What we say when no one's listening
Things we post on groups believed to be secure are like conversations we have with people we trust; they say a lot about who we are
I am a part of some WhatsApp groups that exist for no reason than to aggravate me on a daily basis. I have to stay on them, for reasons that should be familiar to most people. To leave a group is now looked at as an affront, an insult that is hard to swallow. It makes me miss those simpler days when I didn't have to worry about not liking, retweeting or posting something to prove that I genuinely cared about someone.
The things we post on groups we believe are secure are a lot like the conversations we have with people we trust. We abandon all pretence, shrug off masks we put on when we step out of our homes and say what we feel like because we mistakenly believe that everyone on a group thinks the same way we do.
A friend of mine assumed I felt the same way he did by posting propaganda about some communities that, he thought, would make me and everyone on that group smile. Some did, of course, but a lot of the others were silent.
This was interesting to me, because it meant that they disagreed with the propaganda, had chosen not to endorse it, or decided to avoid it altogether. I am increasingly inclined to believe that the third option is no longer viable in India. To not engage, or call out acts of misogyny, racism or bigotry, especially among people we know and trust, makes us complicit.
I thought about the kinds of things we say in our private groups — the jokes about women that men have made and continue to make all their lives when they gather in groups, the references to religious beliefs and stereotypes that are passed down from fathers to sons and mothers to daughters, and covert acts of brainwashing that can convert entire states into places where bigotry becomes normalised.
The older I get, the more I feel the need to say what I believe, irrespective of whether the person I am saying it to is listening or not. We dismiss our own opinions often because we are taught to believe that we don't matter. Only celebrities do, which is why they are the ones who feel the need to share their opinions on everything, from whether we should sing the national anthem every morning to what a government has a right to do or not do. Our voices don't matter simply because we aren't on Page 3.
Ask yourselves what you really think about men, or women, or minorities. This is a great exercise because it says a lot, not just about who we really are, but who we get these ideas from.
Why do men feel the need to demean women in private, for instance? Why are we constantly pitted against each other on the basis of our religious beliefs, when we all just want to get on with our lives and not obsess over religion the way our politicians want us to? Why do we wilfully forget that our own religious beliefs are simply an accident of birth?
A woman filmed a man who flashed her at an ATM a couple of weeks ago. The incident went viral because she uploaded the clip to Twitter, and the man was arrested because she was lucky enough to find a policeman in the vicinity.
I thought about that man, and why he did what he did. Where did he get the thought from? What could possibly give him the idea that this was something any woman would want to deal with?
I couldn't think of anything except the kind of conversations he had been exposed to, at home or among friends. It is only these conversations that could objectify women to such an extent that he would find it in himself to ignore their feelings entirely and simply act upon his base impulses.
We should ask ourselves why we think about people the way we do and draw lines to the origins of these ideas. If we believe anything and everything our parents tell us, accept photographs on WhatsApp as factual without cross-checking, or take up arms against our neighbours because of an imagined slight publicised by a politician, we do our own intelligence a disservice.
I have called my friend out on WhatsApp, and he now thinks twice before posting something.
It may not change the way he thinks, but it gives him one less platform to spread hate, and that's a good start.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to email@example.com
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