When someone’s death becomes a cause for celebration, what does it say about us?

I don’t know how human beings can live in a permanent state of versus. It must be exhausting.

 |  5-minute read |   10-09-2017
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Have we become desensitised to pain? I think we have. Just the last week brought news of more babies dying in Nashik (after Gorakhpur and Farrukabad), a seven-year-old had his throat slit in his school toilet, and a senior journalist was shot dead on her doorstep in cold blood.

Desensitisation can lead to two outcomes. Either one becomes a venom-spewing troll, stripped of all humanity. Someone’s death becomes a cause for celebration. Instead of two minutes of silence, one is bombarded with a cacophony of rage. The second outcome is a kind of misanthropy. Some of us feel tempted to withdraw from society, which sadly now translates into not much more than withdrawing from social media.

In the case of Gauri Lankesh, the debate took a bizarre turn. More and more coverage was dedicated to the obnoxious response of the troll army; little was told to us about her magazine, what she wrote, what she stood for. The troll displaced reason, even in Lankesh’s death. A tree fell, but we concentrated on the raven cawing in the branches.

It’s a vitiated atmosphere one lives in. Any suggestion of why this is so will lead to more abuse and mudslinging. Lapsing into silence, at times, seems the only thing one can do. I know there are calls not to be silenced, to speak louder than ever before, but this is easier said on social media, than done in real life.

We live in a world where ideological divisions are being thrust on people. Choose now or else. This can be terribly sapping for the average citizen, who might be live quite happily without ideology. Many of us wake up and all we want to do is get on with the struggle that day to day life is. Politics should happen in the background.

For those who of us who are not obsessively active on Twitter, and don’t spend our living days and nights forwarding absurd  fake news to each other on WhatsApp, there is no physical space left to have reasonable conversations. We live in a time of judgmental mistrust.

polarised_091017102704.jpgPhoto: DailyO

Everyone wants to know which side you are on. Everyone is trying to gauge who you are from your social media posts. Real life interactions with familiars and strangers are laced with suspicion.

Here are three instances of my interactions with the minority community. I go to my barber; Yogi has been anointed the chief minister in Uttar Pradesh. The barber is unusually talkative that evening. He is angry. I get the feeling he expects me to say something but I don’t. It’s uncomfortable. Could I be an RSS supporter? I can feel the air turn.

I meet an old college friend, now the headmaster of a school. He is a believing practising Muslim, married to another. He refuses to talk politics. Every time the topic comes up, as it does in drawing room conversations nowadays, he changes the subject. 

A Muslim gentleman, who has read a book of mine and reads my columns, calls saying he’d like to meet me. He collects miniature cars and comic books, and wants to show me his collection. He inherited a small hotel from his father and lives in a peaceful small town in north India. At one point, he leans towards me and whispers: "I hope you are a JNU type, like us?" A sentence like this would have been completely unnecessary some years ago. I tell him I really don’t know what these "types" mean, but I’m not a supremacist of any kind. I am an atheist, and I have no problem with people who choose to follow whatever faith they might want to.

Meanwhile, the Twitter feed of a Right-wing friend of mine is getting on my nerves. Dalits, Muslims, women, all are a target of his hate. It begins at 9am and ends at midnight. Unlike Trump, he doesn’t tweet at odd hours. Sometimes I wonder if he met the white supremacists at Charlottesville, screaming “No Jews, No Blacks”, if they’d have anything at all to say to each other.

He calls me one afternoon. I tell him I’m attending a litfest at India Habitat Centre, that I have a session in ten minutes. He launches into a tirade about how I’m like all the other phonies who hang out in phony places like IHC, that he knows what kind of people go there. Within seconds he’s slotted me into a type.

Old school friends, who all vote BJP, stop talking to me after what they perceive as my anti-saffron opinion pieces. Years of friendship, washed away by politics. My friends on the Left are cool towards me for what they see as me not really choosing a side and taking a stand. Maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I’m being paranoid. But then that’s the age we live in, where friends become enemies and everyone thinks of the other as inherently evil.

I don’t know how human beings can live in a permanent state of versus. It must be exhausting to wake up and start tweeting hate. Perhaps it’s not. Supremacists wake up with certitude, which can be soothing, more soothing than waking up with a whole lot of questions and no answers whatsoever.

As WB Yeats wrote in the aftermath of the first World War, almost a century ago:

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned..."

(From "The Second Coming")

Also read: My spineless country murdered Gauri Lankesh in cold blood

Writer

Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

Freelance journalist and author of The Butterfly Generation.

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