One Hundred and Forty Characters of Hate
Editorial: September 2012
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
This is a season of hate. It is possible to see uninhibited and visceral hatred unleashed in different ways in distant geographies. In Assam, hatred reveals itself in the machete used to mowing grass and the enemy. Or, in the automatic guns of the underground era, resurrected every time there is a call for arms to fight the ‘intruder’ or chase out the defenseless ‘other’. Hatred expresses itself through the loudspeakers blaring out of religious places exhorting the faithful to protect their religion from unknown phobias. It spills over to the streets in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Allahabad, Lucknow, Bareilly and Kanpur as a reaction to what may have happened in a different time and place. It shows with unending regularity in Parliament and legislatures where speakers froth while they criticise each other and refuse to engage in any path-breaking discussion.
Hate is commerce. It is now the new vehicle of communication that builds new networks on the shoulders of archaic animosities and neurosis. The pathological purveyors of hate have shanghaied social media under the cheerful rubric of Twitter and Facebook. The viciousness feeds new tools of technology to morph pictures of murder and mayhem and puts the fear of the devil among those who live on the edge. It is this hate machine that provides credibility to these dubious pictures and provocative messages to drive out people from their ‘new homelands’ of work and academics. It is hate again that blunts reason and feeds an unending cycle of violence that destroys the fragile bonds between communities.
Why is it happening in India — a parliamentary democracy with freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution, with scores of political parties, media outfits, and freedom of access to Internet? India is no Arab country, or China, where people have been politically repressed for so long. Why is it that despite millions of different voices adding to the din there is more trust in what cannot be verified? Why is the dubious source more credible than the conventionally reliable?
There are no easy answers in these hate-filled times. In response to the unfolding tragedy and violence in Assam and the backlash in other states, this lame duck government reflexively blamed Pakistan, summarily banned some sites on Twitter and blocked bulk SMSes. This action against social media stoked heated debate among the ‘twitterati’. It is not clear whether the exodus that had resurrected sepia tinted images of Partition slowed down after the twitter ban, but the reality now is far more complex — and sinister.
The old style of political debate is collapsing to 20 minutes of mindless hysteria on prime time TV or 140 characters on twitter. Parliamentary debates have been losing credibility due to criticism from the civil society about the legislatures being animated by the corrupt and criminal. Decency, patience and accommodation for the other point of view is giving way to hostile irritation and open display of contempt against creative dissent. Even newspapers and TV channels that could have built trust within communities through high quality truth-seeking journalism have failed by resorting to what is fashionable or commercially insatiable. “Why do they obsess over a terror incident in US rather than the gruesome killings in Assam?” This is what an agitator screamed as he chased a frightened journalist in Mumbai recently.
The stink of partisan reporting is spreading; it is contaminating minds and undermining the foundations of Indian democracy. Something needs to be done quickly to bring back evidence of old fashioned values to restore sanity to a society where the hate clock ticks clockwise, anti-clockwise, eternally, recording the jarring notes of a symphony so clearly trapped in diabolical games.