They were the beasts of the social media not too long ago. However, they aren’t confined to the online jungle any more. The Trolls are ominously creeping out into the real world from their twitter handles and Facebook profiles at will.
The recent Ramjas College incident (in real world) and the subsequent targeting of Lady Sri Ram College student Gurmehar Kaur (in the virtual one) has only precipitated and exposed their dual mutant existence.
At one moment, you see them pelting stones and violently clashing with students and teachers; and at the very next they are abusing, mocking, and issuing death and rape threats to a 20-year-old for raising her voice in protest against the campus violence.
Of Borg and Trolls
Those familiar with the American sci-fi series Star Trek can possibly detect an eerie similarity between the fictional coercive alien race Borg and the creatures that we refer to as Trolls today. Just like the Borg from the hugely popular series, the Trolls function as drones of a ‘hive mind’ or ‘the Collective’, with their mission being the ‘assimilation’ of other life forms into the hive, by coercive force.
There’s simply no way that one could reason with the Borg. The phrase that they use to greet ‘others’ is rather menacing in its symbolism. “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”
The Trolls may very well add ‘ideological distinctiveness’ to that list. In short, both the Borg and the Trolls do not allow ‘others’ the space to express and therefore exist. ‘Assimilate or get destroyed’ is their motto.
The Borg, and by logical extension, the Trolls are the anti-thesis of pluralism and individualism in all forms. A view that is distinct from their own myopic outlook will be shouted out, and if necessary the perpetrators of such different views will be beaten up and silenced. Their narrative is the only narrative.
With their ‘beehive’ objective in mind, the right-wing trolls set out doing their business against Gurmehar Kaur in a fierce manner. They were emboldened in this endeavour with bigger and influential trolls such as cricket star Virender Sehwag and Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda (both of whom perhaps have ‘assimilated’ their ideologies with the troll ‘collective’) and predictably some prominent leaders from the political right including Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju.
The obnoxious manner in which these so-called honourable individuals mocked a woman with an independent voice and questioned her patriotism and even mental capability stinks of patronising patriarchy.
To Sehwag and all those who dug out a misleading single slide (Pakistan didn’t kill my dad, war did) from a year-old video to mock/attack Gurmehar Kaur, I ask a simple question: When you see a mob abusing a woman on a street, will you think of what she might have said a year ago (that might have been offensive to you) and criticize her for that, or your first response would be to defend the girl from the mob? You can always express your disagreement with her point of view later.
After much uproar on and off social media, Sehwag appears to have realised his folly and condemned those bullying and threatening Gurmehar Kaur. He also stood by her right to express her views without fear. I am not sure if this late awakening redeems Sehwag of his irresponsible behaviour that tacitly cheered the sickening online troll army which abused and threatened a woman.
However, I am willing to give him the benefit of doubt. I am sure it wasn’t Sehwag who tweeted the damning tweet, it was his stupidity. I am also prepared to concede that it might not even be Hooda who clapped and laughed at Sehwag’s tweet, it must have been his sheer ignorance. May be the duo have still some part in them left that’s not yet assimilated with the Troll ‘collective’.
Rijiju offers a glimpse into the Troll ‘hive mind’
Rijiju’s reaction has to be seen in a different light, precisely because he is a minister after all. The Delhi Police works directly under his own ministry. And it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure safety and security of each citizen irrespective of their ideological leanings, more so of a woman who has received rape threats. No concessions here.
Moreover, his reactions may just give us an insight into the Troll ‘hive mind’. Rijiju, after all, is in the inner circle of the Queen Bee (going with the hive analogy).
In his first reaction to the controversy surrounding Gurmehar Kaur, the junior home minister in a tweet criticised the 20-year-old student suggesting her mind is being polluted, and thus behaved like the thousands of trolls who were already targeting Gurmehar.
Later, in an interview to NDTV’s Nidhi Razdan, Rijiju also claimed that he wasn’t even aware of the rape threats to Gurmehar Kaur when he had tweeted that comment. He said he hadn’t even seen the full video, from which a slide was taken out and used as a campaign to paint Gurmehar as an anti-national.
When Razdan asked him whether it was responsible for a minister to respond to a sensitive matter when he has had only half the information, Rijiju appeared ill at ease. Razdan at one point even read out the full content from Gurmehar Kaur’s video, to which Rijiju nearly conceded that there’s nothing wrong with what Gurmehar had said.
However, the very next moment the ‘hive mind’ triggered and Rijiju once again went back to the same out-of-context single slide and parroted the now-predictable lines about Gurmehar’s mind being polluted and blamed the Leftists for creating such anti-India mindset. Straight from the hive mind of ‘the Collective’.
This also indicates how ‘the Collective’ resorts to half-truths to push its own agenda. Single sentences or phrases out of context are enough to create mayhem towards beating your opponents into silence, as witnessed in JNU last year and Ramjas College this year.
Rijiju needs to be reminded that he’s a minister in the government of India and the government doesn’t serve the interests only of those adhering to a single political ideology. While he must ensure the safety of Gurmehar Kaur and get after those issuing threats to her, his ill-timed tweets based on half-baked information have only implicitly escalated the attack on her by the Troll army.
Uneven battle for women
Meanwhile, Gurmehar Kaur has been hounded away from Delhi.
A good part of the media has been assimilated in the Troll ‘hive mind’ too. The sound-byte hunters masquerading as reporters have voyeuristically trailed Gurmehar to her home in Jalandhar, where she had gone precisely to evade their gaze.
Reports now come that Gurmehar has deleted her Facebook account. “I am done with it. I came here (to Jalandhar) from Delhi so that I could get some rest. But the media followed me even here and has been spamming me. I am not even able to step outside these days,” she was quoted as saying in a Hindustan Times report.
As it is women are fighting an uneven battle in public spaces in India. Else Prime Minister Narendra Modi wouldn’t have felt the need to initiate the ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ campaign. Now that a padhilikhi beti is speaking out, there’s a concerted effort by the rightwing Trolls, including those in the government, and a section of the ‘assimilated’ media to silence her? Irony just died in shame!
Coming back to the Star Trek story, the Borg till the end remained antagonists and after a few initial successes, their quest for complete assimilation was decisively defeated by the collective resolve of the other species. I don’t see the Trolls faring any better.
Already, we have witnessed a robust uprising of sort with millions voicing their support for Gurmehar Kaur. These include the likes of noted writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar, cricketer Gautam Gambhir, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, BJP leaders Kirti Azad, members of the liberal press and millions of common Indians.
This collective strength has perhaps forced the government to reconsider their stand on the matter with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Law Minister Ravishankar Prasad issuing statements in favour of the victim and promising actions against those who abused Gurmehar Kaur.
Even President Pranab Mukherjee has condemned the campus violence in Ramjas College and attacks on women. “There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent. Those in universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest,” he said while delivering the 6th KS Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ on Thursday in Kochi, Kerala. “When we brutalize a woman, we wound the soul of our civilisation,” he added.
(The author is a Gulf-based Indian journalist. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of JantaKaReporter)