All individuals want their opinions, though factually incorrect, be heard. Social media like Facebook, Twitter etc. has given an individual a platform to voice opinion which can be heard even by the Prime Ministers and the Presidents. In fact, in a long, 6,500-word post, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg cited the example of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to show that social network helps establish direct dialogue and accountability between people and elected leaders. When people feel that they are being heard and making a difference, they care about what is going on in their country. Thus, social media should ideally help strengthen the democracy. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Some Indians have developed an interesting utility of social media – Conviction.
Recently, a protest at Ramjas College affiliated to Delhi University, turned violent. A student, Gurmeher Kaur, posted a video on social media and alleged that she received a t rape threat via twitter. There was a huge uproar; eminent Indians like Javed Akhtar, Virendra Sehwag, Barkha Butt, Randeep Huddda and many others took part in the heated argument. Once again a nationwide debate on intolerance took place and once again a verdict was delivered by the court of social media in which a section of Indians was labeled as Bhakt and another as Anti-National. Now-a-days these labels have become so popular that during his election campaign, former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav used the term Bhakt, on a national news channel, to classify his critics.
Most of the times allegations and counter allegations on social media is solely based on prejudices and individual’s mindset. Answer to the question – whether intolerance has increased in India or not – depends on the individual’s perception. However, since the emergence of social media there have been many topics or issues one after the another which were more serious and straightforward than the issue of intolerance, vis-à-vis, Modi’s entry into national politics, Arvind Kejriwal’s allegations against top political leaders, series of scams under UPA government, series of terrorists attacks on civilians, Gujrat riots etc. Hence, we didn’t find any relevance in the debate on India’s intolerance until last couple of years.
Biggest disadvantage of social media is that it is not accountable to anything. As a result it is vulnerable to hypocrisy. While we rightly condemned the rape threat to Gurmehar Kaur we didn’t bother to stage any nationwide protest when more than 7,200 minors are raped each year in India. In 2015 alone, more than 34,651 cases of rapes were reported across the nation; number of unreported incidents is still more that cannot be estimated with accuracy.
At times, social media fails to find the balance and to provide the solution for an issue in hand. Moreover, it does not bother to keep the track of previous issues to analyze the shortcomings during arguments and rectify the mistakes and wrong opinions. An average Indian does not have enough time or patience to do in-depth study and draw a conclusion. However, with the growing popularity of social media, everyone desires to voice opinions about the trending topics based on whatever limited information gets readily available.
Whether we like or not the incumbent government at civic bodies, states and center, we must voice solidarity with government if it does good work and criticize it in a constructive manner if it fails to deliver. We need to do constant introspection and find a way to use the tool of social media for constructive criticism and take active part in nation-building.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)