The Real Abuse
“Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Ancient nursery rhyme by an annoying prick who probably had the crap beaten out of him immediately after he said this.
Newslaundry has launched a campaign with a pretty dramatic sounding name -Internet Inqalab. Cool huh? We aren’t expecting to do anything dramatic though. It’s not like geeks all over the country will usher in a binary coded revolution or align and form a Meshnet.
Unlike this tweet from Pankaj Pachauri from the PMO:
we are under no illusion that almost half the country is online – and even if it were, that half is in any mood for a revolution. Take us for a ride? Maybe. A spin? Perhaps. But revolutions make us dizzy.Our aim is more humble -to get people, especially journalists, to look at the horror that Section 66A and 79 of the IT Act are and come up with suggestions for a better legislation.
In the online space, what’s unfortunate and rather worrisome is that too many “thought leaders” (I use that phrase loosely even though I find it kind of silly but then I also watched Chennai Express and liked it), basically people who set the tone of a narrative – journalists, politicians, anyone with a seat reserved at aTV panel or column space in print,start the conversation for online freedom from a grumble about how abusive people are. Without necessarily spelling it out (some go that far even), they make a case for some sort of censorship or online control. That is depressingly not very smart at all. The slew of arrests and harassment of citizens for innocuous tweets and facebook posts has demonstrated the real abuse is elsewhere. And it is very dangerous.
Journalists who should provide insight, clever takes, brilliant analysis and display the ability to listen-absorb-dissect and lead dialogue, seldom get beyond whining about how rude many people online are. Seriously? That’s the nichod you come up with from all that juice the online space offers?
A fact about crowded, impatient and uncouth India –the majority is abusive and rude in life. Not just online. Walk a hundred yards in any neighborhood or just stand at a bus stand and simulate a beep each time you hear a cuss word or nasty abuse. You’ll be one long shriek.
When the ones you’d expect to question the establishment flirt with the idea of Internet censorship and are often standing on the same side as a paranoid, control-obsessed government, something is very wrong.
That,I suspect is lack of exposure. Perhaps, it’s because like my late grandmother they don’t get out much. The bubble mentality not only afflicts the political class but the entire narrative setting-class, since they’re usually from the same tiny pond.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying being rude or abusive is fine. It’s not. It breaks down dialogue and compromises informed debate or a healthy exchange of views. Threatening people with any sort of harm online or offline is illegal and should be dealt with like threats are dealt with in life. There are provisions to deal with slander and defamation (Section 499)– put to good use by Barkha Dutt and Arun Jaitley.
The rude abusive Indian isn’t apost-Internet species that mutated from a genteel nuanced rabble. It wasn’t born when the Internet was invented. We were always like this only (remember Channel V told us that long ago),but the only voices heard were the ones in the large halls of studios, board rooms and policy maker’s oversized offices. Many of them as offensive, but with the veneer of sophistication which public schools and top-ranked colleges brush on.What is disappointing to note is the delusion of this lot that India just got nasty, or worse, the realisation that it was always like this so must now be shut up.
Delusion can lead to one manufacturing one’s own la la land reality, not a great idea if you’re discussing policy that impacts the real world. Politicians often exhibit this tendency. When the parliament attack happened in 2001, I was in Connaught place in New Delhi at a corner where aloo chat and chola bhature attract most office-goers around the area for lunch, or at least used to back then. The Parliament attack and gun-fight was in progress just a couple kilometers away that afternoon and was the hot topic being discussed by the non-organic veggie-eating riff raff while stuffing their faces with oily carbs. Did I hear outrage from people on the street saying –“Oh how dare they attack our beloved MPs?God please protect our leaders. Lets skip this unhealthy food and go and defend our MPs who are in trouble”? No.
But Advani-ji in his statement that night on the news spoke about how the whole country was worried about the MPs and that they were well and he was touched by the concern and prayers all of India showered on them and other such stuff.Lump-in-your-throat kind of stuff.Hearing him you’d think every street corner had a havan happening for our MPs’ long life and young men and women were picking up sticks and axes to rescue our netas. I’m not saying what I heard on the streets and markets and offices that day was desirable or decent or anything I agree with. I’m saying that I was struck by the extreme disconnect with what was being said on the ground and the voices in Advani-ji’s head.
In any social gathering for the next two days, no matter how serious or genuinely concerned the conversation about the Parliament attack, there was always that one joke about what an incompetent bunch Pakistan sent that they couldn’t even take out 5 MPs before being shot dead. There were guffaws of laughter from pot-bellied businessmen and shy giggles from meek government employees. Again, I’m not saying that’s a good thing. It’s insensitive and mean and not “patriotic” and we all know we must be patriotic – which means say only nice things about those given the mandate to govern. But that’s how it was. I’m only calling it like I saw it. Distasteful and rude and uncouth, but should a Politeness Police have come around and shut them all up?That’s how people talk. That’s the shit that is street ambience. Now it’s online.
Reminder for thought-drifters, I’m not saying being rude or abusive or mean is a good thing. I’m saying that’s how it is and has always been. India chose democracy and free speech, nuance and ubiquitous aesthetic wit is a casualty.
For those discussing the need for online control, giving more than a passing mention (if even that) to the rudeness and abuse issue is shockingly short-sighted and nauseatingly self-indulgent and tweets dripping with self-pity don’t help “thought leadership” or leadership of any type (well-meaning tip: RT-ing abuse doesn’t attract sympathy, RT-ing compliments doesn’t attract awe. Both attract – Dude get over yourself.)
Potty-mouthed louts are the least of the dangers online. The bigger dangers are article 66A and article 79 and the appalling misuse of these pieces of legislation. Read and be horrified. If amidst all this you see online abuse as the danger then you’re as much of a provincial frog as the bureaucrat who often argues that RTI is not good for democracy because it’s a waste of his/her time and energy that could be better spent than responding to RTI applications. (Because, of course, he is good and honest and means well, so why the hell does he have to spend time and energy in accounting for the resources we give him).
My late Dadima was around 90-years-old when she once agreed to come for a fancy dinner with me on my birthday (we couldn’t celebrate hers since she didn’t know when she was born). This was rare, since she was extremely disciplined about her diet and for as long as I can remember ate shalgam and lauki and other gross stuff every single evening for dinner between 6:30pm and 7pm. So when we went to a fancy restaurant she was totally blown away, not by the food or service or ambience but by the prices. Dadimacould not get over a single dish costing Rs1000 and the total bill coming close to Rs5000. She didn’tget out much, other than the dailywalk and to buy me kites when I was a kid, which cost between 50paise and Rs 1 in the Eighties. I never got round to finding out what she thought of the meal since we never moved beyond how expensive the foodwas– In her younger days,10 kilos of flour was for Rs 5. She could run a full kitchen for her joint family household of eight in Rs 200 for a month.What we paid would have fed her household for the year.Are there places even more expensive? Do I go there? Etc etc. Each time I mentioned another dinner date with Dadi we’d never get beyond how much it cost. Everything about my birthday dinner was a non-issue,it was all about the cost.
Online comments is an ugly place so the likelihood of someone posting under this article that he’s glad my Dadima died and may she have to pay Rs 5000 for every meal in hell, is high. But that’s life. And death. Not reason to whine and complain that online voices should be controlled by poorly-drafted tyrannical laws. Our Comment Policy requires abusive comments to be deleted so if you want such a comment to stay make sure you don’t use any abusive words in communicating that sentiment, or else post the abusive version on your own facebook page or Twitter feed with all the cuss words you want – and tag me.
Dear people who are referred to as thought leaders,quit whining about abuse all the bloody time and say something smart. Boo hoo for you. Now get over it. There’s more at stake. Much more. Khadi-wearing Dadima had an excuse for fixating on the least important aspect of the meal. She was 90-years-old and had not stepped into the fine dining world which independent India’s post-liberalisation market has to offer.
You are young and can order the finest Pinotage and foie gras without the slightest hesitation.Ever since TV studios and column real estate lost monopoly, the price to get your voice heard has undergone inflation. So pay up, or stay home and eat shalgam and lauki.
Apne yug mein sabko anupam gyaat hui apni haala,
Apne Yug mein sabko adbhut gyaat hua apna pyaala,
Phir bhi vridhon se jab poocha ek yehi uttar paya,
“Abna rahe woh peene wale abna rahi woh Madhushala”.
Everyone found the wine from their age beyond compare,
Everyone found the cup from their era wonderfully unique,
And when asked, the aged had this one reply -
“Now you don’t find those connoisseurs of wine, now you don’t find those taverns”.