Hyderabad hostel assault: Are Hindu students safe anywhere?

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The video of a gang of sneering law students beating and terrorising a lone Hindu student into saying “Allaho Akbar” in order to save his life has rightly provoked outrage. And social media right now is full of expressions of outrage, from the usual “will the Left-liberals condemn?” rhetoric to “these ‘trads’ don’t ever fight back” armchair commentary. These moments will, like so many murders and beatings of Hindus in recent times, pass from attention, now that everyone feels sated at having said something.

But the question really remains: what can we do, when all that most of us who have no role in government, politics, crime-fighting, or law can actually spare is our keyboards and our minds?

Can Hindus at least learn to communicate the truth better than what we have been doing?

As I read the heart-breaking letter by Himank Bansal describing the insanity of an Internet miscommunication with a friend gone so wrong as to endanger him and turn him into a public spectacle and target for a frenzied mob, the collective and individual failures of Hindus in these times when it comes to understanding, let alone, mastering, the battlefield of communication seemed hopeless and overwhelming to me (and this piece now becomes an unexpected, sad, and yet inevitable postscript to my previous set of three articles on the subject).

Forget playing expert from the distance of social media over what the poor frightened boy did or did not do in the face of such organised terror (and, if he said Jai Mata Di before he was forced to say Allaho Akbar then perhaps he was smarter than those judging him are noticing, for who else but our goddesses can help us).

The problem is not just in terms of one young Hindu youth’s indiscretion or folly in sending potentially inflammatory messages to a friend. It is, frankly, in the whole chain of events that have been leading up to this near fatal catastrophe, and it involves, no, indicts, a whole lot of other Hindus too who have been practicing collective endangerment on a reckless scale ever since they got their thumbs on their social media screens (and worse). How is it that so many Hindus on the internet seem to think they can say whatever they want without real-life dangers to them? Are they mistaking online bravado for real life power? Are they trained in handling social media for safety in general and for Hinduphobia in particular?

Every Hindu who is venting on social media right now needs to stop and perform an inventory of their collective actions on the internet of these last few years. What exactly have all our words, hashtags, and “befitting replies” actually done? Have these rants organised Hindu pains and hopes into any kind of useful, productive trajectory? Or have they merely turned into a futile froth of frustrated fury?

Once again, in the vein of my last article, I ask us to consider: what is the image of the Hindu, that too the younger Hindus who are growing up under the noses of all the bodily grown-up Hindus doing Internet “yuddhas” that we have saddled on them as they grow up into a profoundly hostile, insane world we have not prepared them for at all, and worse, burdened them enormously now with our hot-headed tweets and syrupy-deluded patriotic memes?

One answer to this question can be seen in an unforgettable moment in the “narrative battles” of the last few years.

Recall the video that circulated a few years ago featuring Pakistani children threatening to kill Hindu children. What was the “befitting reply” that not just random Hindus, but an actual big-scale media house came up with? A whiny, ingratiating, worse-than-virtue-signalling sort of narcissistic nonsense video showing Indian children doing old Air India Maharaja type bowing and supplicating while proclaiming that Indians believe in love and treating guests like gods.

This video was probably the biggest target that Hindu adults (assuming these were Hindus and adults who were behind it) have put on millions of Hindu children and youth in recent times. How does anyone think that the answer to a bully’s threat lies in loudly announcing how weak (and proud of being weak) you are?

This is the disastrous state of communication intelligence and global cultural understanding among those who wield the megaphones on behalf of Indians and Hindus under the present dispensation.

You cannot produce hot-headed bravado tweets against your opponents under cover of Internet anonymity while also proclaiming your infinite Gandhitude as if it were some posh new car or TV set that sings “owner’s pride, neighbour (country’s) envy.”

To be fair, the weak and simultaneously reviled Hindu image today is not the fault of one media house or video alone. The image of the nerdy, servile, Hindu child has been built up over decades now especially in the West by a combination of both cluelessly aspirational immigrant parenting as well as a slyly exploitative racist media elite. Sure, it’s nice if Hindu kids win spelling bees and get into top colleges. But neither of these show a culture with any future on its terms at all. Worse, instead of preparing children to recognize a world that has systematically and relentlessly been made hostile to their names, gods, values, and ancestral traditions, Hindu parents have only covered it up in all sorts of self-defeating ways ranging from delusion (“yes, there is Hinduphobia its only economic so your Ivy League admission and social media boasting will make it disappear”) to denial (“no-no-no, everybody loves Hinduism from Oprah to Obama so don’t make us mistaken for Muslims by saying ‘Hinduphobia’”) to active complicity in Hinduphobia (“let’s condemn the Islamophobic Hindutvas who should apologise for giving tension to Muslims in Leicester”).

These three positions, frankly, are all working in tandem to deny Hindu children and youth any future in an increasingly global, interconnected, diverse world except to comply with their cultural extinction, or, maybe, even physical extermination. When today’s Hindu children grow up, they are going to find an image about them wherever they go, whether colleges in India, or abroad. That image is a nasty, weapons-grade creation by forces who know what they are doing and are very good at what they are doing. That image is everywhere, and it has consequences. It says, very simply, that every Hindu is suspect or guilty of millions of crimes unless they demonstrate loudly and sickeningly, extreme aversion to their own ancestral traditions and identity.

Many young Hindus do sense it, sometimes even the harsh way, as young Himank did recently. Yet, they have nothing by way of a counter-image, a counter-story that is also a counter-force, given to them by their elders today. Worse, they have been fooled into thinking that online Hindutva bravado is somehow equal to real world power, and will find out only the hard way every time that what you think you can say on a screen to express your “new, confident, unapologetic Hindu-ness” will only be an invitation to trouble for you.

Hindu parents, politicians, and “influencers”/ “thought-leaders” need to start thinking about what sort of a legacy (or burden) they are building through communication for the next generation. Neither apologizing for existing (which is what the majority of Hindu parents teach the next generation anyway), nor online bravado mistaken for resisting (which is what the online-majority but real-life minority Hindus who consider themselves Right-wing or nationalist or some such do), will help them.

Hindus, especially those who have children in school or college, very, very seriously, guiding their communication and online behaviour, and learning to master their own to set a good example, first of all.

The present model of weekend Hindu classes for kids with just Ramayana-Mahabharata stories starring Rama and Krishna as role-model future MNC managers is not going to help with image, or reality, at all. Hindus have to stop forcing the gods into this caricature of society centred around school-college-job-goody goody employee and start learning to force reality into the gods.

The supposed “assertive, unapologetic Hindu” is just a joke, as much as the whiny, servile, “we treat our guests who threaten to kill us as gods” one. Only a deeply felt return to our gods and goddesses can save us — from ourselves and from others now.

The writer is Professor of Media Studies, University of San Francisco. He has authored several books, including ‘Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia and the Return of Indian Intelligence’ (Westland, 2015). Views expressed are personal.

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Hyderabad hostel assault: Are Hindu students safe anywhere?
Hyderabad hostel assault: Are Hindu students safe anywhere?
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