I wash my face and come back, back to the battle that has been raging— that I have been raging. No, its not a physical battle, but a virtual one against and inside a world where jingoism and bigotry are served up on a platter garnished and intricately designed with nationalism. Its a plate I cannot digest, even though to a lot of people it looks beautiful, and a lot of people have now accepted it as their daily diet.
I return to my battle. Its a virtual battle, right there in front on my computer screen, and I used to not think much of it. I used to call myself and a lot of students sitting in front of their computers as Facebook Revolutionaries. Their revolution doesn’t cost anybody anything. Or so I thought. Now its different, and its different because I am being attacked from all the sides. No, actually its different because this time the issue is rather more “sensitive.”
I was scrolling down my Facebook timeline, and it was the time before all those unaware about what has been happening in Kashmir suddenly became experts on the issue— the tragic attack in Uri had martyred 17 soldiers (in time the toll would increase to 18, thus also increasing the gusto with which I was being shamed for being a “traitor” to my motherland) and emotions were running high. A post called for war with Pakistan, another called for war with separatists; a third, however, called for the “slaughter” of “Kashmiri assholes.” There I lost it, as I have in past upon spotting a fault with words and opinions being used in a public post. So I launched an attack— a comment, an angry comment. I had begun the battle I would be consumed with for the next three days; losing sleep over the irrationality being passed around as “maturity”, thinking pensively about the future of “revolutionaries” such as myself, people who are being tagged as traitors and anti-nationals and, in extreme cases, are being isolated and attacked for their opinions.
Facebook debates, I feel, are no longer just virtual discussions— there are full-blown personal attacks, and they can spill out into the reality of our lives, so that the distinction between a debate and an opinion remaining on the other side of the screen and reality has thinned out. And I am not surprised, because when it comes to nation, every single individual has an opinion. Nobody has any problem with that. Problem begins when that opinion is hate speech— and the problem intensifies when that hate speech is identified as a true-blue expression of patriotism and therefore encouraged.
Then there’s the problem of the laws of the world we are battling out in— reporting a status on Facebook is not enough, I am told, because they don’t care what you post or whom you abuse as long as there is no thick bunch of reports against you in their records— then they might investigate, but of that I am not too sure either. To tell you the truth, I am not aware about the laws of Facebook’s Community Standards, but I am assuming they work that way because my report on the status to Facebook did not violate whatever their standards are.
So there I was, battling out against an army of nationalist bigots, one of whom expressed his admiration for the Nazis and Israel and called for the problem to be solved “once and for all,” implying perhaps a genocide— or am I looking too much into it? Probably not. Explaining to them with examples and history, I soon realized, was out of question, because they had no idea what AFSPA is, let alone then its atrocious past. So far as their information went, soldiers have been martyred in Kashmir by terrorists from across the border so Kashmiris must be involved, and hence, well, slaughter. Negotiations and peace are a thing of past, military is the best solution, and by military we mean real bullets, not just pellets.
Admittedly, it is admirable how a nation can rise up in horror as a reaction to the attack in Uri. I repeated that I feel equally at loss, that I felt grief and anger too when I read of the dastardly act in Uri, but for that a “slaughter” isn’t any option. By the time I logged into Facebook again, there were about half a dozen more comments questioning me on my love for my nation, more than a dozen ‘likes’ to each of their personal attacks and one comment which rationally explained what I wanted to highlight. Funny thing is, they began ‘liking’ that comment as well, thinking it was another brick in the wall being built against me. I was demoralized, but I got down to it.
My point is not this personal story, my point is that in these days of war-mongering and intense debates on nationalism and what it means to love a nation, the terrain is turning increasingly difficult for the likes of us, the Facebook Revolutionaries I used to mock. They have been targeted online, but now things are looking worrisome as the debates and battles on Facebook are spilling out into the real world. JNU students being called ‘Pakistanis’ and ‘anti-nationals’ in a mall while the crowd watches, some of them smiling, perhaps in agreement; a youth being slapped and hit by a gang of bullies for expressing an opinion mocking Kannada actors on social media— and then the recent expulsion of a Kashmirir student on account of his comments on the Uri attack. Of course, if his comments were what they were, it was only proper to take action against him, but then what about statuses such as the one I was “fighting” against? Aren’t those statuses calling for the slaughter of Kashmiris equally offensive? Aren’t comments where the mothers in Kashmir are accused of being party to terrorism and that they “deserve no safe havens” as derogatory as abusing the armed forces?
Not in the situation we find ourselves in. Chest-thumping your support for war and declarations asking for slaughter are order of the day, and those who don’t want that can very well go to Pakistan. Nobody would report such statuses because their passions run high and, more importantly, they agree with that “final solution” (one of our “nationalists” used that term).
Social media has become a tool to punch that fury into the face of all those who want a rational and peaceful solution to evident problems— all those of us who know what history means to the present, and the dangers of it repeating itself. Adding fuel to fire are websites which encourage hate-speech and chest-thumping through memes and pictures and half-informed posts— their only objective is generation of ‘hits’, and to that extent they tap the emotions of the day and create content accordingly, thus only spreading false information and charging these dangerous emotions extolling ‘revenge.’ Combined with the ‘patriotic parivar’, its marketing team, those influenced by this marketing and such websites, the voice of reason is effectively stifled. And now it is extending out from virtual world into reality. I don’t know of a more present danger to our democracy.
Atharva Pandit is a TYBA student at Ramnarain Ruia college in Mumbai, majoring in Political Science. His essays and articles have been published on and in various websites and magazines, including ‘Youth ki Awaaz’, ‘The Citizen’ and ‘Kafila’.