These are the dark times of the media landscape in India.
We entered the age of fake news a long time ago, and certain intellectuals and scholars have just started to call it the age of “post-truth.” When did it start and when it will end, nobody knows. There are different views about the beginning of the post-truth age.
Some say that it started with the invasion of Afghanistan by US based on fake reasons, by spreading misinformation before the invasion. Some blame it on the Iraq War, while some take it to the Fatwa which was issued on Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Some trace its roots to WWII, when Nazi propaganda maestro Joseph Goebbels allegedly said: “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told thousand times becomes truth.”
One thing is clear: We are living in a society with half-baked knowledge and misinformation. The result of which is chaos. Here, everything is presumed right and true, presented on screen with a few flashes and images. With the advent of services like Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, everything is taken for granted, and we believe in everything without verifying it.
In this post-truth world, facts matter less and emotions are exploited to gain advantage. Public opinions are formed on the untruth and personal views to gain immediate access to power.
The interesting part is that people don’t know that they are falling victim to propaganda and fake news.
India has attained the unique distinction of possibly generating more fake news than any other country in the world. This fake news has taken the lives of many, mostly Muslims and other marginalized communities. It has not even spared intellectuals, writers, and journalists. This fake news really kicked into gear with the BJP rule, which boasts of nationalism and has questioned every Indian who opposes its policies and politics of hate and their sense of patriotism.
WhatsApp has become particularly dangerous in India. It’s easy to use and you don’t have to stand in queue to register for it. What you need is a smartphone and an internet connection, which are easily available now.
There are thousands of WhatsApp groups created simply for spreading fake news and to spread hatred in any society. Most of these groups are created by people who don’t believe in democratic norms. With the political backing of their ruling party, they spread misinformation through these pages.
Hindutva-affiliated groups, through various social media platforms, first spread wrong information intentionally. Within a few minutes, this spreads and we see people marching to the Muslim localities and homes, burning the localities and killing innocents. We have seen how Muslims have felt the brunt of this — thrashed, stabbed, and lynched in every part of India.
Other victims of this hate have been Hindus who support progressive values. Activists, writers, and journalists, like Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh, Pansare, have fallen to this hate. Ravish Kumar, an eminent journalist, is receiving constant threats for his fair and uncompromising reporting and writing.
It seems now the perpetrators and propagators of hate are feeling exhausted after threatening and killing Indian Muslims on baseless allegations. The tide of hate has now been turned towards Kashmiris, particularly in the north Indian cities. This came after the Pulwama blasts, which were blamed on Pakistan. Many Kashmiris were beaten, and misinformation circulated on social media, creating an atmosphere of fear in mainland India.
Most Kashmiri students have left their studies midway and many businessmen have shut down their businesses.
A professor was recently beaten and made to apologize publicly for a post which Hindutva goons failed to understand. The post was simply against war and in favour of peace.
The tussle between India and Pakistan has brought about further propaganda material, with Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups uploading movie and video game snippets of military drills to display India’s might against its opponents. This was picked up by certain jingoistic TV news channels which further stoked the fires of nationalism, and created a craving for war.
The lies, especially from the last four years, have spread enough poison in society. It will take many decades to rid Indian society of the fear and hatred created in the name of fake nationalism and fake patriotism.
Until then, who knows where India will be standing and what will happen to its minorities?
Ashraf Lone is a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.