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This post is the second in a series that discusses democracy and the idea of a shared country from the ground up. The previous post asked why, when the basis of civilization was a need to co-exist with some guaranteed security, the masses chose to believe in paranoia. I attempt to present some views here.

The masses at large are preoccupied with what they come in direct contact with. Few have the inclination or interest to examine what doesn't *appear* to be broken. When thoughts delegitimizing the rights of fellow citizens proliferate, there is little realization that this is something that goes fundamentally against the secure social structure they take for granted as a country.

Nationalism prefers to disenfranchise minorities and appropriate the country in the name of the majority. Secularism believes that regardless of identity, citizens must be equal under law, AND vulnerable minorities MUST be protected - because it is human nature for the majority to choose bullying as an easy way out instead of sharing.

This is not something that is limited to India. The internet and the speed of disseminating information as well as doing it in ways that allow deniability have resulted in a surge of nationalism worldwide that those believing in equality struggle to counter. There are several reasons for this. In a world where established thought respected equality, and growing globalization subtly created an attitude of opportunism being the right of those with access, a subtle erosion of morals toward "might being right" went unnoticed. Furthermore, I don't think enough "thinkers" anticipated that the unthinking masses would simply choose faulty thinking that they could superficially understand over the words of established thinkers and philosophers over the ages. The last straw was the methods.

Whichever country sees a rise of nationalism sees a barrage of incorrect and inflammatory information finding purchase among the masses. This information is not an accident, it is engineered to make people who believe it think that the minority is the threat to the majority. It further provides explanations and conspiracy theories to excuse the crimes perpetrated against the minority and invents or magnifies any wrongs by the minority. And thus, defense indeed becomes the first act in this war. Absurd as it seems, the majority is actually led to believe that the minority is out to make them extinct.

When such thought spreads, you find countries unable to prosecute crimes against the minority because of fear of backlash by a majority that believes them to be justified, resulting in a collapse of law and order. This impunity, of course is exactly what nationalist leaders want, because their entire agenda is impossible to implement in lawful ways in a democratic country.

Fake news is being recognized as a threat to rule of law worldwide now.

But this is the result. How is it that xenophobia spreads to such a degree? Why is it that fake news spreads more rapidly than real news? Well, apart from the obvious reason that fact checking takes time and effort (there are now attempts to make fact checking more easy in an effort to combat fake news) and apart from the obvious reason that fake news is crafted to sound believable - at least to those already primed with a steady barrage of it - there is the fact, that those spreading fake news are operating out of a sense of carrying out a mission for a cause.

I once observed that the approximate time difference between a Modi supporter coming up with an explanation that other supporters like for something indefensible (at this time you will have multiple excuses being made) and it being used popularly as the explanation by the vast majority of supporters is 2 hours for a simple argument, 4-5 hours for something more complex and about half a day if the propaganda involves images.

Compare this with secular intellectuals almost never having the same rebuttal for something, a far fewer number of them, each using their own words, and it is easy to see how one kind of answer has the capacity to rapidly dominate a debate, while the other fails.

This is largely because while nationalists are engaging in a propaganda war for their identity, secular intellectuals are engaging in what they imagine is a debate, where they are presenting their own view.

So the observable difference in spread of nationalist and secular views is also a difference that can be directly measured as one between active promotion of views and expressing an opinion.

To dig in still deeper. If you take a single message that needs to be put out among people to support or defend something, if released among nationalists, it will be forwarded without question and accepted as the correct explanation of events. There is a lot of schadenfreude among secularists when someone like @bhak_sala (a pro-Modi Twitter handle) gets trolled by other bhakts (unquestioning Modi supporters) when he outright dislikes the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. What they miss in their "LOL"-fest is how rare such an incident is. While a party like Congress accepts criticism for the most part (not that they have much choice these days) or supporters in a party like AAP form entire sub-movements in revolt against the actions of their leader, or while socialists and communists literally have so many differences as to almost hold independent views only, a voice of dissent in the BJP is so rare that it is a one off episode and literally involving one person in this instance. It stands out because in spite of BJP being able to generate the largest organized propaganda - and some of it absurdly illogical or inhuman - dissent is almost next to non-existent. This is a hive mind at work. These people aren't there to think for themselves, they are there to win a country for their team.

If a similar message were released among secular intellectuals, unless it is exceptionally well crafted so as to have agreement among those with the various flavors of secular thought, chances are that it will be read by several, further promoted by a few, and commented on with critiques or refinements by most. The slightest disagreement with the arugment or dislike for the author would mean the message goes no further with that person. In effect, there is no "team" spreading secular thought. And it is difficult for such a team to exist as well, because it is difficult for independent thinkers to come up with identical thoughts. And this is still the spread of a message among those already in agreement with secular thought. The impact and credibility of this is further diluted among the masses if concepts people aren't familiar with it are used. Relatively speaking, "jobs are few, get rid of reservations and we'll have more" is easy to understand when compared with "2-3% caste-class elites already have over 50% jobs and much more in private sectors" - particularly if the 2-3% elites have never had any reason to question why the whole country should run as per their preferences.

So, it is absurd when bewildered secular intellectuals today ask how the country could deteriorate to this degree. Well, your thoughts were not accessible to the masses, the thoughts that were not just accessible, but actively promoted among the masses were simple to understand and made prejudice sound the need of the hour, and you never bothered to organize to elevate the thinking of the masses beyond presenting your refined thoughts.

It is no coincidence that when thoughts of hate proliferate, there is absolutely no concerted campaign going on explaining the basics of democracy. What is a democracy, what are our rights? What is a government? What does the accountability of a government to people mean? and so on.

It isn't difficult to put these things in simple words anyone can understand. In fact, you could probably plagiarize a textbook non-voter kids study (quickly, before it changes) and voters have left far behind to recirculate the basics. There are ways to explain life affirming concepts through various mediums in ways anyone could understand. But it is a matter of doing it. It is not enough to call nationalism, fascism a primitive thought that cannot result in a stable country - the need of the hour is to explain why that is so. In simple words people understand. No government is going to pay for this education. Personal liberty means that we cannot have forced conscription of liberals to educate the masses either. So who will do it? And is it important enough for you to take it up voluntarily?

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We flare in outrage and vanish with a whimper. Flashpoints blazing in the otherwise dusk of law and order. The whole country outrages over a murder on the streets in Mumbai or a gang rape in Delhi, but these are stories being repeated nationwide and forgotten consistently.

Got some ideas.

Anti-rape poster

Local newspapers with news reported by citizens and published electronically as well as on cheap newsprint.

These should be really local, comprising a few villages or localities. They should cover local crime reports and news related with civics, rights and other happenings locally. Sponsored through sales of papers and perhaps donations and a few ads. News can be submitted by citizens throught email, SMS or perhaps tweets. There should be an attempt to get news from the grassroots, rather than simply recycling news published in newspapers, though this shouldn't be ignored.

Women's rights maps

Maps with local crimes against women, which volunteers should take up to follow right up to the process of justice. Nothing major, but perhaps staying in touch with the victims on phone, asking after dates in court, status of case, delays, and so on.

We can also experiment with the possibility of local protest groups to create pressure in cases of injustice. For example organizing protest marches to homes of criminals if police won't arrest them. Or protests demanding dismissal of authorities that ignore rights of women, or corrupt Panchayat leaders.

Of course, it will be difficult to define the limits of this initiative and will depend on the people volunteering in each area.

However, this should be a nationwide network with resources shared, like legal advice, protest ideas, posters, online support from all over the country for local initiatives, and so on.

What do you think?

 

I am planning on creating two crowdmaps for the data, for these two, details of which I will post soon.

For the rest, planning to currently use posts like this one, and eventually, if they turn out successful, we can work out proper websites and such.

If you are volunteering, please inform me and I can add you to the system,

Hoping to create a network which is highly automated and decentralized.

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We say a lot about what the problem is with media, but we rarely look at what media could be. So.... of course, I write 😀

My main point in this is that media reflects reality, but media also influences reality. Media holds a lot of power to influence change. And it is power that is largely squandered in the present time. It could be used more actively.

Films (also Ad Films)

Films have a way of reaching out to the masses and creating memories. A film is a narrative that gets absorbed without resistance, because the conscious mind engages with the story, and the unconscious simply keeps recording. The unconscious never evaluates. Thus, an uninterrupted viewing of a film has the power to convey a lot of things without resistance.

As we struggle with women's rights, caste differences, violence, and so on, what nuance can be added to films to create new "normals" with little resistance? Is there a way to beat our stereotypes? Can we accommodate more diversity? This is a matter for directors. But surely it is not impossible.

Many say that a certain quality of cinema, with emotional power, haunting melodies, and real characters is lost. Others notice that from a time when Muslim women ruled Indian cinema, they are almost extinct. Certainly none of the female mega stars are Muslims anymore. Can these lost representations be revived?

At the same time, there is a side of modern that is barely explored. Intricate cinematography, special effects, story lines beyond romance... why limit ourselves to enhanced jumps, flying villains and morphing? What else can be done?

Gone is the charm of Waheeda's Hyderabadi accent rendered irrelevant with dazzling dances that no one else could do. Or Kishore Kumar's "extraordinarily ordinary" voice. Today, Indian accents are given to comic characters and unimportant extras and heroes are "flawlessly international quality". What is it that we say about India, with these choices? Are we not saying that the ordinary imperfect people around us are laughable and not admirable?

Egos, budgets, reputations... and we have narrowed our scope. As makers, as viewers. We are so unused to going beyond that stereotypical cinematic world, that even off-beat is off-beat within those gilded parameters.

BTW, where are children's films?

For advertising films in particular, there needs to be some looking at the stereotypes being presented. Mother's back aching from work, fair is attractive, etc. I agree that some is unavoidable - fairness cream, for example - you have no choice but to root for the primary quality of your product being advertized. If it can be mellowed so that it isn't a carpet demeaning of the standard color of Indian skin.... that would be nice, but I see your difficulty. There are many other stereotypes that could be challenged to lead change of thought + it will create ads that will be remembered because they caused double takes. How about the father who got the backache from changing the gas cylinder? Or the mother who leaves the sleeping husband and child and sneaks off for a lovely drive in the car you're trying to sell? Or a school teacher who is male?

Television programming

Kids know more about reptile species in the Amazon than the tiger in the Sunderbans. Discovery and NatGeo came to India, and we are learning the India of the West as a part of the world. We have the Mike Pandeys and Bedi brothers and all. We have tremendous media capacity. We are not interested in creating epic wonders, in our thirst for instant coffee. Use foreign programming, dub, sell ads, earn money, lather, rinse, repeat.

The "housewife programming" is another farce. Full of stereotypes and some very, very damaging thoughts modeled. Misogyny is ugly, and many of them are created by women, for women. The "good" woman, usually the bahu takes a surprising lot of shit. Why? Why must she be the victim without complaint? Why must the woman in the most stylish clothes have the worst character? Why must the elder "good" woman be gullible? Why must petty fights be fed into the minds of people day after day?

Why not the life of a nuclear family with both parents freelance professionals? Of people who make mistakes and recover from them creatively, empoweringly? Or a women's crime show having an anchor dressed in anything other than a sari/salwar kameez?

I forget the name of the serial - I saw in glancing, but something about the daughter being attacked by her step sister or her boyfriend choosing to not say anything to the father for fear of hurting him... What? That the "good" daughter keeps quiet about a physical injury so as not to be an inconvenience to her father? And of course, the "man of the house" is invariably a poor, misguided, blind idiot who can (and mostly does) run business empires, but is clueless about what happens in the home he lives in? How about a shot where the husband and wife are speaking with each other in the kitchen and the wife chats at dining table, while the husband expertly puts on some *gasp* coffee as he listens to her? Must a man always be incompetent in his own home?

Where are all the single mothers, gay sons and daughters, office dramas, smart and sassy "good" characters who will nip rubbish outstandingly? Why can't the good character be hep and rebel who sees problems but can't be tactful enough to get results, and gets misunderstood while the pious and tolerant sounding one is actually the venom? Where are the soaps about the working women and husbands who lovingly care for families?

News Channels waste a lot of time. Show packagings run for ten seconds in some cases. Meaningless swirls of graphics wasting my time. There should be at least one programme created for say ten minutes that will cover top 20 issues - fast. Just hitting the main points - watch the lengthy programmes for more info. No micro details, no packaging, no nothing. Just the heads up on the most important things happening.

I want to know where the news for the deaf and dumb is. And why can't I see it.

We have debates on TV, but while they inform about basics, they are largely superficial affairs severely restricted by time available. In the end it becomes the anchor conducting brief parallel interviews rather than true interaction. Most of these debates are on subjects crucial to the country. Also subjects people are interested in. There should be a separate channel with entire days devoted to an important issue, while smaller issues and interesting debates that aren't really issues can fill smaller slots like half a day or four hours, etc.

It will create opportunities to include presentations, further references or evidences etc as a part of the debate, so that people really understand important things happening and their nuances and form informed opinions. Maybe people can message/comment/shortmail/tweet/etc their questions or even add information to the debate.

Like I said there... let's blow this thing wide open - start meaningful national conversations. Information is vital to empowerment.

The potential is vast.

Newspapers and online news

Very important to cover news of the country as a whole. Perhaps there needs to be a job created for a "leak catcher" who can keep an eye out for the kind of news that slips through gaps. Rural areas and smaller towns particularly have a lot of totally invisible suffering no one bothers with till too late. This could be more sensitive, professional, caring.

There needs to be some serious reviewing and at least editorial understanding of the values the organizations stand for and those values must be meticulously lived up to. It is becoming a culture of lynching and finger pointing and sensationalism. My angry post after Delhi's Besharmi Morcha highlights the differences in the coverage possible. A lot of the social psychological impact of the event was destroyed in how it was reported - reporters were simply unable to think beyond "sex sells".

Let loose in a news scenario, the media seems to gravitate to first masala - be it bare stomachs at the slutwalk, or detailed descriptions and character judgments of people. This seems more common with print/web than TV. There needs to be some consciousness raised and skills built for identifying when this happens, so that it can be corrected gradually into more real reporting - de-addiction from masala thinking and sensitizing on ethics and social responsibility.

Another point seems to be a problem with the country in general, but the reading media is well placed to lead a change - learning to identify and stop using logical fallacies as a part of the reasoning process. Thoughts can be sharply focused on issues and lead to clearer thinking. Straightforward skill building.

Online social media

A lot seems to be happening and most of it is very democratic and life affirming and very good. There is a possibility for us to use the medium more actively to learn interaction. To learn to manage differences and disagreements. But I see that happening too, and where it doesn't, it seems more a choice than any lack.

Important is that the social media resist attempts at censorship, or breaches of privacy, or if under unavoidable pressure (our government can "charm" the socks of any corporate with its "soft" power), then at least this must be transparent, and known to the netizens.

Actually, I had a few more points, but the electricity went off, and I am not able to remember them well right now, so rather than waste your time, I end here. I will add if I remember. Feel free to contribute your ideas in comments.

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Some points to learn from while organizing Mumbai's Maal Chaal. This post is more of a to-do list for me, not really an article. Feel free to read, follow or contribute or use the list to help you act. Stuff will keep getting added, removed.

  1. Remain open and available. Coordinate with main people so that all of us aren't inaccessible at the same time on declared points of contact.
  2. Prepare better. There was little preparation in terms of working with the society before the walk and in communicating the need. More reach needs to be organized.
  3. Specifically target and ensure communication with a range of "groups" of people ensuring diversity of age, gender, caste, class, locality, religion, etc. The attempt is to create such a diversity of people, that the message becomes totally generic - moral judgments and victimization are not okay regardless of who does it to whom.
  4. Make sure that the scope of the slutshaming being protested as not limited to streets and public transport - it is in every aspect of lives - in how we treat each other at home, at work, in school, on the street, in public transport...
  5. Engage with disagreeing voices in genuine debate. Understand concerns, make real attempts to address them as far as possible.
  6. Create effective communication on why words like "slut" and "maal" are needed and what is their significance in this protest against the ills in society - help people reach beyond automatic denials to common interest.
  7. Communicate better with journalists to ensure that the message of the slutwalk reaches viewers unmangled.
  8. Create a few standard letters, photos, graphics, etc that supporters can use to spread the word.
  9. Keep the voice loud and clear all through right up to the walk.
  10. Keep an eye on the kinds of clothes people have in mind, so that there is an idea of the diversity or the lack of it and action may be taken if needed.