September 7, 2015 By Mujeeb Rahman Kinaloor

Cyber Space and Misanthropy: The Case of Kerala?


Two years back, Former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh kicked up a row with his statement that ‘now’ India needed toilets rather than temples. Though this statement, which reflected the socio-political reality of the country, was not meant to incite communalism, the Sangh Parivar assailed him, terming the statement as anti-Hindu. Activists belonging to VHP and RSS reacted by hurling bottles of urine at his residence. I was reminded of this incident by the video-clip of a Malayalee, now getting fast viral, where he equated Babari Masjid to a toilet. The context of this malice was the visit of Grand Masjid in the US by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to the States. Someone remarked that it was a fitting moment to remember Babari Masjid, demolished under the lead of Mr. Modi’s party. Thus came the reply in the form of the video, saying Babari was not a masjid, but a toilet. Those who had desecrated Jairam Ramesh’s house gave their ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ to the video.

This is the latest example of the bitter truth that the state of Kerala has been communalized in the cyber sphere, too. Dialogues in the cyber world have turned out to be sectarian tug of war, blindly following a particular sect in a gut manner. If we dig deep to see the roots of the said video, we can realize that concerted attempt has been made to convert the cyberspace into a vehicle for inciting and transmitting communalism. Not merely the majoritarian sectarianism, but minority radicalism and atheistic Savarna elitism vie with one another to amass and count their ‘mass’ base using social media.

Aggressive communalism

It was communalism in its aggressive nature that comes to fore, overtly and provocatively, in the cyber space. There is no doubt that right-wing Hindutva forces are behind it. They use the social media space to tag, alienate and isolate Islam and Muslims as being anti-national and terroristic. The alienation process has been made all the more easier by the recent international and national political situations. Allegations aiming to link Muslims in Kerala with global militant movements like al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Boko Haram have put Muslims in the state on the defensive. The cunning tactics of aligning Kerala Muslims with global Islamic militancy has been rampant in the state with the aim of generating fear and hatred about them. Internet and social media have played a crucial role in spreading and channeling out Islamophobia in the state. The propaganda, once it has been made, gets established in the national mind as common sense reality. Hindutva brigades are trying to bring to fore negative discourses with the express aim of alienating Muslims. Slogans such as ‘minority becomes majority in Kerala’ and ‘minority rules majority’ are examples of this trend. The fact that minority political groups like Muslim League and Kerala Congress apparently play a decisive role in the coalition politics in the state might force gullible readers to take these slogans for granted. It is to be noted that social media platforms, including Facebook, have come up as a space for bandying around arguments that can be proven to be false and hollow in a deeper analysis.

Defensive Communalism

It won’t be wrong to say that Muslims are illiterate in the sense of not taking adequate measures when they talk about religion in the secular public space. Take, for instance, the issue of fifth ministerial portfolio for Muslim League. How did a political issue relevant for the coalition arrangement inside the ruling front become a Muslim issue? Muslim reactions to several activities organized by the BJP government after its enthronement in the center, to the venomous and spiteful dithyrambs of militant Hindutva leaders, communal riots and explosions orchestrated by RSS turned out to become, in many instances, a mirror of communal hatred. Gut aversion of religious and secular politicians to the all activities of the Modi government might help majoritarian communalism. This does not mean, on the other hand, that sankritisation, observance of Yoga Day, Cow protection and other similar programs and cultural interventions organized by the center should not be opposed.

Communalism as propagation

Sometimes, messages meant for propagating religion-spreading its message as well as reviving it-may engender doubt in the minds of other believers, just because those who spread them are hardly aware of the non-linearity and multiversity of the medium. Muslim groups are worse than others in this respect. When former President APJ Abdul Kalam died, posts by some Muslims and certain groups that questioned his faith are examples. Those were construed as Muslims’ disloyalty in preference for Pakistan. So are the Debates which aimed to counter the decision of the Abu Dhabi government to give land for building a Hindu temple on theological grounds. These would further enhance the deeply-entrenched common sense of ‘Muslim intolerance’. When theological registers such as polytheism, paganism, kafir, shirk etc. are indiscriminately used in the public space, tags of communalism and fundamentalism are born in its wake. Theological debates on the permissibility of Onam festival are bandied around with hardly any sense of their potentiality of misinterpretation or of hurting the sentiments of others. If internal debates on Muslim identity, Sharia, sartorial mannerism, rituals etc. are reproduced in the public space in the same tone and tenor, they would engender doubts and misinterpretations and expedite the process of communal polarization. Sharp theological tenor used by religious scholars to answer believers’ questions regarding the permissibility of giving donation to temples and Hindu rituals will pave the way for misinterpretation. That religious scholars fail to read, communicate and interpret religious knowledge in a language used in multi-religious space will further worsen social divisiveness.

Role of secularists

Secular atheists are not far behind anyone in this propaganda of hatred. Facebook pages handled by a few rationalist and secular groups clearly bear this out. Debates and discussions denigrating and ridiculing Gods, prophets and saintly figures might incite ordinary believers to put their weight behind communalists who claim to be the sole custodians and spokespersons of faith. In the context of the government move to ban porn, social media circulated the wall paintings of nude gobs with a slur. Who would have benefitted from that?


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