Mihir S Sharma: Ayodhya, again

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 07, 2012 21:00 hrs

p ppThe internet is not the real world That is something that any of us who spend a little time there need to keep reminding ourselves Sometimes I wish that the real world was a little more like the internet &mdash open global equalising In some other ways though I hope the real world is as far from the internet as possibleppThe reason I say this is because for the past decade at least those lovable fanatics at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad VHP have been celebrating something that they call &ldquoShaurya Diwas&rdquo or Day of Valour on December 6 the day in 1992 that an outnumbered group of incredibly valourous young men charged a heavily armed and dangerous structure that was prepared and ready to defend itself with deadly force while cunningly disguised as an empty and run-down 16th-century mosque Yet most of us lived in blissful ignorance of the VHP&rsquos joyful celebration seeing as we have mildly more interesting things to do like breathing But this year the internet made us notice On Twitter Shaurya Diwas raced to the top of its algorithm&rsquos selection of globally trending topics usually reserved for such topics of worldwide importance as TwilightppYes the internet is hardly a perfect reflection of society A fraction of a fraction of Indians are online and those who waste lovely winter days talking about Shaurya Diwas and the like instead of watching videos of kittens on YouTube are unquestionably the most deranged and socially incapable fraction of that fraction of a fraction But it does poke a large hole in two optimistic claims that the whole Ayodhya dispute was a product of a particular time in our history and that increasing prosperity will make such grievances less sharpppWhy Because while all sensible people agree that online political discourse is the intellectual equivalent of your friendly neighbourhood garbage dump when the trash collectors are on strike for their dearness allowance it is definitely the case that Indians online are considerably younger and more economically empowered than the average Which means they&rsquore partially justified in triumphantly imagining that they&rsquore our future even as they obsess over events in 1356 or 1532 or wheneverppThat increasing economic prosperity will lead to less fanaticism has always seemed a reasonable assumption However for 10 years at least there&rsquos been a one-word answer to that hope one that all of us have tried to explain away as exceptional or alternatively have tried very hard not to think about And that one word is Gujarat The riots of 2002 happened in one of India&rsquos fastest-growing states Since then it has continued to grow fast if less so than before while simultaneously creating horrendous little ghettoes for Muslims That is indeed a plausible future for the rest of the country even if it performs well economically The plethora of stories coming out of Gujarat about how communal tension has gone down misses the point &mdash if one community retreats from public life and accepts its second-class status that doesn&rsquot count as moving on but as moving backppThose who should be most worried about the growth of this brainless uncontrollable highly-motivated Hindutva rage online should be those in the moderate wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party or mild social and economic conservatives I have seen this sort of anger online before many years ago &mdash except then it was about American politics back in the day when the internet was still fairly young What has now become the Tea Party movement capturing the Republicans and turning them into the laughing-stock of the world started with online anger about taxation and foreigners and Muslims and the mainstream media that was similar to what we see now &mdash and as easily dismissed as an unrepresentative online fringeppBut what the internet provides is a way for such crazies to embellish each others&rsquo elaborate theories of unreality to burnish them with ill-chosen extracts cherry-picked from original sources with all the exaggerated confidence of the uneducated and to then present them as truth to each other &mdash finally granting them as a group the confidence to take their wholesale denial of history humanity and basic logic offline Grievances that once would have been eroded away by the sense-inducing passage of time are now sharpened by constant repetition in this echo chamber of madnessppThat&rsquos why although Ayodhya and the aggressive attack on secularism it represents seems a product of distant decades imagining we could move on without recognising and correcting the damage it&rsquos done us is wishful thinking and dangerous Such thinking lay behind the hasty praise showered on the Allahabad High Court&rsquos verdict on the Ayodhya dispute two years ago instead of the concern that should have been expressed that a property dispute was being treated by our apolitical and irreligious judicial system as a question of religion and historyppPanicked that the bad old days would return and mar our wondrous decade of high growth all such worries were swept under the table in the blind worship of Moving On &mdash the same altar before which we genuflect in Bhopal in Gujarat and in Kashmir Instead of pushing back against the stresses that political Hinduism placed on India&rsquos state secularism already faulty and shot through with excessive deference to faith our political and intellectual leadership has irresponsibly swept the fault lines under the carpet But you can&rsquot hide on the internet And someday soon we won&rsquot hide from the internet And then our failure to fight back against the growing respectability of the Babri mob will damn ushr pp alignrighta hrefmailtomihirsharmabsmailinmihirsharmabsmailina  p

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