Are we hiding under a cloak of fake patriotism to justify our bad behaviour?
Barkha Dutt’s article in Hindustan Times titled Let’s Talk About Trolls – Online Abuse a Weapon to Silence Women, is an unpleasant read, to say the least.
She says, “I have been called a whore, a ‘randi’, ‘c***', bitch and ‘presstitute' on Twitter and other social media platforms so often that now I barely notice it. It is not unusual for me to get tweets that go like this: “Tum agar randi bhi ban jaogi, phir bhi tujhe koi nahi ch*****” (even if you become a prostitute, no one will have sex with you). My mobile number has been shared publicly on multiple online platforms urging people to send me abusive and threatening messages.”
She goes on to talk about the “gossip” and “speculations” surrounding her marital status. “I have been married off to men who either don’t exist or who do but have had no romantic connection to me. Even my Wikipedia profile is routinely edited (despite formal complaints to them) to describe me as married to these men. The tweets about my fictional husbands have underlined that the men were Muslim by way of explaining my secularism — which, of course, is a word used as a slur.”
I have constantly seen these kinds of messages about Barkha Dutt, and other women journalists on Twitter and Facebook over the last few years. I remember there was a time when such comments used to shock or upset me. However, over time, I started getting desensitised to them without even realising it. Now, I can scan through rude, obscene and provocative remarks by online trolls without batting an eye.
Our country is just a land, the borders of which were decided due to hundreds of factors–wars, colonial rule, happenstance even. Since Indians don’t have much in common—we speak multiple languages and dialects, practise different religions, eat different types of food—our great leaders decided to celebrate that very same diversity, a masterstroke for sure. But, sadly, this very patriotism has degenerated into jingoism, and an excuse for insulting and degrading someone who doesn’t agree with us. So Barkha becomes a sickular presstitute who is selling out our great nation. Also, note how insults towards women are highly sexual. So, if Rajdeep Sardesai is a ‘sickular journalist’, Barkha Dutt gets called a presstitute (a mangling of 'press' and 'prostitute'), and gets abused for her looks and relationships.
The chances of people behaving badly increases exponentially with the chances of getting away with it. So we are rude on the vast, partially anonymous world of Internet, behind the mask of fake accounts. We are rude with our maids and drivers and other people who are our subordinates. I recently listened to a bunch of outraged neighbours in my 'upscale' apartment complex rant about a Karate instructor after a disagreement on fees charged by him. “How dare a mere instructor argue with the apartment residents?” was the shocked question. So it is no surprise to read the latest update from the BookMyBai blog.
The below is an excerpt.
BookMyBai is in a very high eye-ball business. Almost everyone needs our service. There is a common saying, “Maid–You can’t live with them, you can’t live without them”. We started BookMyBai with an aim to permanently disrupt this industry and become the go-to service whenever a family needs a domestic help.
We all are fans of some celebrity or other. We look up to them. They become role models. Some of them also get prestigious national awards for their work. BookMyBai has worked very closely with a lot of Bollywood celebrities and provided them with a good domestic help in Mumbai and other cities and our experience has not been less than horrendous.
This piece that I am writing is to bring awareness of how some of these Bollywood celebrities exploit services. I know that I am generalizing and weighing them all in the same scale. But I am only talking out of my personal experience of providing a domestic help to over 20 Bollywood celebrities in Mumbai. This is also to put in a word of caution to other buddy-startups who might fall into the trap and end up losing that precious revenue. As a matter of fact, now BookMyBai has a blanket ban on all Bollywood celebrities and we have instructed our team to not provide domestic help to any of them.
The blog goes on to share several examples, like the one below.
She came to us looking for a male helper at a budget of Rs. 4000 per month! This is even lower than the minimum wage of Maharashtra. We refused and told her that we won’t be able to provide a helper in this budget (wonder where does all the money go which she earns through her movies). After a lot of negotiation, she finally agreed upon Rs 10,000 per month... We went ahead and provided the helper and all was going well. Unfortunately, the mother of the helper passed away. The helper was from Bihar and he wanted to go back to Bihar to perform the last rituals. He promised to be back after 15 days since he wanted the money to support his family. The “celebrity” called us and told us that she won’t let the person go till the time we send in a replacement. This was at 5.45 pm on a Saturday evening. Our office is shut on Sundays. We promised to send a replacement on Monday and requested her to release the helper since he has to go for his mother’s last ritual. Guess what! She did not. She could not care less. We did give a replacement on Monday. But the helper missed out on his mother’s last ritual.
Recently, when unsubstantiated news was floating around that Snapchat CEO had called India a poor country, there was outrage. How dare some rich firang insult our great nation? Sample some of the comments below. There were hundreds of others in similar tone and tenor.
Progress can only come from acceptance of one’s flaws. Acceptance of one’s flaws can only come from introspection. Can we Indians find it in us to stop getting defensive and try and do better, try and be better?