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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

When the fringe enters family

🔴 Someday, maybe, we can convince our families we aren’t ill-mannered ingrates who argue for the sake of it, but people who love them, and so expect them to contribute to creating a less violent country

Written by Yashee |
Updated: January 2, 2022 4:04:05 pm
Over the past 10 years or so, the ‘fringe’ has swirled in from the sides, cascaded from the top, and completely enveloped my Hindu upper-caste, middle-class, educated family.

I have a problem. The ‘fringe’ is claiming my family. Rapidly.

Over the past 10 years or so, the ‘fringe’ has swirled in from the sides, cascaded from the top, and completely enveloped my Hindu upper-caste, middle-class, educated family. And I — a secular, liberal, feminist woman — find myself increasingly marooned, marginalised, and maligned.

My problem is this — because the ‘fringe’ now resides within my family, I see how potent it is, how insidiously it works. If it can fray familial ties, I am scared of what it can do on a wider scale.

My family has been radicalised — no, there is no polite substitute for the term — one social media post at a time, to the point where interactions with them leave me enraged, heartbroken, and very, very lonely.

I have tried arguing. Countering disinformation with facts, reasoning, cajoling, haranguing, emotional appeals, I have tried them all. But the ‘fringe’, pre-empting me, has taught them that I am invalid. My political opinions can’t be rational, I have been ‘brainwashed’. I, a woman, single at 30, with friends of all genders, am to be patronised at best, vilified at worst, to be viewed with suspicion always. That is how potent it is.

Of course, my family and their immediate ecosystem did not discover the religious divide in 2014. As a child, I remember conversations about how “only upper-caste Hindus have no champions” among politicians; how “Hindus with small families pay taxes but those people with so many kids get subsidies”. But I also remember a general feeling that bigotry is shameful, and instead of being overly preoccupied with religion, one should study well, get good jobs, and get on with life.

Now, they swallow the most outlandish WhatsApp forwards, hotly defend puerile claims, and consider full-throated bigotry a long-due identity assertion. For years, these people have been fed a diet of social media posts that spoke to them like only they ‘understood’ them.

I have seen the WhatsApp window transform the Overton window. From “You have long followed western science, now consider indigenous wisdom” to “Do you know the real history of Sanatan Dharma” to “This is how Hindus were treated by XYZ” to “If you don’t speak up now, your children will be forced to convert”, to “Your time has finally come in the land of your forefathers”. Even open calls to bloodshed are defended as having come from those who “got carried away”, and didn’t “really mean what they said”!

These WhatsApp messages generally have some kernel of truth, making them sound plausible. From there, they take wild leaps of logic and wilder liberties with truth, to seduce a well-groomed, but, of course, also willing, mass.

The mega identity these messages have forged is powerful enough to sunder personal bonds. Like me, many of my friends now stay away from families, visiting home less frequently, small arguments flaring up quickly because of resentment left over from political conflicts. Unable to engage or explain, we are cutting ourselves off, well knowing that this is a failure, that we are ceding ground to the propagandists.

While this applies to both Hindu men and women, for women, this, like most other things, is worse.

Well-meaning male friends advise me to engage more. What I am not always able to explain to them is the heartbreak I feel when a once dearly loved uncle doesn’t meet my eyes while refusing to condemn Kathua or Hathras without whataboutery. When I point out a misogynist comment from a cousin on Shaheen Bagh, and he is sheepish for just one second, before aggressively defending it. When my existence is used as a reprimand to my mother, who gave her daughter far too much freedom. When another cousin combs my social media profiles to check if some man has “turned my head”, while sending me ‘love jihad’ posts.

No matter how much a blood relation disgusts you, it is hard to stop loving them.

Which is why I, and others like me, cannot afford to give up. We just have to try harder, and someday, maybe, we can convince our families we aren’t ill-mannered ingrates who argue for the sake of it, but people who love them, and so expect them to contribute to creating a less violent country safer for all of us. After all, only love can fight hate.

National Editor Shalini Langer curates the ‘She Said’ column

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