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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Polarising for profit

Technology is being misused to divide people, hide grave national issues.

New Delhi | Updated: September 14, 2020 9:24:58 pm
Communal politics is polarising society and creating mental ghettos. In pic: citizens hold placards during a silent protest “Not in My Name” against mob lynching, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. (File/PTI)

Written by Sandeep Pandey and Shivangini Piplani

What purpose does religion serve? It serves you the meaning of living a life in the right way. Lately, the sentiment around religion in our country is transforming — religion has become a marker of character. Earlier, this thinking was limited to a very small section of society. But now, the politics of majoritarianism has taken over. It has influenced the government, administration, police, judiciary and the media.

Conflating the majority Hindu religion with nationalism has compounded the problem. So much so that every wrong, such as violence done in the name of religion, is sought to be justified. On the other hand, Muslim citizens become suspects in the eyes of the system. Innocent Muslims as well as those who are critical of the Hindutva ideology are falsely implicated in legal cases because they are viewed as anti-nationals. Laws like sedition, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and National Security Act are invoked so that the accused have to spend years in jail without trial or bail. In Uttar Pradesh, where the police have failed to control the law and order situation, out of 139 cases registered under NSA, 76 are related to cow slaughter. It shows the misplaced priorities of and the abuse by the police to achieve a political agenda set by the BJP government. People are using the digital platform to incite hate and anger. This politics of communalism is creating mistrust among the communities as never before and is taking a heavy toll on the social fabric of this country.

We live in a society with over 3,000 castes and over 10 major faiths. Yet a child may not know when he will call his friends for gully cricket their faith or caste. Our syncretic culture has inbuilt tolerance. People of different religions and castes have learnt to live together over generations, respecting each other’s views and often going out of their way to help each other. For every communal incident, we also hear stories of how Hindus saved Muslims and vice versa. But, unfortunately, communal politics is polarising society and creating mental ghettos.

Mob lynching incidents, which initially targeted Muslims and Dalits, are now on the rise as people are emboldened to take the law into their hands even in other matters. Even pure human emotions like love have not been spared. Love jihad is used as a pretext to hound inter-religious couples, just as inter-caste couple are persecuted. The jihad concept was extended to the COVID-19 crisis by accusing Muslims of spreading the virus. And now, one TV channel has claimed that Muslims are infiltrating the civil services. The Sachar Committee report tells us that Muslims are under-represented in the service sector in proportion to their population, essentially because education levels within the community are comparatively low.

Our morality has been so numbed by this communal-patriarchal-casteist thinking that our conscience is not pricked by even the cruellest acts. Slogans like Jai Shri Ram and Allah-O-Akbar have become war cries, defeating the whole purpose of religion. What purpose can this hate campaign serve except to create long-lasting fissures in the society?

When the Wall Street Journal recently ran a report that claimed Facebook deliberately allowed hate speech content by some BJP leaders including T Raja Singh to keep the government in good humour, even though it allegedly played a role in instigating communal riots, it sparked a debate on free speech. Does the right to free speech give one a right to endanger somebody’s life? Interestingly, BJP leaders advocate for their freedom of speech but those who criticise their government or leaders are likely to be booked by the police. Recently, UP police went all the way to Odisha to arrest a Muslim youth who made some adverse comments about Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi on social media. And now, the UP government is creating a Special Security Force with powers to search and arrest without warrant. We can very well imagine who the likely victims will be.

The media, with some exceptions, has readily propagated the right-wing ideology either to curry favour from the government or under duress. The manipulation by the media channels, trying to feed negativity to improve their rating, has been damaging to our society. The social media platforms have spread fake news, sometimes resulting in violent incidents. Hatred and stupidity are on brazen display on these platforms. We have to ask some serious questions. How is the national politics and media relevant to a child who sleeps without food at night because there is unemployment? Is poverty no longer an issue in a country with the most number and proportion of poor in the world?

It’s no secret that the 2014 and 2019 elections were influenced with the power of technology. The extensive reach of social media platforms has posed a danger to our society as a whole. Since the social media feed for each individual is customised, the opinion of a person is shaped accordingly. But the downside is the race for the attention of the masses. The real issues, like the falling GDP, the situation of migrant workers, farmers’ misery all fade vis-a-vis the suicide of a Bollywood actor or the politics of Hindu-Muslim binary. People get carried away as they are being fed the drama and tend to forget about the actual problems. People hate each other for their ideology, even within families there is polarisation among children and their parents because the former are critical of the government.

Is this the world one wants to live in? Where we have differences among our family members? Hate boiling in our blood over ideology? Where religion and caste are misused to demean others? The external threat faced by the country can be countered only by fostering equality, liberty, and most of all fraternity.

Maybe it is time to rethink our action. Remember that Idea advertisement? Where people had no religion, no caste just their phone numbers as their identity. If people were more thoughtful, there would be less hatred and violence and more love in our world.

(Piplani is a Masters student at Berlin School of Business and Innovation and Pandey is Vice President of Socialist Party (India)

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