Ranjona Banerji: Twitter hysterics get twisted in political faultines

05 Aug,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


Social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, engage and enrage people but I have no way of knowing how significant the impact is. The reach is small in terms of internet usage, education, economic status and so on. But it does appear that the impact is disproportionate. Is this because many journalists, commentators and politicians are on Twitter and Facebook and they feel that they have more power over people’s minds than they actually do? Or is it true – as in the Arab Spring – that social media is the most effective tool currently available for people to spread their thoughts and ideas and get a movement going?


On Monday night, there was a lot of anger on Twitter and Facebook. But it was a very odd kind of anger. A story emerged on Monday about a young teacher of English and Hindi at a madarsa near the UP town of Meerut, who had been kidnapped, she said by madarsa officials, who assaulted and forcibly converted her to Islam and then she was gangraped by at least four men. UP has suffered several incidents of communal violence recently – Muslims and Jats, Muslims and Hindus and just last week, Muslims and Sikhs. This incident has put a dangerous situation on a cliff’s edge. The woman also claimed that others like her had been similarly abducted and confined. People gathered on the streets to protest. The UP government has been singularly lax with law and order.


Now this incident is horrific enough: kidnap, assault, forcible religious conversion and the worst of all, gangrape.


But this by itself is not what angered several worthies on social media. The rage started when leftist-feminist-activist Kavita Krishnan tweeted this: “Ugly communal sentiment by RSS visible on twitter over Meerut rape. If this is also true on the ground, another Muzaffarnagar awaits.”


This angered all fans of the RSS so much that Krishnan was issued all kinds of insults and abuses, including this by Rati Parker, a prominent and popular proponent of rightwing politics on Twitter, “Will pray tht she à (krishnan’s twitter handle) gets raped by the Madarsa walas n is forced to don the hijab permanently. All of us will be “polite”.


Some found Krishnan’s mention of the RSS and her attributing communal colour to them unconscionable. She did not it was pointed out say anything about Muslims being involved in the committed atrocities and instead appeared to blame the RSS. This crime in today’s world is unpardonable apparently. Also some demanded that Krishnan also be at the forefront of the protests in support of the girl as she had been in December 2012 after the Delhi gangrape.


Krishnan followed her first tweet with this, “What communalists don’t get it (is?), that in any rape/crime collective punishment – ie punishing the community is wrong. Punish rapists.”


I am unsure whether this made matters better or worse. Krishnan anyway was lynched all over Twitter and Facebook for her double standards. Apart from the suggestion that she be raped, she also had the worst insult heaped on her by “patriots” in these times: “Naxal”. Inevitably, all “secular liberals” were condemned for being, well, secular and liberal. These insults are just a bit less, er, terrible than “Naxal” apparently.


Parker some pointed out was just a “troll” because that is the ultimate excuse for anything offensive anyone says. Although Parker is not a troll in the customary sense. She uses her own name and her own picture. Those who attacked Krishnan conceded that maybe Parker (when the troll defence did not work) has just gone a bit overboard. Because praying that women get raped is acceptable but saying that the RSS is communalising an issue is not.


All that happened actually was that people thought along the usual faultlines. Those who find the RSS’s communalism intolerable defended Krishnan. Those who felt that the RSS was being unfairly attacked felt Krishnan herself should be raped.


In all this, the victim of the gangrape, the implications of the crime and the social fallout was conveniently forgotten and ignored.


Oh yes, did I forget to mention that the media was also blamed for the whole thing somewhere down the line? Of course. Who else?


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