexual offenders – and in general, people with whom I’d rather not be friends.
As a people, we have collectively elevated the power held by men, subverted the agency of women, and completely ignored the identities of people who do not identify themselves in the gender binary. This structure of power, built up for generations, often goes unquestioned, and even, unrealised. Throughout history, over-utilisation of power always unknowingly seeps towards abuse. We’ve seen the same story from Hitler to Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and beyond.
Today, the internet is a tool of endless possibilities. Easily accessible, it allows the user to hide behind a veil of anonymity. It is a tool for spreading information (whether of credence or completely counterfeited) as well as interacting with similar or differently-minded factions. Furthermore, as the saying goes, “everyone is right on the internet” – and thusly, there is no dearth of opinions. It is here that things begin to get messy.
An intellectually-active civilisation is one that allows for dialogue between partisans. I may not agree with the person next to me, but I can respect their choices/opinions and hear them out. However, voices on the internet are not always so open to understanding. I have journalist friends (on YKA and elsewhere) who are bullied, harassed and even threatened for the facts and/or opinions they present to the world. I have women friends who are regularly harassed and are sent unprovoked penile photographs on social media.
Artists and activists I know are regularly trolled for their beliefs. Feminists I admire are disgustingly labelled ‘feminazis’. Cricketers are labelled anti-national for choosing to marry outside the subcontinent. Academics and students are deemed dangerous and terrorists for criticising government policies.
Honestly speaking, the list goes on and on. And on. It becomes bothersome and extremely tiresome to carry on the same conversation over and over. And over, yet again. We can call out only so many bullies and harassers on a daily basis. We learn to pick and choose our fights – not because we give in, but because we want to maintain our cranial stability. If the arguing party on the other side of the screen resorts to abuse and hate messages, we block. Personally speaking, I choose to indulge in these conversations largely mano a mano, unless the matter at hand is deeply disconcerting. I have blocked and reported spammers, trolls and people who’ve reduced arguments to abuse. I’m sure that I’ve been at the receiving end of the same (but hopefully, for largely different reasons).
I would love to see a day where I can declare myself as a largely cis-man feminist ally with a liberal-Marxian ideology and receive no hate. Conversely, this would also force me to reprimand myself for reacting against other people with whom I do not identify (such as racists, bigots, patriarchs, right-wingers, et al). But for the moment, that cost seems economically and ethically unbearable to me.