The Troll in Me

Back in 2013, my uncle used to rant about how, if BJP comes to power, democracy would be in danger. He would cite the Gujrat riots of 2002 as an example - he would say that Narendra Modi got away with mass murder by being in power and he would do the same once he was in power at the center. I was twenty-three years old then and didn't understand my uncle's panic. BJP had been in power earlier as well, during Sri Atal Vihari Bajpayee ji's term as Prime Minister - things weren't that bad. People were not happy with them and voted them out in 2004 - so democracy was still there. So I laughed it off thinking my uncle was being paranoid. I believed that my country was made of sterner stuff - a party with a communal agenda could not possibly change the fact that this country was a land where various religions lived in harmony.

Boy, was I wrong!

BJP came to power in 2014. Soon, the media started pushing their agenda like anything. People started openly expressing anti-NonHindu opinions, the lynching of suspected beef eaters happened, Rahul Gandhi was painted as a clown, and hate became the driving force for BJP, which again won in the 2019 general elections. I say hate became the driving force because development was not happening at par with the previous governments, their promises from the earlier elections had not been met, and the major disruptions that BJP did between 2014 and 2019 - namely Demonetization, was proven a useless activity since most of the currency notes came back, proving their rhetoric of 'black money' wrong. 

I was always ideologically opposed to religious disharmony. But I refrained from expressing my opinions online. This was mainly because it seemed futile. I would occasionally express outrage at some of the more disgusting things said on the news, or share a well-written article here or there, but for the most part, I tried not to rage online. In the meantime, I moved to Hyderabad from Siliguri in 2014 along with my colleague, Mr. Tamseel Kausar (who was also transferred from Ranchi) and we started looking for houses to rent. In one Hindu neighborhood, the house owner showing us a property casually told us that the USP of that building was that they did not allow Muslims to stay there. I was taken aback by this statement, looked at Tamseel da, and tried to react to the owner's statement but Tamseel da placed his hand on my shoulder and told me not to say anything.

This incident left such a bitter taste in my mouth that when I came across a nice house in a Muslim neighborhood near Minister's Colony in Begumpet, Hyderabad, I readily agreed to stay there. In fact, the landlord was from a highly educated family and assured me that I would never have to worry about safety in his building. There was a small Masjid nearby too and the landlord had the Indian flag displayed in his compound with pride. I stayed in Hyderabad for a year and the neighborhood was peaceful, the people were polite and friendly and I had no trouble whatsoever. Tamseel da ended up renting a house in another neighborhood and as always, he was a gentleman about the casual discrimination he had faced. Something told me that he was used to it. I would often discuss how unfair these things were. In his poetic style, he would sometimes quote verses from Sri Bhagavad Geeta to indicate that right would always win. I was in awe of this man and his patience.

What that incident did was it opened my eyes to a lifetime of incidents that I had witnessed but not really thought about. Starting from how my Muslim classmates were looked down upon in school or how Kasid Khan (a studious classmate of mine who went on to become a successful engineer) was treated like a rare exception because he was a good student, to how the Muslim neighborhood in my hometown (Motijharan) was treated like a ghetto, with a common rumor that it was dangerous there (something I never felt when I went to visit my friends in that neighborhood). The more I thought about it, the more evident it became: Hindu neighborhoods seldom rent houses to Muslims, thus forcing them to flock to neighborhoods where they find community (not their community, community in general). But why? Because of these set ideas like, "They eat beef. They are dirty. They are violent. Etc, etc." All of these, are biases. Biases, that are proven baseless time and again by the Muslim people we meet in real life, but we still go on believing these notions. As a result, Muslims are ghettoized and treated with discrimination. In schools too, if you treat a child differently because of his religion, he might not understand the discrimination right away but will feel it. Will a child like to go to school if he faces discrimination there?

In 2015, I moved to Indore. The level of biases against Muslims that I saw in people there was terrifyingly extraordinary. People just spewed unverified nonsense about Muslims with no fear of judgment whatsoever. I worked for John Players, (then ITC) and operated from the Commission Agent based in Indore. When I convinced a Muslim retailer (Moiz bhai from Four Seasons shop, Mhow) to start a new account with us, the Commission Agent's personnel were hesitant to sell to Muslims or extend the regular credit to them. Thankfully, Moiz bhai agreed to pay in cash for the first delivery as a token of good faith, but it was really unfair to treat honest people with suspicion just because they are not from your religion. I would sometimes argue with my colleagues there that everyone just passed judgment on Muslims without first-hand experience but their views were too ingrained to change. Its a simple question I ask my friends when they express some view against Muslims or some generalized opinion: "Have you seen this in the Muslims that you personally know?" More often than not, the answer is NO.

You see, I base my opinions of Indian Muslims on the people I know: Tamseel Da, Abdullah, Omar, Rashid, Yusuf, Shahzad, Taaib, Azhar, Raza, Faizal - old colleagues, Arif, Mazhar, Kasid, Saleem, Farhanur, Aashma, Hamira, Ghazia - school friends. None of these people ever behaved badly with me, none of these people treated me differently because I was Hindu. I can vouch for each one of them that they are honest and hard-working citizens of this great nation, who have as much right to India as any of us. So, that brings me up to now. After years of not voicing my opinion openly on social media, partly because I feared persecution at the hands of the government and partly because I didn't want to create any scandal, I have finally decided to speak out online. Before I tell you how, I have to make my stance clear on certain subjects:

1. Violence in Nuh & Gurgaon: It is sad that people incite such violence and people participate in it. Mob mentality is dangerous. I was appalled by the incident as well as the reaction to it by the ruling party in Haryana, BJP. Media is pushing the narrative that Muslims incited violence wheras if you check videos from independent news sources, (Click the link here for NewsLaundry coverage) it paints a different picture. I believe that BJP has given free reign to goons from Bajrang Dal and RSS to incite violence in Muslim areas so that they have an excuse to damage Muslim properties and displace them - this would mean that they won't be able to vote in the upcoming general elections.

2. Manipur Violence: The issue in Manipur is an old one and was not about religion at all. But with the current CM, who is a BJP ally and is strongly biased against the Kuki tribes, is making it about Hindu and Christians. I believe that the fact that Meitei tribes are mostly Hindus and Kuki tribes are mostly Christians has no bearing on the matter and is being used to polarize the popular opinion. This has led to many Meitei Christians being targeted because the Hindus in Meitei community have started believing that it is about religion too. The government has been dodging accountability on the matter for far too long. And instead of blaming Congress, the British, China, Myanmar, etc, they should work to solve the crisis in Manipur.

3. Kashmir & the Kashmiri Pandit exodus of 1990: I am writing about this topic because every time you speak against violence against Muslims, there is someone who would ask about Kashmiri Pandits and why you are not supporting their cause too. I believe that the exodus or genocide, whatever you choose to call it, that happened to Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 was terrible and should not have happened. But we have to recognize that it was carried by politically motivated people who might have been Muslims but not all Kashmiri Muslims participated in the violence against Hindus then. So we can't blame all Muslims for it or justify violence against Muslims by citing Kashmir.

4. Muslims & the Media: The media has been so staunchly pro-BJP since 2013 that it is amazing how blindly they support everything the BJP does. Some of it, I believe, is because of personal biases but most of it is a game of money, especially money from Government advertisements. The mainstream media, instead of asking questions to the ruling party, has been questioning the opposition since 2014. It is beyond weird. But the lack of integrity does not end at becoming the ruling party's stooges, news channels like Zee News, Times Now, Republic Bharat, Republic TV,  TV9 Bharatvarsh, Aaj Tak, ABP News, Sudarshan News, CNN-News18, India TV, India Today Network, etc have not even shied away from openly spreading hate towards Muslims (like they did with the Tableeghi Jamaat incident during COVID), some of them even calling for genocide (as they did after the recent Nuh violence). (Read this article about the so-called Godi Media.) I think these media houses are scum and should be tried in court for inciting hate and violence.

5. UCC, Hindu Rashtra, Akhand Bharat: BJP is used to bringing up jumlas (a false promise) before elections. Their latest jumla is UCC or the Uniform Civil Code. While they say 'Uniform', let it not fool you into thinking that it is about everybody. This is aimed at the Muslim Family Law and is being marketed as such also. I don't hear anyone saying that they will strike down the Hindu Undivided Family clause of the Hindu Family Law, which would mean that large Hindu families will be liable to pay a lot more in taxes. I agree that the Muslim Family Law has scope for reform, especially for gender-based reform, but UCC is not the way to go. Even the Triple Talaaq and Hijaab issues were touted as reform attempts but celebrated like they were some kind of triumph of Hindus over Muslims. That's just wrong. Akhand Bharat - a map displayed at the new Parliament building depicts the kingdom map from Magadh or one of those times, where parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan are shown in the same color whereas South India is shown in a different color because they were ruled by the Cholas and Pandyas during that time. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to place such a map in a government building was dumb enough to not even update it to include South India. And BJP and Modi supporters (often correctly called bhakts) are going on the news saying by 2025, Akhand Bharat will be a reality. International sovereign borders be damned. Some other bhakts have been calling for a Hindu Rasthra (Hindu Nation), but if you ask them what would happen to the 21% Non-Hindu population, they don't have an answer, or if you ask them if this Hindu Rashtra will be free of the caste system, they don't have an answer. Bhakts, andh-bhakts - seem like appropriate monikers for these deluded, literacy-challenged population.

Now that I have told you what I think about the above issues, let me tell you about how I have started voicing my opinions online. It started a few weeks back in Quora. Quora, which was once a nice Q&A platform, has lately been flooded with indirect propaganda. Every time, I open the app, I see some stuff like this:


These are posts that might not seem overtly radical or polarized but subtly push the anti-NonHindu agenda. And the comments on these posts is where the worst of the worst elements of society come out to play. So, I started calling people out, people who were posting hateful comments. I started commenting, "Internet pe hagg ke kaisa laga?" (Translation: "How did it feel to shit on the Internet?") And it felt good. Once you start expressing your opinion, it's hard to stop. And the stupidity that is rampant on the internet world does not help. 

Take this video for example: 

This came up on my feed in Facebook. Here, a Modi bhakt is saying Modiji gave jobs to people through gobar i.e. cow dung. He also claims that the number of startups in UP has gone from 1800 in 2017 to 9000 in 2023. When asked to name a few, he has no clue. There are similar videos where bhakts claim that a lot of work has happened in BJP rule but when asked to name a few, start listing Ayodhya temple and Article 370, which have no real effect on their day-to-day lives. Statements like, "Even if petrol prices rise up to Rs. 1000/-, we will still vote for Modi" shows an acute lack of understanding of how fuel prices affect the economy and a remarkable lack of consideration for the economically weaker citizens of India. And, as usual, you will see thousands of comments on such posts, ranging from the passsive-aggressive "Jai Shree Ram" to "72 Hoor for all Muslims coming soon", making you seriously question the intelligence of the netizens of India.

So, I started trolling people like that. But, I tried to be decent, often trying to start a conversation so that I could talk about why certain views are biased, why we have to have an open mind towards things, etc. But these people really hate criticism. So, very soon, I was called anti-national (surprise! surprise!), "a blot in the name of Hindu"  and asked to "go to Pakistan". I kept arguing, trying to post as much information as I could, to see if I could sway people's biases, but it didn't matter. I wondered why hate is so hard to let go of. Is hate an innate part of human nature? Anyway, existential questions aside, these trolling sessions made for some great fun and I wonder if I can develop a series of blogs featuring screenshots of posts, my comments, and bhakts' reactions on my comments. I would call it The Ian Panda VS The Internet series. What say? 

Anyway, let me post one such interaction from today: 

This is the video I came across today, where a gentleman is listing down how Muslims have been systematically targeted in the last 9 years: . The video is very logical and true - you don't evidence to believe it because all of these things have happened in public view. While most people were agreeing with the speaker from the video, I came across one person who chose to call the speaker a "Communist Dog" and started doing whataboutery instead of trying to understand the video. Here's my response and the counter:

Hopefully, this has been a fun read. If I get a good response on this article - I will post more such trolls and my responses. Keep reading.

Pic Courtesy - Google, Facebook and Quora. 


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