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It is rare that one needs to speak up as an atheist and disown the speech or behavior of other atheists as communal hatred. Atheists are usually the smallest minority anywhere and where there is communal violence, they are usually on the receiving end, so the question of atheists being perpetrators of communal hatred rarely arises. There is the occasional Dawkins outrage, but it is not so relevant to India. However, there is extremism among atheists as well and today seems to be a good occasion to condemn and disown it as well.

Atheists often argue that there is no collective belief system called atheism. It is merely a lack of belief in God. It is true as far as it is a question of extrapolating the actions of one to others. However, the label itself confers a certain amount of shared traits - notably a stated disbelief in god. And while disbelief is an absence, the issue in extremism is rarely the belief or lack of it, it is the fervor in making the statement and imposing views on others. Atheists can cross the line between stating disbelief in god and religion to attacking a community based on their beliefs.

Like the beliefs of two atheists may have nothing in common, the beliefs of ISIS may have little in common with other Muslims as well. All atheists believe there is no God. That word play on disbelief being a lack of belief is well and good, it is also a belief about that lack. We aren't merely considering that there may be no God given the lack of evidence or that God is an unproven claim. We are certain that there isn't any God. We are not open to the possibility that there may be one (those are the agnostics). We aren't interested in exploring the possibility and potentially invalidating our claims. We define God by what we reject and ignore any interpretations of God that are saner. We are certain and see no need to contemplate alternatives as potentially viable.

Muslims believe there is one God and it is Allah and Mohammed is his messenger. Hindus have a diverse array of beliefs that can encompass countless gods or none. Christians believe there is one God and Jesus Christ is his son and so on. As an atheist, I must say there being no god is the logical conclusion of a contemplation of God as a sentient, omnipotent being. Belief in imaginary friends is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn't lead to denial that prevents well being. One simply projects what one believes is the best onto an imaginary external figure and gives it the authority we don't feel confident claiming as ourselves. I know there are lots that define God in a manner that makes sense to them and stay away from intentions and super powers. Indeed, a vivid imagination is necessary to creativity. I am sure, there are benefits. To others. I don't see the value.

No matter what a religious book says, the extent to which it is complied to by people always varies and the extent to which atheists engage with their disbelief also varies. For many, like me, it is a non-issue. God is absent. It doesn't take any space in daily life unless there is a requirement to analyze or discuss or state. Encountering someone expressing belief creates no urge to validate my own belief through convincing them into disbelief - a very similar process as seen in believers who tend to get you to believe in their Gods. It is no concern of mine whether you prefer God to Mickey Mouse. There are atheists who are more radical. They will not tolerate you being irrational and will strive to get you to .... um... see the light. Heck, there are atheist fundamentalists who won't tolerate "moderates" like me and expect us to do more to counter claims of God. To what end, I have no idea. Waste time over a non-existing creature even when fully aware it doesn't exist? What for?

Free Speech is a fundamental right. It is a bit dinged in India legally, and further butchered in practice. There are limitations by law or processes of engaging with the state. But apart from larger processes that are a part of belonging to an organized country, state, city, locality, home, etc that are established and a consequence of our social contract, while we do no harm to another, the assumption is that we have a legal right to speak, act and behave as we wish without being subject to impositions, limitations or harm. The rules are the same for all. Even when the laws have flaws and restrictions - typically those covering blasphemy - the understanding is that they are known to people up front and they apply to all (needless to say they get enforced with religious bias almost everywhere they exist). These are usually always facing a challenge, and rightfully so because they infringe on the right of disbelievers and critics to state their own views.

Free speech for atheists and in congruence with their "beliefs" typically ignores prohibitions on blasphemy where they exist and naturally includes the right to disagree about religion and God, to state their disbelief, to criticize the beliefs of other religions, including revered figures. We gleefully say, we are ok with you doing the same. Quite liberating, it is, to have nothing to defend. Turns out, the larger problem with religion - fundamentalist and communal violence - is a human trait and atheists are not immune to it either.

Communal hatred is not about our views or opinions - which in my view are acceptable regardless of being offensive. It is about people. It is the tantrum of the child being told there is no Santa. It is the tantrum of the child who proves Santa is better by calling Spiderman stupid, except these are adults with real power to inflict harm and when at the end of their ability to convince someone that Santa is better, are perfectly capable of harming someone for thinking Spiderman is better. Harm is not always physical. It can be emotional, social, economic. And when it targets the socially vulnerable and allies with others attacking them, it threatens to splinter social coherence for all.

There isn't any rational critique of religion when you comment on brutal ISIS beheadings that Muslims are taught to slaughter at an early age. You are simply letting your hatred for the Muslim community blind you into thinking of them as a monolith that acts in a manner you have associated in your mind with the worst of Muslims you hate. It isn't a rational critique of Hinduism to say Hindus burn their wives on funeral pyres or stigmatize widows. It is stereotyping of an entire community and reducing them to nothing but the nasty attributes you give them. It is not recognizing them as individuals, not even recognizing a diversity of compliance with your arbitrarily assigned trait.

And this is where atheism has its own brand of extremism and communal hate. It is a matter of rationality, whether our criticism is a logical evaluation of something or a statement of own belief or a statement of unfounded beliefs about other people (also known as fake news, if media does it). The last is not a fundamental right. I don't actually have a right to call you a scammer and hound you, taking every opportunity to discredit you and cause you emotional and possibly professional and economic harm from the consequences of my selectively interpreting your actions to fit my projection of you as a scam artist. That is stalking and harassment.

Just like knowing one atheist doesn't mean you know what all atheists do, selectively picking one Muslim or Hindu fanatic and calling all Muslims or Hindus fanatics based on that is the sign of an irrational mind that speaks more about paranoid delusions than skepticism or disbelief. Where does this hate come from?

Well, a lot of it from human nature. Unlike most identities associated with belief or a lack of belief, atheists are unique in the sense of their lack of belief having originated from different places and as a result of different circumstances. Some born to non-religious families are too.... vacant on the subject of belief to even qualify as atheists - they are more in the zone of that measuring scale not being relevant to them. Many others are a product of losing belief in a specific religion and its Gods and then learning to apply it to other gods. The religion of their origin can have a lot of anger or trauma attached to it, because they have suffered the disillusionment from it. In many cases, they may have suffered persecution as a result of it. Additionally, they may have stopped believing, but their experience as an insider gives them a unique insight into that religion and culture which allows them to make a more vigorous criticism of that religion more than others.

For example, I am no fan of Islam, but I can take it or leave it unless someone harms another. When they do act like absolute idiots, it still hurts me less than when Hindus do it. Because as someone born a Hindu Brahmin and who lacked belief in both religion and caste, but grew immersed in the culture, my own identity is mired in it. I know enough of the religion to hold a visceral anger against fundamentalists as those who enact the worst characteristics of the religion - that anger is a result of the betrayal of my painstakingly adopted values at the hands of the religion, not my lack of belief, which in itself is no reason for any particular emotion. That anger is because the acts of that brand of extremism caused me to have to reinvent my core identity as distinct from my roots. To consciously distance myself from aspects that I learned to feel ashamed of when I examined what the things I unthinkingly assumed to be "truth". In contrast, I don't feel anything about Islam. I haven't invested anything in it to feel cheated. I feel some for Buddhism because I spent half a decade as a part of a Buddhist family, so again, that feels like home culture and any wrong perpetrated in its name would make me feel violated. This will continue till I make my peace with it mentally. It is part of being human. Learning to recognize these influences rather than being an unthinking slave to them is a part of our philosophical evolution.

Similarly, Taslima Nasreen or Tarek Fatah (two ex-Muslim atheists) are vicious in their attacks on Islam and Muslims. I can understand that. They have had their trust broken by Islam. Taslima has been exiled from the country of her birth (and I think Tarek moved away on his own before they decided they didn't want him back). Needless to say, both have got plenty to be angry about on a personal level.

The problems arise when you believe your "insider" status as someone who was once a Muslim or Hindu gives you a unique insight into the case, but it actually isn't so and it is your hostility with the religion preventing you from seeing the observable reality. For example, like many upper caste Hindu men too fought for the rights of women and caste equality and widow remarriage, many Muslims are non-violent (to the point of being vegans), gentle, insightful souls. The vast majority of any identity is rarely acting in any manner similar to the extremist stereotype. In fact, extremists of all sorts have more in common with each other than the various identities they hijack. This is actually a no-brainer. if you take any diverse collective, the minute you stray the slightest from the definition of that collective, you stop being able to accurately describe its constituents. If an accurate description were possible, it would have already been included in the meaning of the word. And often, even the actual definition doesn't really fit.

Most people are born into their religion and had to do nothing, in particular, to "accept" it. So even core beliefs like "all Muslims believe in one God who is Allah" are actually up for debate depending on their conditioning. Most people aren't excessively religious and often kids grow up without any major belief and they are of the religion simply because that is part of the traditions of the family they belong to. Such a person may actually spend less part of their day thinking of their religion and what some holy book teaches than an atheist from it with a grudge or a zealous follower of another religion, who seeks validation of his beliefs being "right" by somehow proving others "wrong".

Regardless, there is a line. Atheism or rationalism cannot be the shoulder to fire guns of communal hatred from. Unlike religion, rationalism is not an identity, but a trait. If you make an irrational argument, sorry, you aren't being "a rationalist" no matter what you claim. Atheism is a lack of belief in God, not a set of beliefs about people who believe in that god.

Exploiting atheism and rationalism to conceal deep rooted hatred of specific communities is living in denial. There are terms - Islamophobia. Hindutvawadis recently helpfully invented "Hinduphobia". Use them.

Not atheism. Not rationalism. Not in my name.

1

I tend to have very strong opinions, so my contempt for the increasing "stupidification" of India is hardly a secret. This is a cause for alarm, because it is indeed contagious. Political views, gender, caste, class, religion are not barriers to this epidemic. The reason for it is the natural human tendency to reply in the manner in which we are spoken to. I have brought this up before. If I say apple, you may say "oranges, pie, tree, cold weather, computer...." but you are unlikely to say, say for example, "spoon" - our mind tends to reply in a manner that is relevant to what it is that we are replying.

This is a problem when there is an overall process of radicalization, because those conditioned to thinking in a polarized mannerh will have a tendency to bring all conversation to their programmed triggers. The trap is already set. There are few responses that can be made at that level that won't derail you from the subject you wish to talk about. As a consequence, this conditioning spreads also to those who oppose it through sheer Pavlovian repetition. So a person questioning a liberal perspective may be a bhakt, a person questioning a feminist perspective may be a misogynist, and so on. The fundamental tendency proliferates on its own through sheer engagement with it. Whether in agreement or disagreement does not matter, as long as the nature of interaction is polarized.

It creates an unconscious conditioning of disagreement being seen as hostility or outright evil. Among both desiring to exclude or target specific identities or those wishing to exclude or target those who exclude or target specific identities. This is where we are today. This is why it is so difficult to prevent the increasing irrationality. Because those opposing the irrational views themselves get sucked into the whirlpool to the bottom of the IQ scale.

It is human nature to recognize our own view as the sane one and see the irrationality outside us.

However, if we examine the interactions we have, for quality, as opposed to morality, the problem is clear. We have gazed too long into the abyss and the abyss also gazes into us.

This, in my view is the real danger to the society, the country and the world. A departure from rational thought in the public space is a very alarming situation. The stupidification is a bigger threat to India long term than the violence and it has grown far more than either side of the polarization is able to recognize.

Fear is seductive. Our survival instincts condition us to pay attention to threats in order to survive. Hence, negativity - real or imagined - will always draw attention more easily than well being (there is nothing that needs urgent attention).

In my view, the bigger urgency today is to understand how we get sucked into talking about things we don't wish to through sheer Pavlovian conditioning. We need to develop skills to engage in rational debate and refuse to engage in irrational triggers derailing conversation to programmed tirades on political stands. The immediate danger may be violent mobs, but the larger long term concern is what caused so many people to think that such a stupid choice is a bright idea.

This is the result of fear. The fear that is used as a quick fix to compensate with paranoia what the agenda lacks in quality. We are surrounded by a culture of fear. Majorities are led to believe that minorities are somehow going to subjugate them. People who wouldn't quit smoking over health issues in the next decade would happily celebrate the murders of hundreds or thousands to "protect" themselves from that unlikely threat. The chances of dying in a road accident are higher, but they feel no fear about being in a vehicle. The point I am making here is anxiety is carefully built about specific subjects to turn them into threats for political profit. This is how Muslims being less than a fifth of the population and yet disproportionately underrepresented in jobs, education, housing and over represented in disadvantageous statistics like death tolls in communal crimes or being killed in state violence or being imprisoned without trial and so on, still results in a perception of Muslims as a threat.

It is like asking someone whether they have a pimple forming on their nose. They will touch their nose and examine the smallest hint of a bump and see it as proof that a problem pimple is indeed growing. It is how a stage magician may move his hand in a flourish while saying something in a dramatic manner, while the other hand palms a coin or scribbles a message for the audience to "discover" in full sight of the audience - and yet invisible. Because attention is focused elsewhere. People trying to figure out how the trick was done will continue to imagine that there was something about the flourish and want to examine sleeves and such, but fail to notice the other hand in full view doing the tricky part on the table. If you see enough TV programmes discussing the risk Muslims are to the country, you don't stop to ask why there is a need to discuss Muslims specifically. The unconscious conditioning to see them as a problem that needs to be resolved is already established through what is called a "false dilemma" or "false dichotomy", where you are presented with two choices as the only ones possible, making several illogical assumptions in the process.

If you were to see TV talk shows discussing daily whether apples were healthy at all, regardless of the discussions or conclusions, the fact that there was a need to evaluate the safety profile of apples specifically at all on a daily basis would have you avoiding apples and eating bananas or some other fruit to play it safe. In reality, there is no particular reason to discuss apples with such exceptional intensity. There is nothing wrong with discussing apples either. But the disproportionate attention given to evaluating their safety will make them appear to be unsafe even if discussion after discussion daily affirms after much debate that they are safe - because that affirmation is no conclusion, a new discussion will be required tomorrow - it is not safe. It is an ongoing threat. Better eat the orange. Now, if I sold bananas and wanted more people to switch from apples to bananas... would I have a reason to trigger such paranoia among those I want to manipulate?

This is an important part of propaganda - the delegitimizing of the targeted population. The questioning of every aspect of their existence and needing it to be proved harmless, while the rest of the population is very much similar but bears no scrutiny gives out its own message. The issue is not what these debates conclude. The fact that you devote 80% of TV debates to less than 20% of the population itself is its own signal to the population - here is something that needs you to be alert. The examination of every aspect of a part of the population as though they were aliens also serves another purpose - dehumanization.

Humans inherently are social animals and do not aspire to see themselves as vicious killers or attackers or those depriving others of basic human dignity. Mere differences cannot make a person be okay with inhumanity. For that, the target needs to be dehumanized. It has to be rendered to something less than human. A threat. Something so alien that it feels less pain than us, is more violent than us, is less deserving of compassion than us. This is where impunity for genocides is manufactured. We are in this cold blooded process. And we have no way to elevate the conversation. Partly because these conversations are carefully engineered to avoid targets being seen as humans, but also because those countering have no skills to set their own level of conversation and respond on the same level. Whether you don't talk to me or I don't talk to you, if the end result is a chasm, the objective is achieved.

This manipulated and deliberately propagated insanity is also the reason why there is an increase in violence - both physical and verbal. Violence is the last refuge of the illogical. When a person runs out of words to express their stand, they escalate to violence. As long as there is scope for presenting more and more of their perspective with words, there is no need for violence. But because the propaganda is inherently illogical, a person who believes it has no way of explaining it to one who doesn't, unless they make considerable effort to come up with enough logical fallacies themselves as well. Questioning then becomes a threat, because they are convinced of the threat to them from their targets and any questioning that could undermine it also becomes a threat.

To avoid increasing violence and hostility, we desperately need more clever and well planned conversations. We need the public to develop skills in assessing where their interests lie and when they are being manipulated toward prefering or avoiding something for reasons that are completely irrelevant to them and will likely harm them.

Long term, I think Darwin nailed it. The stupidification itself will erode the mental faculties of those depending on propaganda and with time give increasing advantage to those able to think through it. In the meanwhile, I suppose they will also have to learn how to survive till that point.

1

Why is it becoming more and more uncomfortable to live within one’s own country, among people that we took for granted shared our view of the world? 2014 marked the year in which family and friends turned into aliens and opponents. Conversations invariably broke down at the point where Narendra Modi was seen as the great white hope for India. No logic worked against a recitation of the wrongs of UPA 2, plus AAP not being mature enough or ready, plus the magic word – ‘Development’ that a likely BJP government was going to deliver. One’s misgivings about Hindutva had to remain as mere mutterings, among the pitying looks of cousins and siblings.

Now 2017 has arrived as the year in which it is impossible to be in a crowded airport or railway station without wondering how many of the people around you will look on with interest at a mob lynching some innocent, and perhaps even justify the act  with arguments if you dare to protest.  After all, on social media, it is educated and articulate people who are trolling any criticism of hyper-nationalism or Gauraksha. The deep discomfort in crowds of any sort makes me wonder if I am having a serious mid-life crisis, or my country has changed into something so unrecognizable that I have begun to believe the worst of my neighbours  and acquaintances.

My being a believer has fed much of my work, producing books on pilgrims and seekers, and finding faith resilient in the poorest toymakers and street vendors. Yet, today, I have also become uncomfortable with the religion I was born into because I feel no identification whatsoever with those who are making loud claims in the name of that religion with no regard for facts, truth, or the feelings of their fellow citizens. And, although this is a mere blip in our ongoing relationship, I have also begun to express increasing discontent and despair to my personal God in the face of what I perceive to be evil getting increasingly rewarded around me.

So many questions confront me on any given day.  Was a bottomless reservoir of hate and bigotry always present amidst our people? How do today’s lynch mob leaders tap into this with a single WhatsApp message and collect an instant crowd? How many who go by the label ‘Hindu’ actually rejoice at the wounding or death of a Muslim fellow citizen in our country? Visceral questions, with no easy answers.

Till a few years back, crowds meant something else for me.  As I  walked with Varkaris to Pandharpur, joined the immense human congregation at the Mahakumbh in 2001, met kaanwariyas at the Haridwar Shravan mela and at Deoghar in Jharkhand, climbed to Tirupati and Vaishno Devi, I saw the transformative power of collective faith. Caste distinctions recede on such pilgrimages, when the fellow believer begins to be called by a generic name – ‘Mauli’ on the way to Pandharpur, or ‘Bam’ on the way to Deoghar. Sharing of resources, helping others when they are weary or tired, breaking into a song of prayer together, all this is behavior that is par for the course on such journeys. All the years when I walked alongside them, I never saw the crowds of the faithful as potential murderers.

And yet, from recent events, it is obvious that some of the killers of Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan may also have been pilgrims at some point. As I think of the kaanwariyas carrying water and walking hundreds of kilometres, I can’t help but wonder at whether the ordinarily devout, the Durga Puja attendees and katha organizers have become members of predatory mobs?

Any attempt to answer this question must undoubtedly make us reflect on why we have failed to strengthen the secular fabric of India.  Prof. Ashis Nandy, who wrote An Anti-Secularist Manifesto in 1995, and who writes in his seminal essay The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance, “I call myself an anti-secularist because I feel that the ideology and politics of secularism have more or less exhausted their possibilities”, has unpacked the concept of secularism painstakingly in the Indian context. Pointing out that religions in our part of the world have become split into religion-as-faith versus religion-as-ideology, he describes the latter as a “subnational, national, or cross national identifier of populations contesting for or protecting non-religious, usually political or socio-economic, interests.” For me, the religion as faith that I encountered as a pilgrim was distinct from the religion as Hindutva ideology that I abhor. The fudging of both by the SC verdict in the Manohar Joshi vs. N.B. Patil case in 1995 made it appear as if Hindutva was the sum of many cultural practices and beliefs, posing no threat to non-Hindus. But as we have seen so clearly in recent years, de facto Hindutva means aggressive posturing on the ground to pursue a nationalist agenda and protect distinct political and socio-economic interests.

If secularists have been unable to make such distinctions clear in the minds of citizens and voters, it is futile to once again hold Amit Shah and Narendra Modi responsible. Instead, it is clearly a result of secularists’ refusal to engage with questions of faith and identity in any meaningful way.  To many, religion and the way it is expressed around us seems too messy or backward to bother with. When I wrote in my books about the visible expressions of faith I had experienced first-hand, I often had friends wonder why I found the melas and the kaanwariyas so fascinating. Modernity, a desire for development, and a secular outlook means for many in my social milieu a complete disregard for the inconvenient, bedraggled, jugadu hordes of poor pilgrims struggling to reach temples and deities and holding up traffic in the NCR.

Kanwariyas
Kanwariyas

For such people longing for a ‘developed’ India that will leave all such messy struggles behind, a vote for Modi in 2014 actually meant a vote for an increased role for the private sector without the ball and chain of environmental safeguards dragging down corporate India. The rights of tribals and displaced communities, the increased disparities of income and the contrasts in urban India between utter comfort and utter despair didn’t cause upper middle class urban Indians to lose much sleep. As a society we have lived for far too long with the twin evils of entitlement and deprivation, and nothing in our environment encourages us to think beyond the interests of our family, caste, or class. Protecting secular discourse was not a priority for too many, unless it represented an attack on their own personal freedom.

Today when I share with my journalist friend Rahul Pandey a frustration with the lack of any political opposition to the tactics of the BJP, he says, “Na Ram hai, na Bam, sab chhalava hai.” (There is neither Ram, nor the Left, it is all wholesale fraud and deception.) He refuses to accept that the BJP is winning elections only on the basis of their WhatsApp armies.  “Why would WhatsApp work without any real work being put in?” he asks me. “The VHP have gone door to door, in village after village in UP, and tied dharm-raksha-sutra (Save your faith bands) around the wrists of lakhs of people in their homes. Which party can claim such cover? The Sanghis have conducted Swachhata Abhiyan (Cleanliness campaigns) in village after village. Their workers and volunteers remain visible to the public at all times. This is what makes their WhatsApp mobilization work.”

The Sangh and its affiliates have also perfected the art of silent communication at religious events with a cultural significance.  My activist friend Arvind Murti says, of a recent event around the Thrissur temple “I was there recently on an occasion where at least fifty thousand people were present, and a host of cultural activities were being put on. Not a single political leader from either the LDF or the UDF was present. The only visible leaders were from the Sangh umbrella organizations. It made me acutely conscious of how secular parties are missing important opportunities for communication by disregarding such occasions and festivals.” I knew exactly what he was talking about because I have been at the chariot festival of Chennai’s Kapaleeswar temple, when thousands of people converge in Mylapore in a completely apolitical celebration. However, the volunteers of VHP are still milling about among the people, distributing water and butter milk sachets. Somewhere, in interpreting  secularism as a lifestyle that shuns the mention of God or religion, secular parties and leaders have distanced themselves from  cultural practices that deliver their countrymen to the Sangh without protest or effort.

For Prof. Ashis Nandy, secularism and tolerance can only be recovered by re-connecting with the ideals of faith, not by denying them. He points to Gandhi as the believer whose compassion and tolerance stemmed from his religion, not in spite of it. For millions of poor Hindus, who have felt excluded from the prosperity of their secular, modern fellow citizens, the Sangh gives honorifics and titles that bring a role of prominence as an anti-Romeo squad member or a Gau Rakshak. Such actions may actually be bringing these people a legitimacy whose importance we are unable to comprehend from a position of eternal privilege.  If secularism’s goose is not to be well and truly cooked in India we have to prepare to move once more among our people and ask them the questions that matter. For this, it seems, we can depend on no political leader or party.

So if we are to reclaim the ground we have ceded to those who always talk of ‘hurt sentiments’ and explain each violent mob attack as an expression of the people’s emotions, we need to attack the idea of Hindus as victims. We need to bring such questions as the ones below in the public domain, whether through Whatsapp, social media or conversation. The idea of the majority community being victims in their own homeland is the biggest falsehood of the Sangh, being used to perpetuate fear and hatred in equal measure. ‘Have you ever been stopped from worshipping your favourite deity, or doing pooja in your homes?’ is something we can ask fellow Hindus. ‘If not, why do you feel insecure in your own home and country?’

‘Who are the people telling you your homes are in danger, your women are in danger? Don’t you believe your God is powerful enough to protect you and your family? Why then pick up arms and who do you want to attack?’

‘When you rush to attack and kill, whether for money/recognition/reward, don’t forget that you will have to account for it before your God. Yeh kaun sa Bhagwan hai  jo kisi insaan ko maarne ke liye majboor kar raha hai?

No great knowledge of religion or scriptures is needed to counter the majoritarian poison of the Sangh. All it needs is nudging the people to tap into their own faith of God being their protector, not the other way around. After all, in the crowds of pilgrims I used to travel with, each was seeking his or her own liberation, however hard and arduous the journey was.

Unfortunately, around a bend in the path and in our nation’s history, many of these seekers met not the God who would provide ‘mukti’, but the politician who demanded eternal slavery of mind and soul.

So are we, privileged and educated Hindus, up to having these conversations among ourselves?

Originally published here.

1

Where is the secular and liberal voice of India being lost? Why is India increasingly being toward paranoid insecurity over coexistence?

This trip to Delhi is turning out to be interesting. For that matter this whole past week has been interesting. The has been yet another flutter of panic in our oh so refined conscience about the appalling rise of BJP.

These moments come and go, I have seen. They are quite entertaining for the opportunity to make sarcastic tweets at something ugly. In terms of utility, they are pretty much meaningless, even counterproductive. Impotent outage by opponents is the true mark of victory to a cult of power.

Yeah, so a thug has found recognition. Or rather what is perceived as a new level of thug. So?

People are agitated. BJP has fooled the masses with fake news, polarising rumours and likely EVM rigging.

And this is news because...?

Can anyone honestly say that the BJP has done anything differently? All this was known. There were no indications that winning tactics would be dropped over some sudden discovery of ethics. So what is the new outrage?

Part of it is that we are unsettled by this rise. Mirza Waheed remarked on twitter "@Vidyut  Three years is all it's taken. It's chilling what how much the far right has achieved."

While i think it has been much longer than three years, what I said spontaneously then is my belief.


And yet it is not so simple. If, as Arundhati Roy famously put it, the middle and upper classes have seceded to the stratosphere, it is also true that the intellectuals have seceded to an intellectual stratosphere. Sadly, the financial stratosphere pays the bills, while the intellectual stratosphere can only form clubs of like minded people.

And of course, the vast majority of people has access to neither stratosphere.

The challenge for the intellectual elite today, is to learn to implement the egalitarianism they allegedly believe in.

How is it that they apparently have views that are empowering and progressive and yet primitive propaganda succeeds in pitting citizens against each other in what amounts to a tribal war conducted with votes? It cannot be that the right wing has extraordinary intelligence or communication skills. So where does the thinking fail? Is it really true that people would prefer an existence of paranoia and hostility over one of secure coexistence?

That doesn't sound right. After all, the basis of civilisation itself is a need for a guarantee of secure co-existence. The Hindu rashtra, with its model of every street thug ruling his own kingdom with impunity is not sustainable even if it grew unopposed and there was consensus on wanting a religious state. Yogi Adityanath is not an accident. He is the product of impunity being a norm.

But it will be a long time before such a model fails. Too long to be of relevance to the well-being of a county. This is recognised by the intellectual elite. But not by the masses.

So what are the missing parts? Where is secular thought falling to include the people it aims to include?

I have several views on this and will be blogging further to present them over coming months.

For now, I leave you readers with this question. Why is it that the fundamental principles of shared citizenship are being discarded so rapidly in favour of moves that disenfranchise a section of the population?

Make no mistake, the rules being broken get broken for the security of all -broken is broken- even though the temptation right now is the targeting of some.

8

If you’ve spent enough time on Twitter, you would’ve found out it’s dominated by the right-wing. BJP IT Cell members were originally on Twitter to promote Modi as a PM candidate. A BJP IT Cell in Nagpur apparently consists of around 6200 members. You didn’t have to read this report to know that the RW machinery on Twitter is organized. You’d have thought their work would be done after making Modi the PM but they’ve still stuck around to defend the BJP Govt’s every move.
The RW of trolls of Twitter are notorious for making death, rape threats, indulging in character assassination and using gendered abuses to silence and intimidate those who hold views different to theirs. The RW machinery consists of normal citizens, bigwigs of RW with huge following, BJP IT Cell members and even right leaning editors, news anchors, journalists and some authors.
The right-wing came under fire recently for spinning the murder of Dr. Pankaj Narang as a case of communal violence. Some popular RW accounts were quick to give it a communal colour.
narangnarangg  narangonarangranganaranhg
The communal angle to a murder case was laid to rest by ADCP Monica Bhardwaj.
This is not the first time the online RW has been caught with their pants down. There have been many other instances where right-wing trolls have indulged in propaganda and the unfortunate part is, they’re assisted by some eminent figures like journalists and editors.
Some examples.
1. Meerut “love jihad” case
 
The case of “gang rape and conversion” ended up in a nikaah between the couple. Her enraged father had filed a false complaint of gang rape and the Sangh Parivar took up the case to encourage the bogey of ‘Love Jihad’. Some prominent people on Twitter had already passed judgement on it and stirred the demonisation of a minority community.
2. Tuktuki Mondal case
 
Tuktuki Mandal was abducted and raped by Muslims, claimed the RW, and they claimed there was a larger sinister plot behind it. Tuktuki Mandal returned home and denied charges of kidnapping and said she didn’t want to return to her parents (as she had a tiff with them).
3. Durga Puja “ban”
After rumour-mongering about how under Mamata, Durgo pujan was banned, it came to light that restriction on Durgo pujan has been present for a long time and even slaughtering goats during Eid isn’t allowed in the same village
4. One sided narrative of RSS workers getting killed
Since quite some time the RW has been tweeting gory pics of RSS workers killed by CPM as a form of whataboutery to any claims of majoritarian violence like the recent killing in Jharkhand.
 kerala
There is a history of political murders in Kerala and not only CPM, but other parties also indulge in it. These killings are politically motivated and do not have a religious angle to it, as some in the RW suggest. Here’s a comprehensive list of murders by RSS members in Kerala (credit: @goonerblues) which goes against the narrative by right-wingers that only RSS workers are the victims in Kerala.
5. Claiming mass-killings in Malda
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Muslim fundamentalists wreaked havoc in Malda after ‘insult’ to Prophet but the claims of right wing trolls that scores of Hindus died is false. There was vandalism, police vans were set on fire, a nineteen year-old boy and a thirteen-year old girl were injured. It is debatable that the violence indeed had a communal hue.
6. Manufacturing fake videos of Kanhaiyya and spreading false news of Hafeez Saeed’s endorsement of JNU.
 fakevide fakevid
JNUHafiz hafizmajumder
One of the fake video originated from Shilpi Tewari’s account and was also shared by journalist, Aditya Kaul. Propaganda of Hafeez Saeed endorsing JNU student was spread by Rajnath Singh and the Delhi Police, also by those same right-leaning journalists. Later it turned out the Hafeez Saeed tweet was fake.
7. Dismissing Dadri lynching and the recent Jharkhand lynching of two youths as cases of ‘personal enmity’.
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jharkhand
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It is a widely accepted fact, as reported by most media outlets, that Dadri killings and hanging of two youths in Jharkhand were communal incidents. Yet the RW machinery wants to spread the canard that they were instances of just ‘enmity’. They aim to dismiss blatant communalism in some cases and imply religious overtones in other cases when there isn’t any to suit their agenda.
In Conclusion
The right-wing leaning journalists, editors and authors shouldn’t act like third-rate Twitter trolls and indulge in spreading lies and communal bile. They should ponder over how their words demonizing minorities contribute to communal tension on the ground. When I confronted such a journalist, she played it down and said condescendingly “I didn’t know I was so powerful”. Well, the likes of her may not be powerful indeed but they do contribute in spreading propaganda on Twitter which then expresses itself in a more crude form on Whatsapp and Facebook. Examples below.
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There are many people in India who unfortunately get their dose of “news” and information through platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp. They don’t bother reading papers and finding out the complete stories. There have been many violent incidents due to rumour-mongering on Whatsapp and other SM platforms. Such incidents include: Dadri killing, Trilokpuri riots and Muzzafarnagar riots. Hope these eminent people exercise caution before communalising or otherwise in the long term they might end up having blood on their hands.
[Original post: https://medium.com/@alkalien/poisonous-propaganda-of-the-online-rw-machinery-e934f5614da9#.tofk7zomt ]