Bigotry and hate have sadly become the new normal for India
Before the India we know becomes a thing of the past, let's find our voice and speak up about wrongs.
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We, or should I qualify that as "we, the liberals", greeted the news of journalist Gauri Lankesh's killing with shock and revulsion. The list of such killings is only growing and is threatening to become the new normal.
Bigotry is now mainstream, and we, the liberals or the so-far regular folk, are now called "libtards". The idea of India stands fragmented today with trolls taking over the discourse online as well as offline.
A friend, who works with children, was shocked by an eight-year-old's reaction during a storytelling exercise. The children were supposed to imagine a plane landing in Pakistan. The boy, a super-achiever, said that if he met members of a certain minority community, "toh mai chaku se usey maroonga aur Pakistan se toh zaroor." (I'll kill them, particularly if they are from Pakistan, with a knife.)
"This is not the India I know," she messaged. Even music composer, AR Rahman, shared his dismay recently over Gauri Lankesh's murder, pleading for an India that is kind and progressive like so many of us, who can't believe what our country is turning into.
Who can we blame for this? A legal system that allows lynch mobs to get away with hate crimes or state governments that care more about the votebank than the people they're answerable to? Or a Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) who rarely speaks up to say "Not in My Name" but is ready to thump his chest, prematurely for the most part, for perceived victories such as demonetisation. He, along with some of his ministers, also famously follows trolls or "Bhakts" that fiercely take on any anti-right wing sentiment on Twitter.
The prevailing environment is that of fear.
In the book I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP's Digital Army, author Swati Chaturvedi mentions about her meeting with entrepreneur Sadhavi Khosla, who was part of the party's social media cell in the run-up to the general elections, but later quit.
Khosla spoke about how her disillusionment with the party grew when she tweeted about the Punjab drug epidemic, to which she had lost a friend, at least 5,000 times over 2014 and 2016, tagging PM Modi, who failed to respond.
Khosla is quoted as saying, "Here was the PM who I thought would sweep out corruption not saying a word about Punjab because the BJP was in alliance with the Akali Dal, the ruling party in the state. I was very hurt. The same Modi responds to the abusive trolls he follows and even sends them birthday greetings. I genuinely believed in him and worked 24/7 to bring him to power yet he did not even acknowledge my legitimate concern. That was quite painful."
Recently, when an advertisement showing images of goddess Durga enjoying a spa day, courtesy hairdresser Javed Habib's salon, came under attack from the so-called moral police, Bengalis were quick to say, "Not In Our Name."
Considering the goddess as their daughter, who comes home for holidays, she is fully entitled to a spa day, in the true Bengali tradition, they maintained. They filled social media platforms with similar cheerful images of the goddess featured over the years.
However, the prevailing environment remains one of fear. On a WhatsApp group, during a critique of those in power, I had to fight down the urge to counsel the members against being so vocal. In another case, a safe sub-group of "trusted" people was created where such ideas could be discussed freely. What do you tell the younger generation? To be bold, speak freely or to keep your audience in mind before you speak? Go along to get along? Keep your views to yourself? It seems to be the only way to survive in the new India.
Before the India we know becomes a thing of the past, let's find our voice and speak up about wrongs, regardless of trolls and critics. As for the little boy, my friend explained to him about children being the same the world over. He seemed to get it, but it's now up to us adults to live up to those lessons.
Also read: How getting trolled actually helps Priyanka Chopra