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So I was having this chat with my daughter and she tells me India is a mess. I say what? She wants to know if I have seen Greta Thunberg’s tweet about the farmers’ protests in Delhi. And if I was aware that CAA (India’s Citizen Amendment Act) had driven people crazy and localities were burnt down.
This conversation drove home to me how wide the gap between fact and fiction has become since the fake news phenomenon hit us. My daughter is a bright kid but if she’s unable to separate fact from fiction, then we have a problem. So how do we tell what’s fake news and what’s not?
There’s no easy answer so let’s start with the two tells I use to say if a story is fake. I check if the writer has a ‘confirmation bias.’ And I check what he isn’t saying about the matter (a variation on ‘the truth, but not all the truth’)
Let me illustrate what I mean with some global examples of fake news, before going on to my kid’s questions about the current controversial issues in India.
The ‘Made in India’ story
Check for Confirmation Bias As I mentioned in my previous post, confirmation bias (the tendency to believe what we want to believe) is one of the biggest drivers of fake news. These folks have a tendency to only see evidence that supports their belief, and ignore anything that doesn’t.
I must confess I fell a victim to this bias recently. Being a gadget geek, I had been wanting to upgrade my two-year-old Android. The problem was the only affordable phones in my budget ₹18,000 ($228) were Chinese phones. I didn’t want to buy Chinese because their army had killed 20 Indian soldiers in a border clash and there was also an issue of slave labor being used in Chinese products. However when I saw a Chinese phone that was ‘Made in India,’ I went ahead and bought it.
Check what isn’t said My gadget-crazed brain only saw what I wanted to see. But I knew better. Many of the key components of my new phone were actually manufactured in China. So that ‘Made in India’ phone was actually just assembled in the Indian factory. My bad.
Ok, let’s move on to a bit more controversial stuff like US politics.
Stop the Steal
Donald Trump claims the elections were stolen, and his followers rioted on Capitol Hill, based on this claim.
So what isn’t Trump saying? Over 50 legal suits filed by Trump his supporters have been dismissed by the courts, including by the Supreme Court where a third of the judges have been appointed by Trump himself to do his bidding. There’s simply no evidence that will stand up in a court of law to back Trump’s claim of voter fraud. Here’s the Reuters fact check on this claim.
The only reason this lie is still flying is confirmation bias among Trump’s followers. They must be hooked onto the thousands of conspiracy websites which overflow with ‘evidence ’ that feeds this bias.
President Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim
This one was not started by Trump but widely publicized by him. Trump follows the school of thought that if you keep repeating a lie, it becomes a truth after a while (see ‘Stop the Steal’ above). So he adopted and endlessly repeated this lie for years. In fact, Obama mentions in his autobiography that 40% of the Republicans now believe he wasn’t born in the USA.
Why do they believe this? Simply because it’s what they want to believe. In other words, confirmation bias.
What’s not being said is there’s more than enough evidence to prove without any doubt whatsoever that Obama was born in the US.
India bashing by foreign media as well as Indian media
As a news junkie, I’m constantly surprised by the amount of India-bashing that happens in the Western media. The list of media houses who indulge in this sport reads like a Who’s Who of western media: The Guardian, the BBC, Washington Post, Time, The Economist, Huffington Post, New York Times…
Take what happened when the coronavirus struck. First, there were the dire warnings of when the virus hit the slums in India. Hundreds of thousands of Indians would die, was the story. Well, that didn’t happen, did it? Next, there was the unexpected migrant workers crisis at the start of the Covid lockdowns in 2020 when millions of them started walking thousands of kilometres back to their villages. According to the Western media, this was it. The virus was going to spread to remote corners of India. Millions of Indians would perish. Nothing remotely like that happened. Did it stop these doomsayers from crowing India was finished? Or admitting they were wrong? No, they just reveal their confirmation bias by finding some other excuse to continue their India bashing, as you can see in The Telegraph article about the Delhi riots.
What’s not being said?
Contrary to the claim, Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum states India handled the pandemic better than most countries via an early lockdown and large-scale food rations to 800 million of its citizens who were at risk of starvation.
And anyway, isn’t this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Here’s an article from the Economist that says if India had the same death rate for Covid as the UK, we would have had 10,000,000 deaths by now instead of the current count of around 160,000.
As for the Delhi riots, the police didn’t just stand by. One cop was killed, many were injured, and an intelligence officer was murdered in cold blood. Yes, there were bad actors in the riots, but which country is free of such people?
The latest focus of India bashing by the media is the ongoing farmers' agitation. So why does the western media constantly skewer India? Here’s an excerpt from an article in India Global Business that gives an insight into the issue. In fact, the whole article is worth a read as it’s a pretty good analysis.
As New York-based reporter and Yale graduate Shravan Bhat explained succinctly in a column: “In the newspaper business, you have to sell stories and to sell stories, you have to sell a narrative. It seems they feel that a narrative of dreariness and outrage is what will sell. In a country of 1.3 billion people, every rape story has the potential to make The New York Times. Every communal scuffle can make The Guardian… What if the roles were reversed I like to imagine an India in the not-too-distant future, where Indian foreign correspondents in Chicago file weekly stories on tragic gun-crime to blood-thirsty newsrooms in Bombay. Or freelance journalists stream Indian audiences a steady flow of ghastly stories about priests abusing children.”
As Bhat contends, the image of India in the West seems to be of a dysfunctional democracy, and the reportage by Western media only reinforces those stereotypes — while Indians blithely follow F.R.I.E.N.D.S as the barometer of American life. “I wonder how Americans would feel if they knew the dominant narrative being beamed to India was that of America collapsing under populist right-wing bigotry, gun crime and degenerate drug crises. What India sees instead is gleaming Manhattan and sci-fi San Francisco,” he said.
A hidden agenda
There’s one other angle. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out there’s a segment of the Western media who are heavily invested in making India fail. Think Pakistan and Khalistan media lobbies. A recent Time magazine article claims the farmers’ agitation is a turning point for India. Here’s a tweet by the same writer, where he enthusiastically fans the fires of Sikh separatism.
What these short-sighted chumps ignore is India’s partition in 1947 led to incalculable human misery, with millions killed, displaced, and forever mourning their lost homes. Even now, 70 odd years later, there are still families who have not recovered. Pushing for another partition in Kashmir and Punjab is a recipe for another such disaster, and should not be considered at any cost. We need to be careful and make sure these players don’t use us to push their hidden agendas.
Unfortunately, all this India bashing in the media seems to be working to some extent, especially among impressionable young minds like my kid who have bought into the concept that India is a mess.
So what’s not being said?
India is in pretty good shape
Though my daughter is extremely sceptical about this, it isn’t debatable.
When India became independent in 1947, the average life expectancy of an Indian was 32 years. Today it’s 69 years. Then people could only think survival. Today one of her classmates is considering a career as a golfer.
India has seen an astonishing boom in economic prosperity over the last few years. And it’s not just the rich who have got richer. When we were kids, we had a poor lady called Zuharrah who helped my mother around the house, . Her entire family were manual labourers, and lived a more or less hand-to-mouth existence. Her son, who was my playmate, came visiting the other day driving a nice sporty red car. Her grandchildren are doctors and engineers. This story is being replicated all over India (with one caveat: Rural India which is most of India, is still a couple of hundred years behind).
Another good indicator of a nation’s prosperity is the level of choice, and we Indians are now spoilt for choice. India’s rapidly changing landscape is now filled with giant malls, boutique restaurants, high-rise towers, technoparks, massive hospitals, swimming pools, bowling rinks… Even the cars on the roads have changed from being limited to two outdated models (Ambassador and Fiat) to a mindboggling variety of brands in all sizes and shapes. There’s even a proper Go-karting track just down the road from where I stay.
At a personal level, many of the things my daughter takes for granted were unimaginable just ten years ago. Where India was once a Third World nation, we now enjoy a lifestyle equivalent to most developed nations. For instance, India has among the world’s cheapest rates for cellular data. Everything is available online, which makes life more convenient and cuts out corruption. Where once, we would have to spend days chasing after a passport and submit innumerable documents that needed to be checked, I got hers done with one appointment at the passport office. Travel tickets, paying taxes, renewing my driving license, applying for Aadhaar or Voter IDs, buying stuff… all can be done online with a minimum of fuss.
Then there’s India’s global standing. In 1962, China was threatened by India’s emergence as a regional power. So they used the distraction of the Cuban missile crisis to attack India, humiliate us on the battlefield, and annex part of our land. They managed to do this by treacherously lulling the then Indian PM Nehru to sleep with an India-Chini bhai-bhai (brother-brother) lullaby.
2020 was a different story. China was again unhappy with India’s leadership moves on the global arena, and decided we needed to be put in place. With this in mind, the Chinese army launched an aggressive land grab on the Ladakh border, assuming we would be too distracted by Covid to respond. They miscalculated badly. India gave China a bloody nose, and after a nine-month-long tense standoff, the chastened Chinese army pulled back from the disputed border with nothing to show for their misadventure.
On the home and health fronts, Covid death rates are dropping. I even booked a free Covid vaccine for my mother. The economy is beginning to pick up and things are looking up. I do wish gas prices would stop rocketing up but the good and bad always go hand in hand.
Moving on to CAA and the Farmers Acts, which was what bothered my kid. Let’s analyze them, see what the fuss is all about, and if it’s justified.
CAA (Citizen Amendment Act)
The claim is the CAA is not secular and discriminates against non-Hindus, particularly Muslims, and will lead to them losing their citizenship.
What’s not being said? A whole blinking lot.
The Big Picture I used to work in UAE where the expats like Indians outnumber the native Arabs. Now imagine what would happen if UAE is a democracy and all expats are given citizenship and allowed to vote. UAE’s demographics would drastically change overnight and the Arabs would become a minority in their country. Obviously, this is why countries around the world close their borders to limit migration.
But what happens if a country’s borders are porous? This is what’s been happening in the Indian states like Assam and West Bengal that border Bangladesh. India’s deputy home minister told parliament in November 2016 that an estimated 20 million Bangladeshi immigrants were illegally staying in India. ‘Migrations and Remittances’ data released by the World Bank placed remittances from India to Bangladesh at $4.45 billion for the year 2014–15.
Politicians have taken advantage of this situation to issue valid Indian IDs to these illegal migrants in exchange for votes. This was not too difficult in West Bengal as it’s hard to tell a Bangladeshi from a Bengali on the basis of looks, language or even local accent. Even though the politicians deny this, why else would the Trinamool Congress ask Ferdous, a top Bangladeshi actor to campaign for them in the 2019 West Bengal elections? Here’s an excerpt from that linked article.
With about 2.47 crore minorities or 27.5% of the total population of the state, Bengal is home to the second-highest number of Muslims in India. The community was a key supporter of the Left Front till Banerjee came to power and managed to bring them on her side by taking the Sachar Committee report to them which ranked Bengal as one of the worst states for Muslims to live in. Banerjee convinced them that the Left did nothing for them and it was only the Trinamool Congress which would give them a direction towards prosperity.
This kind of sidelining of the native population by migrants had led to rioting in Assam. To avoid this situation from deteriorating, the government started the sensitive process of enforcing rules for migration to India, with NRC (National Register of Citizens) and later CAA (Citizen Amendment Act) to establish who is an Indian and who’s not. A cutoff date was set for migration, and some basic guidelines set like economic reasons being ruled out as a reason for migration.
That’s the origin of the anti-CAA protests. The politicians who had benefited from the illegal Bangladeshi vote bank raised the bogey of secularism. They then sat back grinning as a bunch of idealistic but naive Indians picked up the anti-CAA flag and ran with it, not realising that they had been duped into taking up the cause of the corrupt politicians who had created the illegal Bangladeshi vote bank.
Now let’s discuss the CAA and its ramifications in a bit more detail.
The CAA is about religious persecution It’s about allowing refugee status to persecuted religious minorities from countries like Pakistan. As you read this, Hindu married women and minors in Pakistan are being kidnapped and forcibly married to men belonging to the majority Muslim religion. Here’s a report on one such incident that happened last August. And another article by a Pakistani publication on the issue. The Pakistani courts brush aside these cases saying the victims ran away of their own free will and have converted to Islam. This is based on forced recordings by the kidnapped, raped, and terrorized women. In fact, till 2017 Hindu marriages were not even legally recognized in Pakistan making it easier for the kidnapper to make his case.
Vanishing Hindus Still not convinced? Here are some stats. When Pakistan became independent in 1947, Hindus composed 20.5% of the population. However, in the 1998 census, the Hindus were just 1.6% of Pakistan’s population. Most estimates say it has further dwindled in the past two decades. Get that? From 20% to less than 1%. Here’s a story on that.
Let’s talk secularism Meanwhile across the border in India where secularism is supposedly under attack, the world’s second-largest Muslim population is a thriving community. Many of them are celebrities or have excelled in movies, sports, literature, arts, education, science and business, and a couple have even risen to the highest office in India. In fact, I think Professor Abdul Kalam is arguably India’s most beloved president ever was a Muslim. I dare my reader to come up with the name of even one famous Pakistani Hindu.
What the pro-secularism crowd needs to realize is secularism as a concept won’t exist if the demographics change. Just go to a Muslim majority country and see for yourself. I lived in UAE for a few years, and the Emirate of Dubai only allowed one temple, while Sharjah didn’t even allow one. Or go back to the era of the Mughals and see if secularism was thriving. As the old saying goes, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’
The CAA is not about economic refugees The crux of the secular argument against CAA is Muslim migrants are being denied refugee status.
Here’s the thing. These people wish to migrate for economic reasons, not religious persecution. How has an issue of religious persecution been subverted into a debate about India’s secularism? Where are these persecuted Hindus supposed to go if the world’s only Hindu majority nation won’t accept them? Why is it wrong for India to open its door to these people who are being persecuted on religious grounds? And close its doors to those who want to migrate to India for economic reasons?
What about Rohingya Muslims being persecuted in Burma? That’s a fair question. To which, I will reply with a question.
Why isn’t the rest of the world opening its doors? Is it only India’s duty to open its doors to the world’s poor when we are so overpopulated and can barely take care of our own citizens? What about the rich West? Or even the many Muslim majority countries? What gives the right to all these countries to point their fingers at India when they do nothing? Why don’t these countries who protest so loudly about India’s secularism, instead agree to accept some of those refugees?
The CAA is not about secularism In all the media noise and outrage about secularism, one glaring fact is being silenced. Not one Muslim has lost his citizenship because of the CAA to date. If secularism is truly a concern, then why is the media ignoring far worse cases caused by lack of secularism like the Pandits of Kashmir who lost their lives and homes when they were chased out of Kashmir. Or the barbaric plight of Hindus and Ahmadiyas in Pakistan?
Better still, why not focus on where the worst-ever Muslim genocide of all time may be happening. I’m talking about the Uighurs (and Falun Gong) in China, a country that admitted using the organs of executed prisoners for transplants. (Check this YouTuber’s evidence. If it’s true, humanity has reached a new peak of inhumanity: history’s first genocide for profit).
Does secular mean Hindus can be discriminated against? Oddly enough, what’s really not being talked about is how Hindus are being discriminated against in India. You heard that right.
In India, all communities have private religious institutions to manage their places of worship. All hell would break loose if it were any other way, right? Wrong! It’s true for all communities except the Hindus. All Hindu temples are managed by the government. Or rather mismanaged.
Take Tamil Nadu. In 2020, the state government submitted a report to the Madras High Court about the 44,121 temples it manages which occupy half a million acres. The government openly admits 1,200 deities have been stolen from these temples. 11,999 temples are falling apart as there’s no one to maintain them or even conduct the puja, and they are expected to be declared as ruins in the coming years. 37,000 temples have less than Rs 10000 in income, and cannot afford to have more than one person to maintain them. There are also unconfirmed reports that thousands of temple deities have been replaced with fakes in the last 25 years.
What about the incomes in these temples? The 44,121 temples in Tamilnadu have a built-up area of 2.33 crore square feet and generate ₹128 crores. In comparison, the SGPC, the Sikh Gurudwara committee, has only 85 Gurudwaras but generates over ₹1000 crores.
Why is there this vast difference? You need a whole lot of passion, devotion, involvement, and dedication to run a place of worship and to generate income to run the social and charitable activities that temples are usually involved in. That’s why the SGPC is a winner. A bureaucratic, and in the case of Tamilnadu, an atheistic government, shouldn’t be managing temples.
It’s the same in Kerala, where temples in Sabarimala and Guruvayoor generate crores in income from devotees, which is controlled by an atheist, communist government in Kerala. Interestingly, there was a recent controversy of a ₹10 crore donation by the Guruvayoor temple towards a disaster relief fund being controlled by the communist government of Kerala. Imagine if a gurudwara or a mosque or a church decided to donate ₹10 crore as Covid relief. Would any government even dare lay a finger on that money?
If that’s not double standards, what is? Anyway, take my word, this Hindutva factor is being blown out of proportion (mainly by a bunch of clueless Hindus). The truth is the majority of Hindus are peace-loving. Period.
What about the human rights of the Kashmiri Pandits? I know I’m repeating this but it needs repetition. Millions of Kashmiri pundits had been forced to leave their home state by terrorist threats. This was a simple case of religious discrimination, which the then Indian Central government led by the Congress Party turned a blind eye to. Why is the media which is screaming blue murder about the issue of human rights violations of Kashmir residents ignoring the rights of the Kashmiri Pandits? Take that a step further. If a Kashmiri can buy land in India, why shouldn’t an Indian have the right to buy land in Kashmir?
Those talking about the Hindutva should note it’s the Hindus who suffer the most discrimination. Their temples are run by the government and the media says nothing. They get chased out of Kashmir and the media keeps mum. They try to go back to Kashmir and buy land and the media goes crazy about a Hindutva wave. At most, any change in the current status of Hindus will just bring their status back to neutral, or less discriminated against.
The Wheels of Justice are slow but fair
There are few bad actors who muddy the waters for the majority of Hindus, who are peace-loving. Here’s the thing. Under Pakistan law, Hindu women are fair game for anyone who feels like kidnapping, raping or killing them. I repeat it’s legally acceptable to treat Hindus like second-class citizens there.
However, Indian law does not condone violence or the killing of its citizens, whatever their religion, caste, or sex. It took a while but the Hindu fanatics who murdered the journalist Gauri Lankesh have been tracked down and arrested. Get my point?
Let’s move on to farming, which I feel is even more complex than CAA.
The farmers are protesting in Delhi because they believe the Farmers’ Bills are anti-farmer and pro-big business. Let’s have a look at the issues at hand.
To say farming in India is not financially rewarding is putting it mildly. It’s so bad that tens of thousands of farmers have committed suicide in recent times because of the poor economics of farming. Something needs to change, and it has to be drastic.
So what’s not being said? Well, there’s a lot to unpack here.
I have watched videos where the farmers talk about why they are protesting, and it’s hard not to feel for them. These poor people work hard to provide food for the nation but are in no way fairly compensated for their efforts.
However, the government says the middleman is the issue and they may have a point. Have a look at this excerpt from a 2018 news article. Someone is getting the lion’s share of the price the customer pays, and it’s not the farmer.
Sanjay Sathe, an onion farmer from Nashik, Maharashtra, has reportedly sent Rs 1,064 he earned by selling 750 kilogrammes of his onion harvest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a mark of protest… Compare this wholesale price to what you pay for onion. On December 2, 2018, the vegetable retailed for Rs 25/kg; more than 20 times the rate that Sathe was offered.
The problem is the system. Instead of the government directly paying farmers for their produce, it pays the middlemen, who pass on the money after taking their cut which includes huge interest payments.
The government’s stand is the middlemen contribute little to the farming process but swallow most of the money it generates, leaving the farmers with a pittance for their efforts.
Actually, the commission for the middlemen is a small amount per farmer (but huge at a state level). Where these middlemen make money is by acting as unauthorized moneylenders who lend money to the farmers at exorbitant interest rates. This is an open secret. The farmers actually feel beholden to these middlemen (see the article below). They don’t seem to realize how much it’s costing them, and it’s a vicious circle.
Middleman matters: Behind Indian protests against farm reforms
The farmers say they have enough flour, potatoes and other provisions to stay put for six months if Prime Minister…
So is the government right to decide for the farmer that the middleman’s power has to be reduced? Oddly enough, Steve Jobs words come to my mind.
People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
Maybe the government does have a point. The farmer may not know what’s good for him. The truth is this battle began long time ago.
In 2010, the central government (via the FCI or Food Corporation of India) made an attempt to tackle the issue. They failed as the middlemen used their political clout at the state government level to derail the attempt to reduce their power. Here’s an article on this event by an independent blogger.
Punjab middlemen get Rs 7,830 million a year for practically doing nothing
Farmers clean grain heaps in Punjab mandis. But can they ensure that their pockets are not cleaned by the middlemen…
Ten years later, history repeats itself. The central government via the same FCI is again trying to break the power of the middlemen. This time the government is not backing down because they know this is the only way to stop the exploitation of farmers and the resulting heartbreaking suicides. They want to make sure the farmer gets the money, and not the middleman. I for one, am glad the government is taking a stand (see below).
FCI To Bypass Arhtiyas In Punjab, Seeks Land Records Of Farmers From State Govt To Enable Direct…
In a bid to enable directl transfer payment of Minimum Support Price (MSP) to the bank accounts of the farmers, the…
Now, let’s have a look at what the media is saying.
According to them, one of the supposedly controversial issues about the new Farmer Acts is it gives farmers the freedom to sell anywhere. What this means is he has the right to bypass the middleman. I don’t understand why that is a bad thing. So I google up ‘why are the farmers protesting.’ Here’s one of the articles I found, published by one of India’s newspapers.
Why are farmers protesting?
Everything that the Government does these days is hailed as 'historic'. But will the 'historic' farm reforms turn into…
The writer does not bother to hide his disapproval of the government, which is fair enough as everyone is entitled to their opinion. Besides, the writer does concede that the Government’s Farmer Acts may be well-intentioned. But he then goes on to the controversial part.
He wants the government to give guarantees of a fixed price to the farmers.
Well, that’s now how it works. Consider money put in an FD in a bank. It’s guaranteed to give you 4.9%. But take it out, invest it in some business, and you could get a much higher return. But that comes with a risk. You may also get less. In short, in the free market, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. There are no guarantees as higher returns and risk go hand in hand.
I know big corporates are single-minded about profits. But that’s how capitalism works. We can’t rule out a mutually beneficial relationship for the farmers. I’ll admit I was sceptical when Reliance Jio entered the cellular network industry. But that was the best thing that could have happened to India’s mobile network customers. No two ways about it.
Anyway, it’s at this point that the writer loses the plot. He quotes another Mumbai-based journalist, who tweets about a friend’s uncle who is a coconut farmer in Kerala, and has supposedly been destroyed by the abolishing of the Coconut Board. That’s an outright lie, and completely nuts. But I will cover that in a separate post or I’m never going to be done with this story.
Human Rights, and how it’s evolving
Though Greta’s tweet is ostensibly about the Farmers Protest, there’s a twist to it. The CNN article she retweets has actually escalated it from farmers protesting to a different level of a human rights violation by India. The article implies the farmer’s right to protest is being suppressed by the Indian government who had cut off the internet in Delhi. The Western media can always be relied on to get in some India bashing. It’s what sells, isn’t it?
So what isn’t being said?
The world is changing its outlook on human rights, after seeing how it’s being misused with the help of technology. Let’s go back to Trump. The US believes in the freedom of speech, and let Trump say whatever he wanted. Trump took full advantage of his license to lie, manipulate voters on Facebook, and traipse into the White House. It was only four years later when Trump nearly staged a violent coup on Capitol that Twitter finally banned him. I don’t hear any more complaints about Trump’s right to freedom of speech being violated.
One man’s freedom cannot be at the cost of another man’s freedom. If that happens, it becomes a dictatorship. Hitler’s right to freedom of speech led to the Jews losing their freedom to live. Get it? Likewise, Trump’s right to freedom of speech almost took away the American citizen’s right to a free and fair election. It did take away their right to the truth. Most Americans are no longer able to separate the truth from the mass of untruths that flood the net.
The Deadly Misuse of freedom of speech in India Unlike the US, India was a quick learner about the dangers of freedom of speech in the age of internet. When mobile phones first began to be affordable by the common man a few years ago, WhatsApp became the Gospel. I recall an old retiree smiling broadly as he announced that a cure for cancer had been found while holding up his phone displaying a WhatsApp message.
It was funny till it wasn’t.
Lynchings began to happen every now and then in India. These were spurred on by wild rumors flying around on WhatsApp reporting child kidnappers, cow kidnappers, or whatever. Indians are an emotional and gullible lot, and the combination often led to violent conclusions, especially in India’s rural villages. WhatsApp also helped the people from those villagers communicate with neighboring villages, organize a chase, track down the ‘kidnapper,’ lynch him, and record the whole gory incident on video.
The government was accused of inaction. But I think they were one step ahead. Instead of tacking the symptoms and blaming the ignorant villagers who had been misled, they tackled the root of problem. This was the freedom to communicate any rubbish at any time. Over time, shutting down the internet became a standard policy whenever there was a threat of rumors enraging the gullible public and leading to violence.
This tactic helped save innumerable lives, including in Kashmir. A rumor of a Kashmiri being killed can often lead to rioting with the military and citizens both suffering casualties. What’s so wrong with preventing that by cutting off the net? Doesn’t the same hold true for the Farmer’s protests after the Republic Day riots?
Incidentally, did anyone notice that those lynchings are no longer starring in the bad news cycle? Sometimes, I feel we need to have a rule for the media by which for every bad news they report, should be balanced by an equivalent piece of good news. How about a headline like ‘Lynchings down 90% from the previous year.’
But the media won’t do that, will they? Good news doesn’t sell. So they just stick to their bad news cycle. It's no surprise my kid goes, “India is a mess.”
A powder keg waiting for a spark That may be all that’s needed for the farmer’s protest to explode into India’s biggest crisis since its independence. Let me explain.
Volatility: A sizable number of the farmers in the protest are Punjabis, a community renowned for its generosity, helpfulness, and joviality. But they are also extremely hotheaded. Road rage incidents happen regularly in Delhi unlike in south India where cooler heads usually prevail. I recall once being in a Delhi restaurant where a customer suddenly took offense at something the waiter said or did. The next thing I know, a large plate full of food whizzes over my head, and smashes into the retreating waiter. I don’t know what happened next as we got out before the melee got into full flow. That’s the kind of temperaments we are talking about.
Separatism There’s another level to this. In the 1980s, a small group of Sikhs launched a separatist movement for Punjab to break away from India as a separate nation. As terrorist acts began to escalate, the government directed the army to enter the holy temple of the Sikhs and hunt down the separatists. The repercussions of that decision were deadly and far-reaching. A short while later, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, and this was followed by communal riots in Delhi in which many Sikhs were killed. Thankfully, things quietened down. Slowly the separatist call dissipated as it was never really supported by the majority of Sikhs.
Hijacked protests Thirty years later, we once again have a protest being driven mostly by Punjabi farmers, most of whom are Sikhs. The government granted farmers permission to conduct a tractor protest on Republic Day on certain roads along the outskirts of Delhi. But the tractor protest was hijacked by a section of the farmers, who drove the tractors right into the heart of Delhi and hijacked India’s Republic Day celebrations. Here’s a report on the chaos of that day.
Notice the hotheads recklessly chasing the cops with their tractors. Now imagine if they had accidentally run over and killed a couple of policemen, and the cops had retaliated. It would have turned into a full-scale communal riot in no time. In the event, one of the farmers drove into a barricade at full speed where his tractor toppled and killed him, despite a policeman trying to save him by opening the barricade.
Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea The government knows if it gives in to the farmer’s protests, the middlemen will continue to exploit the farmers and drive them to suicide. On the other hand, if it doesn’t give in to the farmer’s demands, things can go out of hand.
It’s a tough choice but that’s what governing is all about. The video shows the police behaving with restraint despite the provocation. Believe me, that’s not something Indian police are known for. Obviously, the orders to avoid confrontation must have come down from the very top level of government.
Did cutting the internet prevent many more deaths? There was a rumor going around that the farmer who crashed the tractor had been shot. However, it was disproved by the postmortem of the farmer which did not reveal any bullet wounds. The video of the incident also doesn’t reveal any sound of shots being fired.
It’s quite probable that if the internet had not been cut, the rumor could have circulated widely among the protesting farmers. Soon it would have been accepted as the truth, and this might have led to an escalation of the violent confrontations between the farmers and the cops, leading to a lot more deaths, and eventually probably even reigniting the call for Sikh separatism and even civil war. This was a distinct possibility.
Fishing in troubled waters On the surface, the CNN article seems to have been about the press standing up for the human right to protest. But what reveals their true intentions is that bit about craftily avoiding mentioning that the government actually allowed the farmers the right to organise a protest (on tractors) on Republic Day despite all the importance attached to the day.
We must remember that CNN only became an international brand because of its coverage of the Gulf War. It’s in their genes to provoke wars as that means better ratings, which means more money. The more people die, the better their ratings.
CNN isn’t playing by the rules. The only way the Indian government can counter this is by changing the rules, which would explain why they are coming down heavily on social media to identify the original source of messages. These new rules are controversial, no doubt, but I don’t think the government had too many options.
Anyway, when Rihanna and Greta Thunberg hopped on the CNN post with their tweets, I don’t think either of them had any clue that they had taken CNN’s bait. They had no idea that what they were doing had a distinct possibility of causing India to go up in flames, leading to many lost lives. (Yeah, yeah, I have heard all about the $2 million Rihanna got paid to tweet but let’s just leave that to the conspiracy theorists, shall we?)
Do the ends justify the means? The case of Disha Ravi, the young activist who was initially arrested is different. She was aware she could get into trouble for using the toolkit (see chats in the link). From what I understand, the toolkit was just a document on how to organize support for the Farmer’s Protest. But what made it dicey was the fact that some of its links in the original toolkit were to sites run by Sikh separatist organizations. Disha Ravi was aware of this. But she probably felt it was justified because the end result would be the collapse of a government she detests. In short, she let her emotions cloud her judgment. Disha was lucky the courts took pity on her. The government also probably may not follow up on prosecuting her as the optics of going after a misguided girl won’t look good. My guess is the few days in jail would have caused Disha to realize that the ends rarely justify the means. I suspect we won’t be hearing any more from this young lady.
I love Greta Thunberg but…
Greta Thunberg is an inspiration to me for how she singlemindedly stood up against the older generation and asked them to own up to being responsible for climate change. But she’s still a teenager living in a cold European nation far from India. I live in India, but I still find it hard to grasp the complexities of farming in India. Let alone the complications of governing.
If you read this article up this far, do you seriously think Greta could have the slightest clue about what ails Indian farming, and how to resolve it?
Everyone has the right to an opinion. But if you want to make a public comment about something, you should first take the time to understand the issue in-depth. Greta is a good kid but her comments are based on what biased writers like the above two say. Her naivety in tweeting the toolkit says a lot about her, as does the fact that she’s still tweeting about standing by the farmers. In time, she’ll figure out how to tell fact from fiction, and understand the full implications of her actions. She will then no longer allow herself to be used by people with hidden agendas that she does not agree with.
I hope the same holds true for my daughter.