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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The deceptively cultivated rise of the ‘Rebel’

As a country that is still in the throes of intellectual colonization and in appreciation of European aesthetics and accents, and words spoken in the appropriate settings of a news room by a journalist, Bharatiya audiences are some of the easiest target for commentary masquerading as news, of which this article is a reasonable example.

On one hand we have hooligans screaming that channels like Al Jazeera must be boycotted because it is an Arabic name, and on the other, we have an educated elite that appreciates its sophisticated news-reading and well-written articles and consumes all of this content with no introspection or understanding of the nuances because it would be an inconvenience.

The psychology of the Positive Reinforcement Theory is something that has been used in every advert in the country, and yet, not only do we remain incognizant of the possibility of such phenomena in the everyday, but also of the effect of it on our minds. If every fifth article in the newspapers, on Google Discover, YouTube, AIB, news channels and in memes mentions a word/ phrase in a particular context, we unconsciously tend to use it in our regular vocabulary. Can you blame a mind bombarded with the excitement of new information and micro dopamine hits to dissect such content?

As a process, it has become easier over time for Positive Reinforcement to be established, with the advent of multiple channels of media consumption, especially digital media. We watch people we hold in high regard – actors, authors, economists, journalists – admirable occupations all, and hear them discuss one word a year. These words are often accompanied by large-scale offline and online events.

Do we remember the “Intolerance Debate” and the award wapasi campaign? And the cruelty of those on the ‘tolerant’ wing of authors towards one of their own who refused to toe their line?

Dr. Vikram Sampath, the founder of the highly successful Bangalore Literature Festival and the winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, in addition to multiple others, had to step down as Chairman of the organizing committee so that the show could go on.

Another such word is “nationalist”, as if people in favour of policy change and national development are inherently against the rest of the world; even Wikipedia defines the word in a harmless manner “Nationalism is an idea and movement that promotes the interests of a particular nation (as in a group of people), especially with the aim of gaining and maintaining the nation’s sovereignty (self-governance) over its homeland.”

Does this sound like a negative trait, either as a definition or as an adjective? When it does become terribly wrong is when this is what you consume about nationalism:

Pope warns Spanish prime minister of rise of nationalism, ideology 

Traders of Dubious Nationalism

WHO chief warns against ‘vaccine nationalism’

‘Solid achievement’ of BJP’s ‘hate-filled cultural nationalism’: Rahul Gandhi on IMF projections

Nationalism abusing history often, says Romila Thapar

We can discuss how each of these articles share an agenda, but more importantly, reading this from multiple sources will make the thinking few immediately dissociate with the identity of a nationalist, an identity accorded gracefully by some of the same media to M.K. Gandhi. Nobody who reads such commentary wants to “dubiously trade” in nationalism or argue against the Pope, a man who is hailed as bringing about a sort of renaissance in modern global Catholicism.

The same slow and solid destruction of “majoritarian”, a word that is literally the basis of democracy is ongoing at this time. So, when do we all, as a nation, want to start exchanging the word terrorist for rebels or armed fighters?

Listed above are some articles in Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir. See how difficult it is for the mind to retain that four-worded phrase – Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir?

In case you are kind enough to have come thus far in reading my article, please note that I have effectively made you read Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir three times now, making it slightly easier for your mind to associate terrorism in Kashmir with Pakistan.

It is a country that openly harbours those who massacred countless Kashmiri civilians, most of them Muslim, but also those who proudly claim to back the insurgency in Kashmir. And yet, we happily allow publications to play on not only our relaxed minds but also those of our youth, who grow up truly believing that like the rebels in Hong Kong, an autonomous territory handed over by the British after a century to Communist China, with “rebels” participating in protests en masse, terrorists in Kashmir are merely helpless citizens clamouring for their right to be heard rather than killing people in cold, cold blood in manners pre-meditated and murderous.

We are happy to allow such articles in the name of free speech, a curious version bandied about only in Bharat, and never in England, a country famed for its colonial past. Coloured agendas that are persistently working toward the death of more civilians and encouraging the rise of more disillusioned youth in terror factories are not ever flagged on Google, in PILs, on social media, and at any attempts to have them look in their unclean mirrors, they receive not even a tap on the wrist. 

When Forbes covered the phenomenon of the rise of the Qatari-government owned media house, Dale Buss pointed out the selective reporting saying, “Imagine an analysis of Coca-Cola’s problems that neglected to mention its soft drinks are being blamed for obesity. Or a story about newspapers’ woes that failed to discuss the competition presented by news delivered via the internet.” I would argue that the malaise it not only represents, but also creates, is so much more insidious.

In a country with very varied demographics, cultures, languages, histories and agendas, the polarization of today’s people into “right” or “liberal” is an extremely dangerous and effective disarming of democracy. As readers and informed citizens of Bharat, what do we do when we become part, party and prey of the politics of a different nation?

The support for Black Lives Matter was a cry that percolated to the depths of fashion influencer Instagram posts in Bharat, a country where we love Chris Gayle but call all Nigerians drug dealers. Bharat is not the USA whose demographics are so laughably different and very unvaried, relatively.

For all those people in Bharat who buy every topic for their news from a country that is only recently even on friendly terms with Bharat, pushed together by multiple global crises, imagine a Hong Kong populace buying their news from Australia. No one there seems to be in the mood, though, regardless of political allegiances, not that it would ever be allowed anymore.

Democracy allows each individual to vote in secret for the party whose policies seem beneficial to them, but so much more importantly, allows them to change their minds every five years. The last is possible for those who see direct results of policy change and implementation. What about those who stubbornly remain blind but then also proselytize blindness?

While the education system has prepared us to consume and memorize all the content and information we come across, it has not taught us to critically analyze any. But what about those blatantly changing definitions and thus the subjective realities of tangible deaths in the Kashmir valley?

We, as literate, if not educated, consumers, will keep being fed beautifully scripted, agenda-laden books and videos and memes, allowing us to not only equate politics with religion, but to make politics our religion, and never change our minds in our living lifetimes. At least let us be aware that our continuous consumption of such media fuels further deaths of civilians in a system they never asked to be part of but remain in.

Kashmir is a beautiful valley torn to pieces by AFSPA and insurgency, low employment and religious strife. The valley deserves peace, even much more than rebuilding. Kashmir deserves the voices of its Sikhs that have resolutely lived their despite the Chattisingpora massacre and the voices of the beleaguered Muslim population, some of who have come to be funded to terrorise due to the lack of employment generation and insulation from much of the world. But terrorists in Kashmir kill old men, children, women, husbands, sons, fathers, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Bharatiyas.

Should a Qatar-based media house decide that the man who killed the 85-year old Haji Ghulam Mohammad Dar who was coming back from the mosque after his evening prayers is a “rebel” rather than a terrorist? Perhaps we can be grateful that his son did not read Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Riyaz Naikoo’s death, but now you have. The police is not going to launch a manhunt for misinformation on your behalf.

Will Bharatiyas keep paying to feed on fast lies as we have on fast food? We’ve done so for seven decades, so it is reasonable to expect the same to continue. I want to be hopeful today, though, instead of reasonable.

-by Sagorika Sinha

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