Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel was recently charged with having called India “poor” and thus an unworthy site for his product expansion strategy for Snapchat. The reaction of distaste at the Indian end was swift, even though the veracity of the allegation remained doubtful. But why did the country need to take offense at a few words of a CEO somewhere — if he even said them (Spiegel denied it), and more importantly, as if that makes any difference to what India is. Suddenly boycotting Snapchat assumed the transient, new avatar of patriotism. The backlash against Snapchat even ignorantly spilled over to Snapdeal, the Indian e-commerce brand. The question is why we lose our calm over such petty things?
To some extent, this sort of mass outrage venting has become the identity of social media all over. But in India, there is also has a distinct tendency lately towards attacking anything perceived as “against the nation [or religion]” — as though that alone is uniting a majority of Indians today. Following the Ramjas College row in February, an unthinking dose of verbal venom was unleashed towards the 20-year-old Gurmehar Kaur. Her unrelated placards from an older anti-war video were pulled and juxtaposed out of context with her stand against ABVP violence to “prove” her reasoning unsound and her stance “pro-Pakistan and anti-nationalist”. This concocted environment of vitriolic targeting, which also encouraged some bigwigs to take jibes at Gurmehar, ultimately bullied her into calling off her campaign. Verification of the facts within the manufactured hysteria was forsaken till later.
The desire to take offense on behalf of the nation is fashionably being worn on the sleeve, even at the cost of verification, logic and time consumed making a mountain out of a molehill. The Snapchat uproar saw the country’s social media unite to maliciously and undeservingly troll a creator and his product — like an elephant hell-bent on charging a non-entity — which can only be treatise of our over-sensitivity.
Hypermasculinism in relation to the idea of India has been physically on display elsewhere too, not just in the trolling froth produced on social media. It treats the abstract imaginary of the nation as a paranoid, hypersensitive entity deserving and calling for masculine “protection” and baying for reprisal for such perceived “affronts”. Such a climate demands conformity to monolithic, grandiose beliefs about India-the-nation and one’s place in relation to it; it does not shrink from the use of virtual aggression or even actual violence to resist any challenge to them.
Such thin-skinnedness is puzzling for the citizens of a country that have so much to worry about, as far as making the nation better is concerned, instead of some unverified comments that may or may not have been uttered two years ago inside a Silicon Valley boardroom.
We must prioritise our “to-be-tackled” goals better.