Category Archives: Democracy

Why not tackle the root causes of Naxalism?

naxalismThere is a screaming headline in our Hindi newspaper today  that says something like “The states must deal with Naxalism sternly.”

I have come across similar headlines in many newspaper headlines, television debates and on Twitter. The sad state of affairs is, the only people who talk about going to the root cause of  the Naxalite problem either belong to fringe ideologies like communism, or they have some vested interest in promoting such extremist doctrines intellectually and materially.

Even when common people (who are not journalists, writers or activists) try to express themselves or raise their voice, they are peremptorily quietened by both supporting and opposing factions saying, “Oh, you armchair intellectual,  what do you know of the ground reality?” Blurting out such statements has become so prevalent that  even those who are actually armchair intellectuals accuse people of being the same. Anyway, this is not the issue.

There are some realities in India  that are too obvious to not to know, whether you physically visit those locations or not. There is a state of utter lawlessness in many parts of India.  Utter lawlessness means your village can be burned down just because  someone wants that land. Your women can be abducted, raped and brutally killed just because the law protects the perpetrators and not you. Even when you approach  the law for protection, you are chased away and further victimized. Your land, where your generations have been living for centuries, is randomly occupied by  aliens and if you try to protest, a reign of terror is unleashed upon you. The state and the police openly connive with the mafia and the corporate bodies. Just to set an example out of you, you or your loved ones can be hanged from trees, cut to pieces and  literally fed to dogs and vultures. There remains no brutality that people of these regions have not borne. For all that matters to them, you can stuff concepts like democracy and civilized living up your ass.

Now, to know this, do you really have to visit these troubled lands? If these problems don’t exist, if there is no exploitation, no state repression in order to favor  land and mining mafias, no social and administrative infrastructure to perpetuate the divisive ills of centuries, then why the heck is India in such a state? Why aren’t we the torch bearers of a prosperous, just world? We are not. We suck big time on the social justice index. We all know how our political structure works. We all know how deeply our society is divided. A majority of our population is not even allowed to sit on a cot. There are no schools, no medical facilities, no roads and no electricity. Why don’t we rage about these galling inequalities that give rise to such violent movements? Why only throw up when there is a reprisal? It’s like saying, “I keep getting cancer, I must fight it,” while constantly, knowingly, exposing yourself to radiation. Or, never washing your hands and then always complaining about stomach infections.

I’m not saying that people who support the Naxalite movement have very noble intentions, considering what opportunistic sorts seem to support such causes. But it doesn’t mean we develop a blinkered view simply because shady intellectuals shed tears for the Naxalites on international forums. If there is a problem it needs to be solved. The root causes need to be dealt with either simultaneously, or first. You can’t expect Naxalites to give up arms while the situation remains the same. Why should they? I wouldn’t. If my family were in danger and there were no legal protection I would never give up my gun.

Civilization and democracy cannot be selective

Last night suddenly there was a tweet from someone with the Twitter handle @NilimDutta (retweeted by @Vidyut) that the Dispur police had assaulted him and his family, and his ankles had been fractured. People quickly started retweeting and forwarding his tweets to influential people like @BDUTT and @PritishNandy. Whoever was online at that time pitched in and some people even called up the Dispur police to know exactly what was happening. Even the Minister of State, Home Affairs, @SinghRPN, pitched in and told people that he would look into the matter.

While all this was happening, a certain section of tweeple started tweeting about what a nefarious character @NilimDutta is and how he has multiple cases of fraud and cheating registered against him. None of these people, not even once, expressed shock at how the entire thing had been handled by the police. And many of these people wield ideological influence over their followers.

Without using the exact words, what they meant to say was, there was no need to reach out to him, as he more or less deserves what he has got.

My wife also told me (by no means she supports such tweeple) that @NilimDutta is a known “secular”, even to the extent of supporting the notorious Owaisi brothers of Hyderabad. Hence such an attitude for him.

Whatever is his standing in life, the way he is treated by the police, throws a reflection at our own attitude, not only towards our opponents, but also towards ourselves. What sort of society do we envisage for our country? That the police can enter someone’s house at 9:40 PM (as far as I know he is not a fugitive), break his bones and terrorize his family, and as long as it is happening to someone we dislike we can wallow in the cushions of schadenfreude?

Such tendencies, sadly or happily, come with poetic justice. Sooner or later, they catch up with you. Goon mentality doesn’t discriminate. A law based on lawlessness is unhealthy for not just our opponents, but also for ourselves, and also for our loved ones, our near and dear ones.

So at such moments we should keep differences aside, and focus on the bigger issue. If he is a criminal, as many claim, he should face the law, but certainly not in such lawless manner.

They actually did this in Kolkata

These days I’m reading Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie and in this book he has explained how he sometimes used to attend writers’ conventions and ceremonies despite the sword of the Iranian Fatwa hanging over his head. He would arrive at the venue unannounced (only the police and a select few among the organizers would know), deliver the speech or receive the award, and then leave immediately. People would be caught by surprise, and nobody would get a chance to stage a protest or do something more nasty.

Anyway, I’m not sure if he was supposed to attend the promotional event of the upcoming film, Midnight’s Children in the same manner(based on his double Booker Prize winning eponymous book), but something really bizarre happened in Kolkata.

When the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Bannerjee got to know of the impending Rushdie visit, she instructed the state machinery to stop him from coming at all cost.

And did you know what they actually did? The police started making calls to various Muslim organizations, asking them if they knew Rushdie was planning to visit the city, and if yes, if they were planning to protest. They didn’t know that he was coming, and now that they knew it, they’d certainly protest, was the reply. Hence, to maintain “communal harmony” he was barred from attending the event. So the police as well as the politicians openly (or covertly, if they had some traces of dignity left in them) colluded with the prospective miscreants to get out of an unpleasant or politically uncomfortable situation. Can it get more pathetic? Of course.

The organizers of the event themselves started denying that they had invited the writer of the book on which the movie is based. Rushdie openly said it on Twitter that not only he had been invited, he had also been sent a plane ticket and an accommodation had also been made in a hotel. Some of his related tweets are:

The 30 years of communist rule had considerably destroyed the sense of politics, industry and culture in the state, but under Mamata Bannerjee even the moral fabric seems to be going to the dogs (with due respect to the canine fellow beings). The ideological putrefaction has rooted itself to such a degree that they don’t even pretend. Salman Rushdie can impact the vote back, so he shouldn’t come, no bones about it. Someone draws Mamata di’s cartoon, throw him behind bars, WTF is freedom of expression? All sorts of barbarities take place in the state, but who cares? Just keep the pot of communal politics brewing and there doesn’t need to be even a semblance of civilization. Even if you have to collude with lawbreakers, just keep playing the tried and tested communal cards.

News resource

A very thin line separates right from wrong

The debate on the Internet freedom, especially right to express dissent using technologies such as Twitter, has been beaten to pulp. Nonetheless, it is a lively issue with as many opinions as there are people using such media.

Everybody is aware of the recent spate of blocking many Twitter users such as @kanchangupta and @barbarindian (just to mention a few, you can get a more comprehensive list here) and some of the accounts still remain inaccessible (although you can access them via third-party Twitter clients).

There have been sharp differences between people who endorse a certain degree of restraint and censorship and people who demand complete freedom of expression, even if it means throwing vituperations and vilest of abuses upon individuals of contradictory ideologies and beliefs. The latest is this article written by Sagarika Ghosh. She says:

A deluge of profane language, abuse of religious icons and vicious attacks on minorities are the hallmarks of Twitter and Facebook in India. Twitter in India, almost completely dominated by right-wing religious nationalism, has been called a “hate factory”, a forum to vent foul-mouthed loathing not only of public figures but of minorities and those perceived as ‘pseudo-secular’ or ‘sickular’. The role of rumour in a riot has been established by many historians. The role of creating the religious ‘enemy’ is another potent force in creating religious polarisation. If social media becomes a tool in the hand of a communal rioter, then the government has every right to enforce the law, and absolute freedom must take second place to protection of life and liberty.

Although as usual, she has used her article to portray minority communities as targets of the majority community, all in all, there is some merit to what she is saying. Sometimes there is madness out there. The kind of language people use will simply appall you and you will wonder, “Do normal people really talk this way in real life?”

To put the point across, she cites some examples from the dose of insulting Tweets she often gets:

As a television journalist, I get a daily dose of abuse on Twitter, an exercise in character-building endurance. Some examples: “Bitch, you deserve to be stripped and raped publicly.” “Randi ki aulad maadar…. why u r not covering assam riots, mulloh ne ma ch..i hai kya behan….. Dalli saali Rahul ki.”

Although I’m not justifying use of such language, one needs to see the picture in its entirety. I know this is very bad language and I would not like somebody from my family even to read this, but why do particular journalists and public figures attract such attention? Is it just because what they think, or there is more to that?

On the Internet, some people are attacked just for having a difference of opinion. For instance there was a massive hate campaign against Anita Sarkeesian for inveighing against rampant sexism on the Internet in general and videogames in particular. Compared to the attack on Anita and many more individuals in the West, what happens in India is kids stuff.

But people like Sagarika Ghosh and Barkha Dutt are attacked less for the opinions and ideologies they hold and more for what they are seen as: agents and pimps (to use the language used by the dissenters) of Congress. There is plenty of evidence on the Internet as well as elsewhere that these journalists often manipulate reality to mould it in the favour of Congress.

The abuses are also a manifestation of the anger that hasn’t been allowed to vent out over the past six decades. Since independence Hindus have always had to justify their existence and their way of life. They always have to carry out their activities in the context of the minority population, especially Muslims. The journalists of such ilk and the politicians (especially Congress and its supporting parties) openly flaunt their communal inclinations to sustain a formidable vote bank. They know that the Hindu society is divided into various castes and classes and they are never going to (at least in the foreseeable future) consolidate into a strong vote bank.

Hence it is a well-entrenched conspiracy to keep the Hindu vote divided and the minorities vote in a constant state of peril. Since minorities, especially Muslims, are always kept on the edge, it is like a tinderbox. Even small scuffles between two individuals escalate into massive riots due to these machinations. Before the Internet, two things acted in the favour of Congress and its cohorts: total control over the means of communication and information dissemination and a total twisting of historical facts with correct facts known only to a few individuals who couldn’t access publishing and electronic media.

The Internet completely changed the game. Since it can be accessed by everybody, everybody can become a publisher as well as an information consumer. More importantly, dissemination of information lies in the hands of common folks and not conventional media, which could easily be manipulated or curtailed prior to the arrival of the Internet.

Now what happens is, as soon as somebody tries to spread misinformation or sow the seeds of bunkum, he or she is immediately taken to task by people who know the real thing. Also, previously people would say anything without caring whether they were right or wrong. This no longer remains possible when there are a couple of hundred people to point out your stupidity and lack of knowledge.

So even before Twitter, these people were, sort of villains. Previously they were ensconced within their respective ivory towers. When they started using Twitter, they thought people will always be in awe and hence grateful that these high-and-mighty interacting with hoi polloi. Totally opposite happened. We all know what I mean by that.

Yes, people get carried away and sometimes they say really obnoxious things. But the point is, it also happens in the real world. If somebody abuses you on the road you can either abuse back and even beat up that person (if you don’t have to fear retaliation) or you can lodge an FIR.

Sagarika Ghosh compares Twitter to a busy highway, although I often like to compare it to a meeting place where people come together, propagate ideas, express dissent and spread information. Till then, it is good. But what happens if people start using abusive language? Abuse happens. Religious and communal abuse also happens although it is not unique to a single community. I have also seen people having Muslim and Christian handles broadcasting all sorts of hateful messages. Can this lead to social unrest on the streets?

It hasn’t been proven directly. The recent controversy over blockage originated from the riots in Assam over illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. Social media had nothing to do with that.

The unrest in Mumbai where a few thousand Muslims had gathered to protest against “atrocities” on Muslims in Assam and Burma was also not triggered by Twitter. Yes, there was some inflammatory material on websites and that material was used by local newspapers to instigate people. But there is no direct evidence that social media contributed to the state of unrest the country recently witnessed.

Even the mass exodus of the people from the north-east from various metropolitan cities was triggered by an SMS campaign and this again, had nothing to do with social media.

Nonetheless, abundant vile manifests on Twitter. How to deal with it? The first option is blocking those people. It is same as moving away from a place where people are hurling abuses at you. But sometimes you feel, this is not fair. I mean, if a person abuses me simply because I don’t agree with him, I would like to get back at him. I cannot abuse him back because that is not my style. Get him blocked? This is an option, but such blocking coming from the government can be a dangerous game. We saw what happened this time. In the name of curtailing hate speech and rumor mongering, even those Twitter accounts that were never known for broadcasting hate speech were blocked simply because they continuously questioned the government’s policies vis-a-vis economy and communal dynamics. These handles also thwarted misinformation campaigns launched by various journalists known to be close to the current government. The blocking campaign was so obvious that people were directly taking names.

So in such an environment, how can we believe laws that are intended to restrict hate speech and abuses? There are two problems here:

  1. How do you define “hate speech”?
  2. How do you define “abuses”?

Simply because I’m pointing out faults in a particular religion doesn’t mean that I am indulging in hate speech but fanatics from that religion may construe it that way. Even the government, inclined towards appeasing a particular minority group may block me simply for having an opinion about a particular religion. Journalists and intellectuals may report me to the concerned government agencies for doing some plain speak. So this can turn into a dangerous trend.

Having said that, social media being an integral part of the mainstream these days, we do need a mechanism to curtail vicious individuals hailing from various religions and communities. People from Facebook and Twitter – contemporary popular social networking platforms – will have to arrive at a consensus, just as everybody agrees that there should be a zero tolerance policy for child pornography. It may take some time but eventually we will need the mechanism to control hate speech – real hate speech – and abusive of people. You can’t call me a “whore” simply because I don’t think the way you do. I would like to report you, I would like to make sure that the medium that you are abusing is denied to you. Of course, censoring is not the solution.

Something self-regulatory like Wikipedia?

Why repressive, corrupt governments fear freedom of speech

People don’t realise what a great power freedom of speech is. There is a reason why during freedom struggle various newspapers and journals were banned, writers and poets were arrested and films were censored. As a professional content writer, I can easily say that what you say and what you write can change the destiny of your country. Remember how single-handedly Arun Shourie dismantled the Rajiv Gandhi government? He was not a politician. He didn’t belong to a powerful organisation. He simply wrote. He simply let people know, through his words, what a scam the government ran. The government was so alarmed once that they threatened Ramnath Goenka that the Indian Express building would be demolished if he didn’t expel Arun Shourie from the newspaper.

For those who vouch for the freedom in the west, you can read about how severely western countries are pursuing Julian Assange, to an extent of mounting an attack on the Nicaraguan embassy when the fugitive whistleblower took shelter there. Why? Because he is bringing the nasty secrets of these, the so-called “free” countries to the aam admi.

Freedom of speech, of course doesn’t mean broadcasting and communicating every sort of balderdash. You may have your own definition, but when I speak of freedom of speech, it means letting people know the truth. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you abuse people and threaten them, as people are wont to indulge in on the Internet.

The problem in our country is, people don’t read much. They are not well informed. They have biases but no opinions, and the government intends to maintain the status quo.

The overbearing backwardness, hunger and illiteracy in India can be attributed to the inertia of the people who can actually do something about these ills. There is a vast vote bank that, despite being illiterate and ill informed, can sway the politics of the country, but there is also another chunk that has the wherewithals to become politically aware and gain knowledge, and consequently, change the political equation. Sadly, this big chunk of population is either indifferent or too bogged down. Again, the government would like to maintain the status quo.

Up till now, the government had been successfully able to black out a certain section of opinion by planting its henchmen in accademia, news journalism and literature. This is another example of how an entire country can be relegated to a lasting torpor by a constant bombardment of one-sided opinion. When the British were here they had no choice but to curb freedom of speech, but when they left, our indigenous rulers orchestrated a gargantuan band of dubious scholars whose only job was to brainwash the public. It’s not that alternative opinion didn’t exist – again, people like Arun Shourie published their own work – but these voices were scattered and scarce. Even among common public there were many people who were forming their own opinions, but they had no medium to broadcast their views.

The Internet changed the equation. Publication and exchange of ideas became democratised. You could start a blog, get an audience and you could challenge the biggest journalists in the country. Imagine people openly proving motivated historians like Romila Thapar wrong in pre-Internet days.

With the Internet, and an affordable connectivity, you could refute the claims, you could publish facts that would utterly demolish the claims of the so-called learned ones, and if you thought they were trying to mislead the public, you could start your own campaign. In order to build an audience people would interact on other blogs, many international, and in this way some blogs began to get thousands of views every day.

The UPA government, primarily consisting of the Congress, was rattled by the popularity and impact of blogs. This is a party that feeds on ignorance and intellectual obfuscation. That is why, as soon as it came to power, it tried to block the prevalent blogging platforms. It assumed people would meekly protest and things would be back to normal. It failed to realize people had actually tasted freedom of speech and unless brute force is used, they are not going to give up easily. It retreated.

But still, blogging requires lots of effort. You need to maintain a blog, you need to get an audience, you need to engage that audience and the content has to be compelling on a consistent level. The commenting sections of various popular blogs did solve the purpose to an extent, they were not as engaging as Twitter and Facebook.

That’s why people immediately took to these new platforms, and just within a few years, millions of people all over the world started posting their views and responding to others’ views on a daily, rather, hourly basis. A great thing about social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook is that they are great information broadcasting tools. Got a link you’d like to share with your friends, family and peers? Post it on Twitter and Facebook. Want to add a bit of commentary? Post it on Tumblr. Have a video you think people should see? Upload it on YouTube.

Two things repressive and corrupt governments fear: easy access to “right” or contrarian information, and quick dissemination of that information. The Internet in general and Twitter in particular, achieve both.

Another salient feature is that people themselves can report from their phones. For instance a renowned journalist was spreading misinformation about the riot situation in a small city. Someone from that city immediately tweeted and said the situation on the ground was totally different. Obviously people believed that person. And a few more echoing the same chain of thoughts from the same city.

When communication becomes easier, when flow of information in unfettered, the corrupt government and its henchmen and women cannot mislead people. Brainwashing is no longer possible.

Hence, under one pretext or another, the government tries to create barriers. It takes down websites (in the garb of maintaining communal harmony) and it blocks social networking profiles of people who try to expose its various acts of omission and commission.