The rise of the intolerant Indian

Published: Jun 15, 2019, 06:37 IST | Lindsay Pereira

There is now a fine line between hate speech and actual violence, which is worrying in a country of short-tempered people with hair-trigger tempers

The rise of the intolerant Indian
We no longer blink when trolls attack students online, or issue rape threats to women, or threaten journalists for daring to write things about one or another political party Representation pic/Getty Images

Lindsay PereiraA friend of mine recently complained about how his political leanings were beginning to affect his relationship with his siblings. This wasn't as surprising as it would have sounded a couple of years ago, because everyone on the group chat we were on seemed to have some version of the same story.

Apparently, his brothers now went out of their way to avoid him at family gatherings, because they had serious issues with the political party he chose to support.

For them, this was almost an act of treason, which is what my friend couldn't seem to wrap his head around. How, he asked, could his personal beliefs about something like politics affect his relationship with family to such an extent? None of us had an answer that made sense.

The answer may lie in the distressing fact that we are a passionate people about all the things we should try and be dispassionate about. Cricket, for one. Thanks to the cynical money-grabbing exercise that is the IPL, this sport is no longer capable of emptying our streets the way it once used to when Kapil Dev and his band of merry men occupied prime time slots on television.

It is still capable of inciting rancour though, especially when people in a room don't always support the same team. The logical approach to this would be encouragement, because support for different teams adds value to the idea of sportsmanship and makes the act of watching a game more pleasurable. Unfortunately, that sentiment is not popular.

Then there is cinema. If you ever happen to check social media platforms on days before the release of major films that feature rival stars, you risk being overwhelmed by the hate directed at fans. There are hashtags generated, a relentless stream of abuse, and all kinds of personal attacks that simply have no place in civilised society.

Speaking of personal attacks, it's interesting how none of us blink at these anymore. It's a sad comment on the low level to which our public discourse has sunk, but it's important to recognise that it signifies an acceptance of what would once have been considered an aberration.

We no longer blink when trolls attack students online, or issue rape threats to women, or threaten journalists for daring to write things about one or another political party.

This normalisation of hate has consequences we have yet to fathom, because children exposed to this will grow up to be angry Indians incapable of rational arguments.

It used to amuse me while growing up in Bombay, how every government in Maharashtra was elected not on the basis of merit but language and religion. People I grew up with always voted for politicians who spoke the same language they did, or shared the same religious beliefs.

The concept of merit, or actual ability, was never discussed because it simply didn't matter. I am no longer as amused, primarily because this habit of ours has created an atmosphere of bigotry and intolerance that will take years to dissipate.

It's easy to blame social media platforms for the rise in disinformation and hate speech, but it's also hard to ignore how easily they have helped give fringe opinions and groups a megaphone.

In April this year, the British journalist Carole Cadwalladr was invited to give a TED talk that went viral for all the right reasons, after she spoke about how tech billionaires in Silicon Valley had broken democracy.

She explained why it was almost impossible to have free and fair elections ever again, because platforms like Facebook and Twitter had lost control of what they had created.

There is now a fine line between hate speech and actual violence, which is worrying in a country of short-tempered people with hair-trigger tempers.

We don't appear to be calming down and becoming a more mature country, which isn't surprising if one takes into account that maturity comes with stability, and our political parties tend to count on instability to boost their fortunes.

None of my friends had viable suggestions for how to deal with disagreements between family members. Once upon a time, we were all under the impression that family bonds were sacred and unbreakable, to the extent that they couldn't be threatened by something as temporary and fragile as political choices.

The fact that this is may no longer be the case is sad not just for us as individuals, but for what it means for our country as a whole.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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