“Aaj kal toh sarkar ke khilaf kuch bhi likh nahi sakte (These days you can’t say a word against government)”
This is the most repeated statement you hear in drawing rooms and dining tables. A vague statement that conveys only one thing, “fear”. When industrialist Rahul Bajaj said there is atmosphere of fear, the country’s highest authorities the Union Ministers hit back with red red eyes and shrill angry voices saying, “Fear, what fear? Aren’t you standing there saying all these things to us, and aren’t we hearing and giving reply? Then what fear? How dare you say fear and malign the country’s name?”
People sitting at the highest power position should be magnanimous enough to quietly listen to citizens and carry on with their duties. They should be tolerant towards criticism even if unfair. The very fact that Union Ministers “hit back” is intimidating.
BJP is thorough in their communication, content is created centrally distributed via all possible channels online, print, web, in 360 degree directions, vertically and horizontally. Amit Malaviya gave the cue and right wing twitter handles trended his name for 3 days abusing Mr. Bajaj. All asking, “Fear, what fear? How dare you say fear, you congi stooge.”
Reminds us of the poem “Bhoy Peona” by Sukumar Ray. The demon with its horns and fangs pays a visit to a lesser mortal and said, “Fear not, fear not, Kill I will not.” He said “fear not” repeatedly, explained that the weapon in his hands are rather light, the horns he never uses, but the man was still scared to go with the demon into its hole. So he got angry and said, “Assuring you for so long, won’t you listen? You wished to be thrashed now, don’t you? It’s not just me here, there be my wife, and my nine sons. Bite we will all together, if you fear us needlessly.”
“Fear not, fear not, kill you, I will not,” says the demon with horns and fangs.
The message India got is, be afraid be very afraid. If you say a word that is unpleasant to the powers that be they will be very angry and come after you. So stay quiet. And that’s how dissenting voices are silenced.
Backlash is not new, it is something feminists, activists and political leaders have always faced. Back in the 70s there was this thing called Heckler’s Veto. A crowd of rowdy men would start shouting from the audience the moment a speaker will take the stage, they will shout so much that the speaker will get off the stage to maintain peace of the event. Trolling is an online version of Heckler’s Veto. We fight this, we endure this and march on.
But things get particularly terrorizing when it goes beyond yelling trolling and the State machinery starts attacking us. Last week we had two bizarre headlines:
“SP leader booked for calling UP CM Ajay Bisht” https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/lucknow/sp-leader-booked-for-calling-up-cm-ajay-bisht-6151394/
“AMU students booked for calling for a protest to mark the 27th anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition.” https://www.news18.com/news/india/two-amu-students-booked-for-sharing-post-calling-for-protest-over-babri-masjid-demolition-2415731.html
These headlines have a different kind of terrorizing impact on readers. You start thinking, really? Is it illegal to call the UP CM Ajay Bisht? But that was his name earlier isn’t it, he changed it later. So is it illegal to take somebody’s real name? Can there be a law about names? Is it illegal to protest Babri Masjid demolition? But people have a right to protest in a democracy, don’t we? Now even SC has given a decision that the Babri demolition was wrong, then why can’t we protest a wrong, declared to be wrong by none other than SC? A wrongful act is to be protested rather than celebrated. Don’t the right wing celebrate ‘Shaurya Divas’ on 6th December? So they can celebrate a wrong, but we cannot protest a wrong, that doesn’t seem right, does it?
You do not know the answer to any of these questions. There is no follow up on these headlines, so you do not know what happened after these people were “booked” for such silly grounds? Hell, you don’t even know what is being “booked”, “FIR suna tha, ye booking kya hota hai,” you wonder. (It means FIR is registered and the person’s name is in it, but cops have not yet made any arrest).
But not knowing the law is no excuse. So you are confused and terrified to now take the name of Ajay Bisht or say a word against Babri Masjid.
This is how the BJP-RSS and right wing affiliates in UP disciplining the citizens into eternal silence. The local police at the lowest ranks are in cohort with right wing groups (Bhartiya Janta Yuwa Morcha in case of the AMU students) so the moment somebody comes with whatever flimsy FIR against predictable targets police quickly registers it without applying mind just to make scary headlines. The news is filed with PTI, ANI and splashed across India in all major dailies and websites. These are open and shut cases, perhaps next day the FIR gets quashed, police may say we made a mistake but that news wouldn’t reach you because the point was to terrorize you. Funnily, same police do not register FIR when a woman comes with rape complaints.
This is called creating an atmosphere of fear, a purely fascist technique using state machinery and abuse of legal process. There are many more such mechanism, like the threat of defamation.
This has to stop and I am trying to think of legal ways.