How your idiotic petitions on change.org won't make India great again

Abhishek Sikhwal
Abhishek SikhwalMar 17, 2017 | 07:58

How your idiotic petitions on change.org won't make India great again

Slacktivism comprises of all those “feel-good” measures in support of an issue or social cause that have little physical or practical effect outside the internet, other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed. It’s a modern pestilence that is spreading at a faster rate than an Ed Sheeran song (and is just as cancerous as Shape of You).


In the past, one had to plan ahead in order to protest for a cause: meet like-minded people, organise meetings by handing out pamphlets, schedule a rally, take time off from work to participate in the said rally, make placards, walk for miles before you sleep, risk being arrested or tear-gassed by the authorities. Repeat.

These days, to show our solidarity with the victims of a terrorist attack, we change our DP to the attacked country’s flag (only for Western countries; if you change your DP every time a Third World country is attacked then when will people notice your new pair of "vintage" sunglasses?)

To show our concern for the rainforest, we share David “Avocado” Wolfe articles. To protest against animal cruelty, we share videos of animals being tortured so that our friends can post comments like “hang these bastards” or “god will punish them” or “humans are the worst” as they chomp away on their martyred KFC chicken.

When we want to save a severely ill child, we quickly share the post because apparently doctors these days won’t perform the necessary surgery unless they get one lakh shares. And when we want to disrupt the status quo, we sign online petitions because as Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the Change.org petition you wish to see in the world”.


Online petitions are increasingly seen by slacktivists as a digital Aladdin’s lamp that could release the genie of revolucion, if enough signatures rub together. To show how easy it is to start a stupid petition, I have just started one to ban the song Saat Samundar Paar from Indian festivals (sign it… or don’t. I don’t give a damn either way).

They can be put together in about two minutes which explains why there are so many ridiculous ones. There was the one that wanted to introduce a new nine-inch submarine sandwich size at Subway (my wife tells me that she is perfectly content with six inches).

There was the one that sought to “abolish the word: Ma’am” (which I support because every time I say it out loud I feel like a goat). There was the one that wanted the US President to add a hotdog symbol to the Emoji set (since Donald Trump is such a big fan of Hindu, can he add a symbol for pav-bhaji to the set?)

As ridiculous as the above petitions are, they are clearly tongue-in-cheek. It starts to get ludicrous when people take the medium seriously. For example, recently someone started a Change.org petition that states that “we nominate Dr Shashi Tharoor to be the prime ministerial candidate of UPA in the run up to 2019”. This has inadvertently led to a complete examination of Tharoor’s life.


If the person involved - who belongs to Tharoor’s constituency of Thiruvananthapuram - had said the exact same thing on his Facebook wall and got as many people to like/share it as he got to sign his petition (15,962 at last count) then no one would bat an eyelid. But because Change.org is seen as some sort of online Parliament instead of the Orkut it is, the media was all over this story as if Tharoor is genuinely in the running.

Hindutva trolls, perhaps afraid that Tharoor becoming PM would require them to finally purchase a dictionary, quickly dug up dirt, memes and jokes on Tharoor. Until this petition, many BJP supporters were recently admiring Tharoor’s latest book An Era of Darkness because it takes the British Empire to task and what self-declared patriot could possibly be seen opposing that?

However, as there is some logic in this petition (because Congress is at their wit’s end from flogging a dead horse like Rahul Gandhi), it seems the trolls will not rest easy until they thoroughly rubbish the nomination.

Hence, much character assassination is taking place. Tharoor’s “cattle class” comment from 2009 is back to haunt him. Some Sherlock fans are convinced that a “wife murderer” shouldn’t become PM (*cough* 2002). Many think that Tharoor is far too sophisticated, learned and eloquent to be the PM as apparently this would prohibit him from reaching out to the masses. Yes, India has become such an Idiocracy that we would rather have an imbecile head the country as long as he can make empty promises.  

Another petition that I came across recently was one that asks the government of India to “Stop funding JNU from my taxes please”. It is rather fitting that a petition demanding the non-funding of an educational institution would have a grammatical error in its headline. Sometimes the universe has a sense of humour.

The petition goes on to argue that, “JNU is one of the most subsidised universities of India. I fully support good education in lowest cost possible. In the name of FoS [Freedom of Speech], I cannot support "Breaking of Bharat" again. Its ok to have different views on college campus but this scenario is giving deja vu of partition of Bharat. I still believe they must say what they think is right but not on my hard earned money. Let them work and earn their FoS, both students and self proclaimed liberal and intellectual ‘teachers’”.

Many think that Shashi Tharoor is far too sophisticated, learned and eloquent to be the PM as apparently this would prohibit him from reaching out to the masses.

The problem with such a petition is its inherent naivety. While it has been signed by 57,289 supporters (no doubt almost entirely by self-proclaimed nationalists with a predilection for ZEE TV), these sad souls would be disappointed to learn that their clicking on a button will achieve nothing in the real world.

Just like Rahul Gandhi is not going to step aside because 15,962 people think that Tharoor would make a better candidate, the government cannot cut funding to an institution just because 57,289 people demand so.

I like how these "taxpayers" always come out of the woodwork to discuss the funding of educational institutions and minority welfare schemes. They are like the parents who tell their children that they can be whoever they want in life… as long as they become engineers.

The taxpayer needs to realise that it is juvenile for him to expect that he has any claim on what his taxes should be spent on. We appoint people to run the country’s various departments because they have a handle on its most pressing needs (there are exceptions like Smriti Irani).

Just because I’m a passive alcoholic doesn’t mean that I demand my taxes be directed towards alcohol subsidies instead of the defence budget. If we’re talking about tax value then why are we Indians happy to waste Rs 3,600 for a giant statue of Shivaji when that money could be spent better on infrastructure and healthcare (incidentally, an online petition opposing this spending has 43,586 supporters)?

I’d rather live in a country that funds the education of dissenting students than one that is populated by the sort of insecure people who prostrate themselves before giant, vainglorious reminders of a bygone era.

The time has come for people to realise that their slacktivism does more harm than good. Instead of being content with supporting nonsensical petitions, we need to physically protest against what concerns us. When you come across Hindutva trolls, don’t leave the conversation. Instead, challenge them with facts.

The same goes for your local representatives. Engage with them; find out how they aim to deliver on their promises. Take them to task. If you come across instances of violence and discrimination, share that with the world. Use the raw power of social-media to hold up a mirror to society. Somehow we let the technology that was supposed to galvanise us, tranquilise us instead. 

Post Trump’s election, Americans are turning out to protest their representatives in record numbers. According to a Guardian report: “The intensity at the town halls is so high that more than 200 elected officials have abandoned public forums in February entirely”.

Americans are learning that their indifference has railroaded the country into disaster and are now using their democratic right to protest as a tool to challenge the spurious mandate of the Trump administration.

Indians are being increasingly told by biased media channels and politicians that protesting against the government is an "anti-national" activity when it was not so before 2014. Always remember that Gandhi, who turned protest into an art form and was instrumental in getting our freedom, did not write pleas to the British begging for mercy (that was Veer Sarvarkar).

He became the change he wanted to see. Seventy years later it’s time for Indians who don’t want to see their country go to the dogs, to step out of their comfort zone again. 

Last updated: March 17, 2017 | 21:17
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy