Elite Puran, Ulot Puran — English Transcript

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Few days back, I read an editorial piece in Anandabazar which stated, “Only ultra-secular people will not be happy with the decision on Kashmir!”.

This is amusing because the idea you mentioned, secularism, does not come in fractions and multiples. You can either be secular, or be communal. I guess the author was making fun of the situation. Mocking the idea altogether. This trend however, is not limited to secularism. We generally take pride in the fact that our country is the world’s largest democracy. But, of late, the idea of a democracy has mutated into a majoritarian scheme with increasing stress solely on the majority’s priorities and ideologies. A structure which excels in stifling voices of dissent.

The same thing applies to the definition of nationalism — devotion towards a political party or an elected government is being construed as devotion towards the nation.

I think, this is a sly attempt at passing off jingoism as an evolved form of nationalism. We have seen, how after the Pulwama incident, people did not hesitate to term all Kashmiris as terrorists. I have seen, how in my own city, Kashmiri shawl traders were being assaulted. There were instances where university students were being harassed solely due to their Kashmiri identities. And when people voiced their protests against such acts, they were confronted with a bizarre argument. Any guesses? “Why didn’t you protest in the past?”. When a person protests against any shameful incident and another person starts mentioning wrongdoings in the past in an attempt to justify the present one, it brings to the fore, a dangerous mentality. What the second person actually means is that the present wrongdoings are in retaliation for the things that went wrong in the past.

I feel there is also a tendency to spread confusion related to some things which come up frequently in pop culture. A video went viral of a rap performed at MTV Hustle where the singer states, “I am a Feminist and hence I will harass the boys. I will use my body for getting promotions because I am a Feminist.”. The anchor was seen jumping with glee, saying things like “pseudo-Feminism”! People often say that Feminism is actually misandry! However, you are either a Feminist, or a sexist.

You will find this pattern used for making slangs out of the rational ideologies. We have these terms like “sickular” or “feminazi”.

There are very specific narratives for belittling and harassing the ideas …

Narrative creation is a form of art. They take the most important problems, be it social, political or even economic and break them into oversimplified bite-sized pieces — it is easy to figure out that they do this in an attempt to prevent people from understanding the original problem by making them go round and round in the same irrelevant discourses.

Just like you mentioned, there were conscious attempts to divert people from what was going on in Kashmir by publicly saying things like, “My bachelor Muslim brothers are very happy with this decision as they can now have fair Kashmiri girls for their wives!”. Is that his idea of nationalism?

Not sure about his nationalism but I do find nationalism being injected into discourses like bringing army or ISRO, out of context, in conversations.

Although army and ISRO are used as counter-arguments, I hardly find them being aware about the real problems people at army or at ISRO face. For example, ISRO stopped the provision for double increments for some of the grades from the first week of July.

Yes and they are equally indifferent towards the army.

One rank one pension!

When so many people died at Pulwama, I have seen people lamenting furiously. What about the obvious questions? How can an incident like this happen? Where and how did the intelligence agencies fail?

The general idea is how people in the army are only there to die for the country.

Yes and how well I can use their deaths for political vantage during elections.

The extent at which people are feeding on whatever they find on Facebook or WhatsApp…

They are spreading confusion through the carefully-worded headlines as they are confident that people would not read the actual content that comes after.

Someone like Amartya Sen! His views are being represented in a manner you mentioned, by which they are trying to label him as “a supporter or an opponent of so-and-so political ideology”. Media is the culprit here.

When people come out on the streets with their demands, this type of media and/or politics tell people, “Ignore them. Their activism is of no value!”.
A poem comes to mind —
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

If I harbor this (mis)understanding, it is dangerous!

Whenever there is a student movement, you will hear, “Study, study, no peace I find! Just government money keeps activism on my mind!”

When someone is in college, that is an important time for him/her to develop his/her political ideology. It is a starting point for developing ideas on what is and what should not be going on, in the country. However, I am finding a general sense of indifference in them. “Ultimately, politics is doing no good for the country. So, why should I be anything but apolitical? You can not change anything.”. What do you think will happen when it’s time for these apolitical people to vote? Exactly how it’s done every time — political parties will come up with newer gimmicks and will get away with their votes.

When we were in college, were we really that politically aware?

Bullseye! However, the current situation is a little different. You have to understand that back then social media did not have the reach it has now. Now whenever anything reaches social media, there is always a tendency to spread and fuel more and more propaganda. The students are more connected to social media now and hence, it is inevitable that they would be affected by it. There lies the difference. We might have been less informed but never misinformed.

I get to hear this “politics is dirty”, a lot. People have mastered this art of dissecting a person or a thing into political and apolitical entities which can never fuse into one. They get irritated when someone voices his/her political opinion. They hate to see “political” things.

Yes, it is as if people having political opinions come from a different planet while the others have nothing to do with politics.

“I will not learn anything political. I have no business talking about people.”

This brings me to the recent times in my city when the junior doctors started protesting. Strangely, I found a huge number of people being affected by it. They took to social media in large numbers and showered their disgust on the state government. There was a lot of anger. However, it was disappointing to see that when things cooled down, there were no updates on the later developments which made me think whether this was like a festival. A festival indeed! We were frolicking through our choice and frequency of expletives, busy competing over who has the most statuses and then all of a sudden, it was over. People moved on.

Few days later, there was an incident at Jorhat where a retired doctor was killed by a mob. The incident of protesting doctors, which had triggered the social media posts and shares in the first place, failed to generate any response when all the culprits were out on bail. Silence! Moreover if you think the students have it hard, think about the protesting teachers who were first flogged and then advised, “Why are you protesting? What will your students learn if you get busy with activism?”.

Come to think of it, what if one makes it very easy for lies to reach us? And then, if I do not have a rational political ideology, why would I take the pain to search for the truth? I have these different forms of media at my disposal which decide which facts I should see. If the mass is sharing something, I would also follow suit. This a well practiced exercise which is why we have this strange situation now.

The temptation to cut corners while learning about something, almost always leads to a skewed understanding. Over-generalization. Don’t they say, “They are always so dirty. They are always so violent.” ? There is usually an “always” or a “never” in their statements.

There is also this weird trend of blaming the circumstances of the distant past, the political situation during independence for example, for the current problems. Although at times, few historic decisions do have their relevance. I can’t deny.

People find it difficult to spot the gray areas. There is always a binary. Black vs white. Good vs bad. Say, one person is too good to be anything short of a superhuman. Everything that they do is gold and nothing is a mistake. Do you see the problem? If the person actually does something wrong, there would be scores of people justifying the behavior. What naturally follows is the idea that the opposition can never do anything worthwhile.

Exactly! I find this missing in the general discourse that a person can have contradicting ideas. There is no space for such coexistence. You are either a Right or a Left.

They will brand people as “Communists” or “intellectuals”. This labelling happens both ways. I would call someone a “sanghi” or even a “chaddi”.

It is always — it’s my way or the highway.

Fault lies on both sides.

Yes, exactly!

The content that is being shared on social media timelines has become the single source of information for many. They are not seeking the information about what is going on in the country from any form of journalism.

The IT cells funded by crores and crores of rupees are now potent tools of manipulation. They are basically curating the feeds that you mentioned.

I saw the documentary, “The Great Hack”. You will find the patterns mentioned there to be exactly how it is for us! The last Trump campaign invested one million dollars daily just on Facebook ads.

I believe every political party comes with its own IT cell. The scale at which they operate is naturally dictated by the amount of money the party has. These IT cells manufacture content — some lies, some half-truths for social media with the sole idea of influencing the mandate of the people through deception. They also play an active role in demonizing people who put forward rational arguments in the face of this deceit. They create anti-posts to project these rational people in the general perception in a negative light. eg. “The real truth behind so-and-so!”

And the general public starts normalizing the bullying of these people.

It is easy to know about Amartya Sen’s contribution to the society if one has done some basic reading and has kept themselves updated. There is a conscious attempt at creating a perception that he should only talk about economics. We know how Amartya thinks about the society through his writings but it is now possible to get away with such statements about him. Arundhati Roy. One who has been the voice of the oppressed and the anti-establishment is now being labeled as a “Naxalite” by our media! On the other hand, some of the established people who we perceive as being knowledgeable, endorse the misinformation and bullying. If they intentionally or spontaneously share such ideas on social media, independent trolls or possibly the IT cells themselves, project them as idols. People are not looking any further. They are referring to “Oh! So-and-so are also of the same opinion. Hence, they must be correct.”.

Celebrities having a considerable fan following were approached with a simple request — “You don’t need to support our party directly but try and sneak in few appreciation posts for the government while denouncing the parties in opposition.” Any civil debate quickly turns into a boxing match between two political parties.

These debates actually end up dividing the people. Even if you have an opinion, you will not be able to actually voice them. You will choose not to. You will stay clear of any public discussions, be it on a bus or at any public place.

If someone finds out that a person has a different ideology, they will try hard to socially boycott each other. This might have started with political ideologies but it will not stop here.

True, this is a strategy. You will find memes floating around social media which are political. Absolutely political. But without any political logo. The one who is sharing the meme, feels like, “See, I am not being political here. This is commonly being shared. This is an ordinary meme.” But we know how in India or even in America, concepts like Pappu or Crooked Hillary were being widely circulated.

They might be feeling like, “This is what all the people around me are thinking.”

There are increasing attempts being made at keeping people away from the truth. In addition to that, narratives are being thrown around with the sole intention of keeping the people busy fighting each other, over these ideas, for weeks.

They have stopped the news from reaching the mainland. And the people here are busy in debates. One will say, “This is a masterstroke!”, while someone else will…

I think it will be impossible to have fair elections, going forward. The grounds on which public conscience is formed, is highly manipulated. They might say, “No! Transparent elections are being conducted without any violence. People are voting in large numbers.” Even if we consider that to be true, here’s the catch — the one who is appearing in the exams is not cheating during the exams but has set the question paper beforehand.

“There goes an elite!”, “There, a non-elite” — this distinction is being driven by English. People who are well-versed in English are facing a negative bias. Fluency in English has for the longest time been treated as a mark of being knowledgeable.

There is a certain logic to this. People being targeted are usually people who have been educated or are educators in some foreign university. How will they be able to feel for the poor, for the ground reality or for the feelings of the general public? They are not supposed to. All they can do is to sit in AC rooms and criticize. Their statements lack substance. They are unrealistic. This perception has been propagated. “Who is speaking?”, “What is their background?” — are all the people are busy with. “What are they speaking about?”- is no longer important. And anyone who speaks well in English is being labelled as disconnected with the mass and the ground reality.

Anything that demands thought or deep introspection or is a serious issue — is being rejected. They are looking for things that will make them sentimental, or angry at…

It becomes a matter of great pride if you can troll people are more privileged and established than you are. The identities of these people become so important that when they voice their concerns about anything, others will intentionally jump into the discussion and attack them for any past incident. “Why were you silent then?” A very appropriate point raised in a recent debate by Chandril Bhattacharya, comes to mind. The example he shared, though was entirely hypothetical and imaginary, was something I could relate to. A person had gone to protest Nirbhaya’s incident with a festoon. They were stopped on their way by another person who asked, “You, who have come to protest today, did you come out and protest for the rapes on so-and-so dates?”. Puzzled, the protester could only manage a feeble, “Not quite”. “GO BACK TO YOUR HOME!”, was the reply. This is what it has come to.

A society, as large as ours, has conveniently earmarked few on whom the entire responsibility of protest rests!

If someone has an opinion and that opinion is criticized, it is pretty common for the person to take the criticism personally. If someone takes the counter-arguments personally and reacts accordingly, the original discourse takes a beating. Is it any different from a personal feud?

Now, if you label someone as “illiterate”, their reaction is justified!

Yes, they will refuse treatment in a sense. They will never try to address the gaps in their understanding…

Ravish Kumar was awarded Ramon Magsaysay. He spoke about an inequality in his acceptance speech. Knowledge inequality. It is a privilege to have an access to “the resources for quality knowledge”. If someone is not aware of the gaps in their understanding, will it be right to blame them? You are aware of their gaps but owing to your sense of superiority, you never make an effort to let the other person know. That is where the problem lies.

I keep going back to a recent speech by Kanhaiya. He was saying how we, who claim to be woke, have shied away from making unaware people aware. We are accountable for the state we are in. If we know it is wrong…

Misinformation is…

More than misinformation, I find widespread manipulation. As with information, ideas are also crucial. I find wrong ideas being deliberately planted. Someone who brings out the truth, will naturally face criticism and trolling. But if they lose hope and feel, “It’s better to be quiet. Let it be.”, then I do not think there is any scope for betterment. There really is none.

The bullying goes both ways. They, who attack other people for their elitism, also get bullied by the other side. By people who consider knowledge to be something proprietary and not open-source. They will try hard, not to share their knowledge with the lesser mortals. There is a sense of insecurity.

Empathy is the key here. I may have a very different life from theirs. I may not be able to meet them personally in this lifetime. But, if I don’t get to know about their problems, if I don’t care to seek, the obvious happens — the way our society reacts from their safe bubbles — “They deserve this! All is well!” — this is expected. This gap in understanding will stay if I do not take the responsibility. This is where, elites, non-elites, educated and the uneducated become irrelevant. I will be able to know how wrong things are only if I let the truth reach me.

In one edition of Media Rumble, Swara Bhaskar was asked, “Have there been any real-life consequences for people who put out outright threats?”. In the course of this discussion, they talked about a phenomenon. When you are online, you tend to loosen your inhibitions. People start feeling less uneasy about pulling someone down on social media or gaslighting them. However, they would not do this in real life. There is this story about a reporter named Joel Stein. He had a repeat troll named Megan who never failed to attack him on Twitter. One day, Joel tweeted her asking if he could buy her lunch. To his surprise, Megan agreed and after she met him, she did not kick his ass like she used to tweet to him. When he asked her why she “didn’t punch me, at least tell me off” on one occasion, Megan replied, “You just extruded smarminess that I found off-putting.” and “Why would I do that?”. “The Internet is the realm of the coward. These are people who are all sound and no fury.”

Narratives create trends. When people start taking part in such trends, they end up bullying someone. They would perhaps not think of doing the same if they meet their targets personally.

But then, I really do not think that the entire responsibility lies with (news) media or even with social media.

How we define “media” is also important. Are news channels the only medium we have? Perhaps not. The contemporary works of art and culture, be it cinema or even music, are all part of media. Aren’t they? I find bits and pieces of reality in them, but that reality almost never drives the narrative. A cinema which is political from start to finish that reflects the real circumstances we are in, as a society!

I was listening to a podcast about whether or not politics should feature in a cinema. Neeraj was mentioning about how you can not label cinema as political or apolitical merely on the basis of political leaders being shown in them. Political is (like we talked about) when you lend your voice to the voiceless.

I was reading a recent piece in Anandabazar about the time when in this country, or in this state mainly — I am talking about Indian People’s Theatre Association — when artists from West Bengal used to stage plays in the villages with little or no infrastructure for reaching out to the masses.

The poem on mob lynching that I was talking about, was not performed by the guy in the current month or the one before that. The video had been there for long. I guess it always takes time.

We have to acknowledge that the problem that we have been talking about, throughout this discussion, can be solved or even mitigated to some extent, only if people at every hierarchy of this system do their bit. The films I keep going back to are the ones that were born out of the contemporary political climate. If the people currently making films, are solely motivated by the box office income, then it is almost certain that they will come up with one nationalist film every year. My bad, not one but numerous such films each year which are also high “income” films. That’s fine. I have no qualms about their income but do they reflect the realities? The real idea of a nation, the idea which we talked about in the beginning? A nation is entirely made up of its people and their associated problems. Where are they struggling? How are the minorities being treated?

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A podcast in Bengali on things we love and ideas we care about. www.triangularvishon.com

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