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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Gangs of Twitterpur: John Dayal explains why religious nationalism worries him the most

Many things therefore worry me. The Idea of India going awry, or being eroded. Democracy threatened by ideas of patriotism and security that are far removed from sanity and reason.

Written by John Dayal | Updated: September 16, 2015 10:52:39 am
John Dayal, Abuse, Twitter, REligion The police also do not take cyber threats to be of great concern, writes John Dayal.

As any other badlands, Twitter belongs to organised groups consisting of gangs of trolls, as much as it does to big corporates with their call centres and their deep bottom budgets to keep sponsored Tweets in a permanent prime slot.

A difficult place, therefore, for individuals, lone wolfs, and the stray human rights activist to make a point, or even register one’s presence. Trending, for good or for bad, is usually for Prime Ministers, sports stars like Sania Mirza, and some natural or man-made calamity. These are, barring the first perhaps, spontaneous responses from users.

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And sometimes, the unexpected tweet or user starts trending. Kavita Krishnan and Meena Kandasamy have often trended, as objects of derision and sometimes, brutal hate, full of the most vile sexual innuendo.

Meena explains what makes for trending: “… For a hashtag to become a trending one, it’s not enough if just a few tweet using the same hashtag. There has to be certain volume, and all of it within a certain window of time. Clearly, whoever wanted to start this propaganda decided to concentrate their efforts on a particular day, and go after one particular individual. This is scary.”

She was explaining how a 67-year-old journalist and human rights activist suddenly started Trending on Twitter, with over 15,300 Tweets in that short window of a few hours. What made it easier to understand was a series of single tweets giving notice of what was to follow.

I am a small-time presence on social media. I have some people following me, perhaps not all of them my real-life friends or aquaintances. I do not know how to find out the identities of all my followers. Most have exotic names out of mythology or in other roots, and most use photographs not their own. I am told many women are actually men, and one person may have tens of handles if not hundreds. Would take a computer to remember and manage them all, I presume.

I do not use social media to tell people what I have had for lunch, or share photographs of family ceremonies and office picnics. I have shared just one selfie, and that because it was taken by the Dalai Lama in a moment of relaxation in a serious seminar on spirituality.

But I do share on social media, as in my long-form writings, my concerns about the land of my birth, and where my grandson also stays. None of us in the immediate family is an NRI. Many things therefore worry me. The Idea of India going awry, or being eroded. Democracy threatened by ideas of patriotism and security that are far removed from sanity and reason. War-mongering, sabre rattling and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Dilution of freedom of expression and conscience, including freedom of the press. Above all, it is the concept of religious nationalism that worries me the most, because it makes me and my grandson aliens in our motherland, the land of our ancestors. And, of course, I am opposed to the death penalty.

I most freely express my apprehensions, in the decent language my father and my teachers taught me at home, school, college and the newspapers of Bahadurshah Zafar Marg close to half a century ago.

So far, some have supported me. Some, expectedly, have opposed me, in language polite. A few have been threatening. Only occsionally does someone threaten me with bodily harm.

This is where the Twitter storm, assumed a menacing form. Most of them were loaded with spite. Most threatened or invited bodily harm on me. Some were an open invitation to unknown and unseen warriors, exhorting them to be “the first to strike”, or be “the first to take him out”. My crime was to have mocked the ban on meat in some states, and then, to point out that a school where an allegation of a child being molested had been made was not owned by the Catholic church, as presumed by those who detest Christian presence in India, but by someone I understood was close to the Bharatiya Janata Party. I had, so to say, ‘crossed the line’ they had marked for the nation. My Tweets were taken as an insult to India’s majority faith, and to its nationhood. And this deserved punishment.




Someone found out my phone number and outed it on Twitter. Within minutes I got a string of people ringing me up. My family advised me to switch off my phone. For 36 hours, I was, in a sense, a refugee in my home, without means of communication with the external world other than through members of the family, friends, and emails. It is not a pleasant situation to be in.

In her blog, my first-born, another writer, explained why she was worried: “Disagreements turned into abuse and slander, and of course, incitement for the man to be done away with.”

It was her blog that, so to say, persuaded me to go to the police with a complaint. The experience too has not been very pleasant. In fact, it has been very frustrating. The police station of Mandavali in East Delhi is staffed by men and subordinate officers who have not heard of social media, seldom watch the news or read newspapers. It took us – I and two lawyer friends – to explain to the Duty Inspector what a Tweet was, what social media was, and why a certain phrase is a threat. The complaint was not registered as an FIR, just “diaried”.

Police Commissioner BS Bassi was far more welcoming, assuring he would ensure my safety and my wife’s, and see that our corner of the woods in East Delhi was patrolled better for some days. He would also ask the Cyber Crime Branch to examine the case. But he held out no hopes of the ringleaders ever being traced. Not just because of the nature of Twitter, but its ownership and the fact that its main server computers were based in the United States.

The police also do not take cyber threats to be of great concern [barring perhaps Maharashtra and Karnataka who arrest young girls and boys for “liking” someone else’s sharp barb on a powerful politician]. “Barking dogs do not bite. And if cyber threats were to be come real, Chief Minister X and political leader Y would have been assassinated ten times over,” said an officer.

I suppose there is hope to be derived from such statistics.

– Views expressed by the author are personal

Here’s a copy of the police complaint filed by John Dayal

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