In yet another instance of everyday bigotry, a Lucknow resident recently shared a post on Twitter proclaiming he had cancelled an Ola booking because the driver was Muslim, and he didn’t want to give his money to “Jihadi people”.
This could have easily been dismissed as the ranting of one unhealthy mind. However, the tweet, so far, has been liked by more than 1,000 people. The person who posted it, Abhishek Mishra, has more than 14,000 followers inlcuding senior BJP leaders — among them five Union ministers.
What’s wrong, India? A post that is not just communal, but downright stupid, is being “liked”, re-shared, aggressively defended. How blinded by hatred does one have to be to publicly endorse such views? Will the nearly 1,000 people who heart-ed Mishra’s tweet also stop using petrol and diesel, which come from Gulf countries?
The tweet, like many other storms in the Twitter teacup, will blow over in a few days. But it has some pointers that India needs to sit up and take notice of.
This is normalisation of hatred, bit by bit. The communal vitriol that has been flowing freely since 2014 has finally crossed voting booths and found its way into people’s hearts and minds. All parties exploit religious and caste fault lines for votes. But from being guided by religious identity while casting your vote to using it for choosing your Ola driver, bigotry is becoming an inseparable part of your life.
Politicians who use community identity to polarise voters need to remember that the poison they spread stays after elections are over, and contaminates people’s lives. Rhetoric demonising an entire community has consequences beyond votes — it denies an Ola driver a ride’s fare, a shopkeeper his business, a house-hunter a flat on rent. It denies a democracy any pretensions to equality, it denies a society its soul.
Ola, on its part, has come up with a response, saying it is “a secular platform, and doesn’t “discriminate our driver partners or customers basis their caste, religion, gender or creed”.
Ola, like our country, is a secular platform, and we don't discriminate our driver partners or customers basis their caste, religion, gender or creed. We urge all our customers and driver partners to treat each other with respect at all times.— Ola (@Olacabs) April 22, 2018
While many have hailed the cab aggregator for its stance, some others have called the reply inadequate, and demanded that Ola suspend Mishra’s account. In November last year, Uber had suspended a US woman’s account for a similar Islamophobic tweet.
It is a commentary on the times we live in that a basic statement of sense has people lavishing praise on Ola. After all, it is far more than what our political leaders come up with.
Also, corporates in India have a tendency to buckle under the first signs of majoritarian rumbling. In 2016, Snapdeal dropped Aamir Khan as brand ambassador supposedly because the BJP IT cell was unhappy with him. Just a few days ago, Amazon India allegedly deleted a post it had shared of actor Swara Bhasker for hurting religious sentiments.
With the app-downgrading, stone-pelting, office-damaging might that such proud saffron soldiers seem to wield of late, the corporates’ concerns are real. Every business that gives in to extremists emboldens them.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is supposed to be business-friendly. What does he have to say about corporate decisions being dictated by saffron goons?
It is time he issued a stern statement that the otherisation of a community will cost the country dear and needs to stop immediately.
However, the responsibility of keeping the country sane is not the politicians' alone. What are we the people of India doing? Carried away in bigotry as a group activity, we seem to be forgetting the meaning and import of our words. Muslims cannot be wished away, they are as much a part of India as any other community. Those who exult in Muslim-bashing because they know they are in the majority are cowards or schoolyard bullies or merely brainwashed.
Hindus, Muslims and many other communities have co-existed in this country for centuries. Expressing shock at the enemy-ness of other communities is not enough.
Mishra’s Ola post was supposedly in reaction to some other posts by people who proclaimed that they were avoiding cabs with “angry Hanuman” stickers on them. This too is irresponsible, and fuels the “Hindu icons under attack” narrative.
Social media amplifies everything we say or post. All of us are stakeholders in keeping the country sane. We need to be careful while reading messages in people’s posts and posters. The writing, otherwise, is on the wall.