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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