As someone who writes articles and cracks jokes for a living, I am fascinated by the cycles of rage and outrage that appear on the Internet on a daily basis.
I wish I could say I am detached – but my livelihood depends on keeping track and opinionating on these outrages. Writing an article on a trending topic has brought me thousands of readers. Cracking a joke on a relevant person has won me applause and cheers. Suffice to say my livelihood depends on me being in tune with what’s the rage and outrage on the Internet.
But I managed to get into the eye of an outrage storm last month, and the entire experience – while tiring – has been fascinating for someone who studied culture and trends.
I wrote a blog on Hardik Pandya’s controversy on Koffee With Karan, and how it was unnecessarily being drummed up to be an issue.
If you are familiar with my blogs, you’ll know that they are peppered with abuses, sarcasms and jabs. I write for a newspaper, news websites, for TV channels, the Internet, for my stand-up bits – amidst all this, writing for my blog seems like a release – I can write what I want and move on without thinking about it too much.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here.
The article gained some traction and I got a request from the site – ThePrint. They asked me permission to repost the article after making minor changes to it. I agreed, because that is how I begin writing for most sites.
But not only was I NOT offered any money, ThePrint did not have the courtesy to reply to my repeated mails about the article. The worst bit though, was they edited the headline of the article. From The Lynching of Hard-Dick Pandya, it was changed to If Hardik Pandya was a woman, she would be hailed as a sexual revolutionary.
This was one line in the post, but making it the headline changed the slant of the article from political correctness to gender equality – which the article wasn’t about. They also added their own tagline to the article – Rich Liberals attacking Hardik Pandya same as Right-wing trolling of Naseeruddin Shah.
They also sanitised the article of all the puns and jokes. From a funny rant, it now read like the rabid outpouring of a deranged man.
Perhaps I could have gone about it in a smarter way. I later found out that the site was run by Shekhar Gupta. That it was accused by right-wingers as being leftist, and by liberals as being jingoistic. And I had uniquely brought myself into a situation where I was hated by both the sides!
The article began to get traction because the headline toed three trending topics that week – Hardik Pandya, Feminism, Political Correctness. I began to get comments on the post by readers who were ‘disappointed’ in me. I don’t understand this ‘disappointment’.
They all said that they’d been reading me for years, and were ashamed of being a subscriber after reading the article. I don’t get it – I write what I want, you don’t pay me a penny for it. On days that you smile, laugh or take your mind off work – do you send me a message saying ‘Thanks’? Better still, do you ask for my Google Pay number and transfer me some money? Where does this ‘disappointment’ stem from, then?
I generally reply to every comment or mail, and I was trying to do the same.
I tried explaining that misogyny or gender is hardly my point here. It was about being overly politically correct.
The one line that angered a lot of women in the article was this – If Hardik Pandya was a woman, she would be hailed as a sexual revolutionary. I still stand by the line. I think Indians don’t speak too often about sex. We need to address it, get comfortable with it, discuss it
The next question was – how do you know she would be hailed? Who would hail her? How can you speak on behalf of women when you’re a man? Accusation of ‘mansplaining’.
I have never understood that line of bullying. That being a man gives me no right to speak about women. Being a woman however, gives someone the right to comment on men’s behaviour. This is bigoted logic, but one cannot oppose it without being called a misogynist or sexist.
I do not claim to speak on behalf of women; I can only speak on behalf of myself. I would certainly have hailed her for speaking about sex on national television. Unfortunately, it was a case of a man presuming how society would have reacted to an imaginary comment by a woman, and the red flag began to flutter on Twitter.
THINGS STARTED GETTING SCARY
In the meanwhile, two important things happened – Baradwaj Rangan and Anurag Kashyap shared the article. These are two men whose craft and opinions I respect, and it felt wonderful to see that they echo my sentiments. But the warm feelings quickly began to subside.
Them sharing the article led to even more shares. From a few hundred shares on my blog, it spread far and wide – getting shared more than 10,000 times.
If you’ve read my blog, you’d know that I always reply to comments. If there’s a contrarian opinion, I always engage in a discussion. On the blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook – both on my blog page as well as The Print’s FB post.
By then, it was too late. I was already branded as a misogynist.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to debate with someone who has a preconceived notion of you.
The comments began about the article, slowly got personal, and then became about promoting rape culture. I was baffled how the interview, my article, or anything in the issue pertained to ‘rape culture’ in the first place.
One comment said, ‘Then you must also support the Nirbhaya rapists who gangrape women’. That one comment really shook my insides. For all their contributions to a great cause, most Indian feminists are rude, condescending, and bigoted in their views. Talking to a feminist is no different from talking to a BJP fanboy in many ways.
Also, I am sick of people bringing up Nirbhaya just to buffer their arguments. It is an insult to Nirbhaya herself, the trauma her family goes through, and every woman who has faced sexual assault. But unfortunately, there is no spectrum of moderation in Indian debates. You are either a bra-burning feminist or a Nirbahaya-rapist supporter. There is no middle ground, no scope for negotiation, no moderation of any sort.
A WORD ON INDIAN LIBERALS
Indian liberals are not very different from the hardcore right-wing.
Both these sections are constantly looking for ways to slot you into a category. Spoke against Congress? You are a Modi supporter! Spoke for Hardik Pandya? You support rape culture!
This narrative is so lazy, so uninspired, so dull – that you quietly back off into the background to avoid a splitting headache. What was most surprising was the reaction of my juniors. I studied in the University of Hyderabad – one of those Indian universities where the professors subtly plug moronic leftist agenda into their students.
The indoctrination in universities is astounding – you take an impressionable 20-year-old kid and feed him/her with your own ideology. You could walk into any Indian social-sciences university today, and you’ll find you need to fit into a ‘category’.
These are all kids with no real-world knowledge, haven’t worked a single job all their lives, their world is a limited, urban coterie of echo chambers, but now they are equipped with a rigid, myopic view of the world.
I generally laugh off my University juniors and their opinions but sadly, it didn’t just end with trolling.
I perform stand-up comedy shows all through the year and people started commenting on the events. One dude with an anonymous profile (but of course!) posted messages like ‘Do you also promote rape culture? ‘Cos Hriday Ranjan certainly does!’. Every single link or event I shared was met with the same response – some 20-year-old dumbfuck pissing his half-baked opinions on my wall.
I logged into Facebook the next day and the scenario was the same. The article had been shared over 30,000 times. I was being called a misogynist, a promoter of rape-culture. Friends of mine pinged me to say that their boss shared the article, and they are misogynists, and my article was enabling them, giving them a voice.
Memes began to be circulated of Hardik Pandya’s interview being compared to Rahul Dravid’s MTV Bakra clip from the 90s. Shit had hit the fan, but it wasn’t the first time something like this was happening. I was used to being trolled by fans of actors but being labelled as a supporter of rape because of an article really perplexed me.
In a few days, it was all gone, People found new things to outrage over, and I was glad the thing was beyond me. I had thought of putting up a post about what I meant, but it would seem like I was justifying my opinion – something I didn’t find necessary.
But then, something amazing happened. Rahul Dravid the man that Indian liberals were comparing Hardik Pandya to, himself commented on the issue. His take? That they were boys who made a mistake, the issue was being blown out of proportion, and that it was necessary to educate youngsters rather than chastising them.
So, I guess Rahul Dravid is a promoter of rape-culture too then, huh? And Anurag Kashyap, and Baradwaj Rangan, and all the men and women who shared the article – they must all be promoters of rape culture?
I have found that discussions and debates in the country are slowly descending into mud-slinging and name-calling. It certainly wasn’t the case a few years ago.
I have been writing for more than a decade now, and till a few years ago, someone who disagreed with my opinion would leave a long comment on the post. I would chill through the day and check the comment in the night and reply to it. Some of these debates would go on for days, and one got to learn of different opinions, facts, and viewpoints.
Around 2014, the rise of the right-wing in both India’s political spectrum and social media brought about a new phenomenon. Ardent devotees of the Supreme Leader who would bash your opinion to the ground, bury it in soil and piss all over it. But the liberals could at least be reasoned with.
In the last few years, the liberals have risen to challenge the right-wing in their own currency. What we have now is two cardboard boxes on either side of a debate. One must come running and quickly jump into one of the boxes. If you’re not a feminist, you are a misogynist. If you are an atheist, you must be a left-winger. If you criticise the BJP, you must be a ‘presstitute’ (whatever the fuck that term means). This type of categorisation is sickening and stifling.
To stay neutral, or to be able to pick pros and cons from different side – is called out as ‘hypocrisy’. Which is funny because in India, there is no real left-wing or right-wing.
These were concepts created for economic reasons, and in India, every party is a left-wing party. If you assume that the BJP is truly right-wing according to global standards, have a look at sops, subsidies, and demands for reservations among the ruling party this year. In India, right and left wing is determined primarily on religious grounds.
It is a laughable dichotomy to begin with, but turns out to be silly when you see passionately calling themselves either ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’.
In a few days, the news became stale.
Ranveer Singh wore an outrageous costume, or Jahnvi Kapoor picked her nose on the way to her gym, and all was good with the world again.
That, unfortunately, is the way we feel, discuss, and debate issues in our country.