We see examples of intolerance everywhere around us. More often than not, it is from a place of power and control. Those who don’t have power are rarely in a position to exercise intolerance. They are too busy trying to survive oppression.
I woke up this morning to another depressing set of news headlines. Each news article brings with it anxiety and doubt. ‘Should I trust this as credible? Is this propaganda?’ I continue scrolling compulsively, unable to stop.
I then gravitate to social media for my daily fix of angst, despair and dark humour. That is, until the phone rings and the day descends into a vortex of vicariously lived trauma. A desperate hunt for Remdesivir. A mad search for a single hospital bed. A wild goose chase for oxygen cylinders. Panic. Fear. Burning pyres. Voices drenched with grief.
The word ‘atmanirbhar’ is a term designed specially for the benefit of the citizens of India by our esteemed government.
In this bid to gift us atmanirbharta … citizens of India are today scrambling for basics while policy makers and caretakers of the country try and pivot. Too little. Too late. The second covid-19 wave has us firmly in its grip.
People, even those with access and resources, are running from pillar to post to save their loved ones. Politicians are defining what we can or cannot have access to. People are being forced to negotiate cash payment for medicines, hospital admissions and test results with those who are exploiting this need for profit. So much for demonetisation. Savings are being cleaned out as people are forced to make decisions under pressure with no choice or say in the matter. The person on the street is struggling to stay safe while earning barely enough to feed their dependents.
The hospital staff is in tears. The laboratory staff is working sleeplessly for days on end swamped with covid tests. The health infrastructure can’t bear the weight of this unending surge.
The harsh, inescapable reality is that the virus has brought everyone to their knees.
India is today in an unenviable position. A country of 1.39 billion people. A heaving, gasping population unable to comprehend why there is no respite from this nightmare.
This is what we voted for. A casual cockiness by our well meaning leaders that set the tone and we all celebrated having beaten the virus. We became lax. Mumbai opened its huge suburban public train network. Packed stadiums for cricket matches were witnessed. Political leaders led by example and helmed political rallies without masks. The kumbh mela 2021, originally scheduled for 2022, was brought forward to appease the majority sentiment and stretched across weeks. A well thought through and researched introduction of farming bills was accompanied by a charming reticence to engage in talks. It resulted in an ongoing six month long battle of wills with farmers on the streets, fighting to have their voices heard. All this regardless of a virus that was waiting for its moment to attack.
This is what we voted for. Banging thalis and lighting diyas in support of the medical fraternity and crushing them carelessly under an unending stream of patients.
This is what we voted for. A massive gathering of people serving a political agenda at a time when globally established protocols require countries to be watchful, break the chain of contagion and allow the healthcare teams some breathing space.
This is what we voted for. An ambitious bunch of pied pipers who have led a devout vote bank towards devastation.
Another day draws to a close. I see an ambulance make its way silently down the road with only its lights flashing. We sit within our homes, the ones who are privileged to do so and watch the horror unfold. The less privileged are out there fighting every single day for survival. This is what we voted for.
A young woman performs an open mic in April 2019. It goes viral in July 2020.
Some internet heroes and self styled social media dons take umbrage.
Get it. People are sensitive. They get offended by jokes. They retaliate.
The retaliation is through videos designed to go viral. They are liberally sprinkled with the choicest of abuses roping in not just the target but her mother and sister as well. While showing off their incredible vocabulary and passionately expressing their rage, one particular social media don takes it a step further. He threatens rape. He uses vile language. He is filth incarnate.
These social media monsters sit in cars for some reason to record their soliloquies. They have kohl lined eyes. Some sport jewellery. They wear ganjis or shirts with the first one or two buttons open. They speak into camera with great pride and all of them universally insist on telling their viewers how much they respect women.
These little self styled Nazi boys trotting out their patriotism and championing the cause of historical legends, eagerly wooing their followers who egg them on to display their ugliest selves … their voices cannot be amplified.
We must learn to accept the difficult truth that Hitler’s regime was the most popular government in German history; yet we know as well that few Germans after the war would confess having given any loyalty to the Nazi movement. This was not a lie in the soul of the German nation; it was a part of a collective delusion that all the fascist movements brought upon their followings. It was as if the movements themselves, as things independent of the men that embodied them, were responsible for the things that happened. Gilbert Allardyce, Historian, 1971
What then is our responsibility?
Social media sites have strict policies on conduct. Eg : Twitter – Hateful Conduct Policy – You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
Here are a few of the things that aren’t allowed on Facebook:
- Nudity or other sexually suggestive content.
- Hate speech, credible threats or direct attacks on an individual or group.
- Content that contains self-harm or excessive violence.
- Fake or impostor profiles.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube – they all have ‘strict’ policies. Why is there no evidence of actually implementing them? Why are these uncouth, vile, repulsive, vulgar little boys being allowed to thrive on these sites? What part of their little solo acts allows them this pedestal to abuse and misbehave?
What will it take for the hate mongering to be erased or is this now part of our ‘new normal’?
Breaking habits is hard but with this months long, enforced lockdown and a broken economy we will all find ourselves moving towards some changes in our lifestyles and in our social and political structures. A few that come to my mind are :
Reducing the stress on over populated cities
Less global and more local
Building outlying satellite towns and making them autonomous and independent
Flattening hierarchies, helping rebuild smaller businesses
Adoption of a global digital currency
Kick starting our agriculture and farming on a priority basis
Investing in health care
Digital transformation will pick up pace. Simplifying tasks so they can be attributed to tech and robotics and thus free up time to innovate and create a new world order.
Appreciating and acknowledging the co-dependence between man and nature. Nurturing our planet and the environment.
Collaborations and task teams will take precedence over monopolistic leaders and organisations.
Most importantly, we will see global citizens rise in a wave against the existing inequities and work towards building a common future. As we can see the pandemic was the first blow to setting our house in order. War, injustice, hatred, apathy, divisiveness are all being aggravated. All that is negative is coming to the surface and showing us a mirror to our ugliness. It will eventually be replaced by a new world order but not before the planet and its people have paid a price to learn these lessons.