The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: The rising tide of online bigotry threatens the fabric of Indian society

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more)

The Big Story: Hate factory

Another day, another tale of appalling prejudice on Indian social media. On Monday, a Lucknow-based woman refused to interact with the social media representative of a company owing to the man’s religion. “Dear Shohaib, as you’re a Muslim and I have no faith in your working ethics because Kuran may have different version for customer service, thus requesting you to assign a Hindu representative for my request. Thanks,” tweeted Pooja Singh.

Rather than upbraid Singh for her outrageous demand, the company in question, Airtel, actually seemed to acquiesce to it, with someone called Gaganjot replying to Singh. It took Airtel five hours and a backlash on social media to issue a clarification about not differentiating “on the basis of caste or religion”.

This is not a one off incident. Last week, an Indian-origin chef based in London lost his contract with a Dubai hotel after he tweeted that the followers of Islam had “terrorised” Hindus for 2,000 years. Earlier in April, a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an organisation linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, tweeted that he had cancelled an Ola cab because the driver assigned to him was Muslim.

India has always had the problem of bigotry and communalism. In its seven-decade long existence, the country has frequently seen riots and pogroms against its minorities. Yet, what is happening in 2018 is different. Earlier bigotry existed – at least formally – as an aberration. Political parties and public individuals would declare their allegiance to secularism, even if there were many a slip between cup and the lip in practise.

What is happening now on social media is dangerous normalisation of bigotry. Being communally partisan is now not a fault to be hidden away anymore. For a substantial section of Indians, it is to be exhibited and celebrated. In some cases, the bigotry appears to also be institutionalised, with allegations that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has carried out social media campaigns using its large online presence.

A mirror to this process can be seen in the United States. The presidential campaign that Donald Trump ran in 2016 significantly normalised racism, sexism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. This flow of online hate had immediate real-world consequences: Attacks against Muslim, South Asian, Sikh, Hindu, Arab, and Middle Eastern communities in the US went up by 45% in 2017.

Social media in India might be limited as compared to the West but even here online and offline hate are coupled. Ninety seven per cent of all cow-related violence in the eight years since 2010 occurred in the four years since the BJP was elected to office in 2014.

In a more ideal world, the country’s leaders would be expected to step in and stem the tide of hatred. However, the lead up to the 2019 elections has seen a number of allegations – including this one by a former campaign analyst of the BJP – that the party will depend on religious polarisation as an electioneering strategy.

Punditry

  • The political and constitutional crisis over the powers of the Delhi government is not just a small drama being enacted in Lutyens’ Delhi. It is an ominous sign for Indian democracy and its institutions, writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express.
  • The judiciary doesn’t seem to fully appreciate the economic consequences of its judgments, argues Ram Singh in the Hindu.
  • By giving financial creditor status to home-buyers under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, the Union government has effectively killed the recently enacted Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016. In the Hindu Business Line, Rahul Unnikrishnan analyses the development from the point of view of home buyers.
  • Lateral entry into the bureaucracy will seek outside specialists, not work around the system, explains Arvind Panagariya in the Economic Times.

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People who fall through the gaps in road safety campaigns

Helmet and road safety campaigns might have been neglecting a sizeable chunk of the public at risk.

City police, across the country, have been running a long-drawn campaign on helmet safety. In a recent initiative by the Bengaluru Police, a cop dressed-up as ‘Lord Ganesha’ offered helmets and roses to two-wheeler riders. Earlier this year, a 12ft high and 9ft wide helmet was installed in Kota as a memorial to the victims of road accidents. As for the social media leg of the campaign, the Mumbai Police made a pop-culture reference to drive the message of road safety through their Twitter handle.

But, just for the sake of conversation, how much safety do helmets provide anyway?

Lack of physical protections put two-wheeler riders at high risk on the road. According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Nearly half of those dying on the world’s roads are ‘vulnerable road users’ – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. According to the Indian transport ministry, about 28 two-wheeler riders died daily on Indian roads in 2016 for not wearing helmets.

The WHO states that wearing a motorcycle helmet correctly can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%. The components of a helmet are designed to reduce impact of a force collision to the head. A rigid outer shell distributes the impact over a large surface area, while the soft lining absorbs the impact.

However, getting two-wheeler riders to wear protective headgear has always been an uphill battle, one that has intensified through the years owing to the lives lost due on the road. Communication tactics are generating awareness about the consequences of riding without a helmet and changing behaviour that the law couldn’t on its own. But amidst all the tag-lines, slogans and get-ups that reach out to the rider, the safety of the one on the passenger seat is being ignored.

Pillion rider safety has always been second in priority. While several state governments are making helmets for pillion riders mandatory, the lack of awareness about its importance runs deep. In Mumbai itself, only 1% of the 20 lakh pillion riders wear helmets. There seems to be this perception that while two-wheeler riders are safer wearing a helmet, their passengers don’t necessarily need one. Statistics prove otherwise. For instance, in Hyderabad, the Cyberabad traffic police reported that 1 of every 3 two-wheeler deaths was that of a pillion rider. DGP Chander, Goa, stressed that 71% of fatalities in road accidents in 2017 were of two-wheeler rider and pillion riders of which 66% deaths were due to head injury.

Despite the alarming statistics, pillion riders, who are as vulnerable as front riders to head-injuries, have never been the focus of helmet awareness and safety drives. To fill-up that communication gap, Reliance General Insurance has engineered a campaign, titled #FaceThePace, that focusses solely on pillion rider safety. The campaign film tells a relatable story of a father taking his son for cricket practice on a motorbike. It then uses cricket to bring our attention to a simple flaw in the way we think about pillion rider safety – using a helmet to play a sport makes sense, but somehow, protecting your head while riding on a two-wheeler isn’t considered.

This road safety initiative by Reliance General Insurance has taken the lead in addressing the helmet issue as a whole — pillion or front, helmets are crucial for two-wheeler riders. The film ensures that we realise how selective our worry about head injury is by comparing the statistics of children deaths due to road accidents to fatal accidents on a cricket ground. Message delivered. Watch the video to see how the story pans out.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Reliance General Insurance and not by the Scroll editorial team.