Speaking up as a way of providing cover and more

A couple of weeks ago, when there was outrage in the US about the ‘Muslim ban’ order, I read a piece [1] by an entrepreneur who explained why he was speaking up against the order. He said that when people like him spoke up, it would provide cover for others to speak up as well. That bit about providing cover resonated with me deeply and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Earlier today, I read this Twitter thread (by Anand Giridharadas) about the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas, and one of the things said was this:

Please understand, Mr. President, that this too gives permission, by dog-whistling to drifters that they might do what the government can’t.

Reading this my thoughts went to the violent incident at Ramjas College where ABVP members used violence against students and journalists. I started thinking about the increase in the frequency of such incidents in colleges and about how the narrative from the ruling party has always been that “we will not tolerate being anti-national” or that “free speech has its limits” and so on.

What is this, if not providing cover for such incidents to happen? Is it a coincidence that the language, the threats, the violence have been ratcheted up after the BJP came to power? I think not. Look at what the BJP national president said recently comparing the Congress, SP, and BSP to a terrorist. Of course, our PM was not far behind with his concern over electricity and cemeteries in an election speech.

This kind of dog-whistling provides cover for people to openly indulge in hate on Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, and even more dangerously in the “real world” by threats and acts of violence.

So, given that the cover is being given to support hate and divide, it is even more important for people to speak up against such incidents and call out bigotry and bullshit when they see it. And, if you think it doesn’t make a difference, it does. Acts of courage and defiance are inspirational; they can give rise to movements and can act as catalysts.

There are people who are now being courageous and providing cover against the assault on free speech and dissent, and the trend towards toxic nationalism. But, to resist, you need more people to speak up and amplify the voices.

Speak up. It is hard but if you want to preserve a democracy, you have to fight for it.

[1]: I can’t for the life of me remember where I read this.


Dissent is good, spitting isn’t

Dissent is one of democracy’s strengths because you are free to disagree with someone’s opinion and everyone’s allowed to express his or her opinion. In authoritarian regimes, if you dissent you’ll probably disappear or something bad will happen to you. However, there is such a thing as dissenting in a civilized way and acting like we are evolved beings and not primates.

Apparently, some activists didn’t get this memo. Excerpts:

A group of ABVP activists on Thursday went on the rampage at Delhi University, vandalising the venue of a seminar in protest against presence of S A R Geelani, acquitted in the Parliament attack case, and spat on him.

…Trouble started just after Geelani reached the venue. An activist went up to the dais and spat on Geelani’s face twice, saying “shame, shame”. The ABVP activists then went on damaging the windows, doors, chairs and the microphone to disrupt the meeting.

So, being an accused and being acquitted does not absolve you in the eyes of the ABVP. In their court, you are guilty if accused. And, let’s for a moment assume that the person is guilty though he has been acquitted, does that allow anyone to spit on him? What’s next–stoning people in the town square? For a country that won it’s independence using non-violent means, we sure seem to be changing our tactics. I hope the activists who created trouble are punished.

Geelani didn’t shy away from the event and had this to say, which I thought was terrific:

“This is a trailer of fascism. The fact that we held the meeting shows that we succeeded to beat the fascist forces. Now the fascist forces are becoming strong in the country and are trying to suppress the democratic voice. We should not allow that to happen,” Geelani said.

Democracy good. Facism bad.