Mitali Saran - Standing your ground: A toolkit

India, 2021: JNU is tukde-tukde gang, Kashmiris are terrorists, Muslims are traitors, liberals are communists, communists are anti-national, dissent is sedition, intellectuals are urban naxals, Congress supporters are slaves, the elite opposition is the Khan Market gang, protesters are andolanjeevis, human rights are Western propaganda, activists are anti-development, journalists are presstitutes, dissent is sedition, critics of the BJP-RSS are a cabal, opposition mobilisation is vested interest, Shaheen Bagh is Pakistan, farmers are Khalistanis, secularism is hypocritical, comedians promote hatred, Jersey cows are lazy while indigenous cow milk contains gold, academic webinars must be vetted by the Ministry of External Affairs, and toolkits are an international conspiracy to wage war on India. Oh, and dissent is sedition.

How did public and official discourse become this bonkers? Since when can you make ‘toolkit’ a bad word with a straight face? Probably since the right wing discovered how effective coordinated messaging can be, and doesn’t want anyone else to benefit from it. If you consider that it takes only the merest few strands of saffron to yellow a whole pot of biryani, you can understand how a couple of saffron knickers, tossed into the ‘ideas’ compartment of the media laundry machine, might ruin the the whole national wash. Too few media machines have followed the all-important step of first separating the colours that make the country bleed. We crossed the thin line between ‘bonkers’ and ‘dangerous’ long, long ago. And thus it is that we have gone from an imperfect but pluralist democracy to a puffed-up state that is dangerously megalomaniacal and insecure. 

When India arrested the barely adult climate activist Disha Ravi, for editing an online toolkit for pro-environment protest, our self-goals once again went from embarrassing to dangerous. The Ministry of External Affairs had already made an international ass of India by responding to posts by singer Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg, and making our celebrity robots at home mass-tweet hashtags like #IndiaAgainstPropaganda, without a shred of irony. Now the state is on a hair-trigger for arresting those who support democratic dissent.

Hindutva’s toolkit aims to create a monolithic Hindu Rashtra through intimidation and misinformation and lies. You can see, from the short amount of time it has taken for us to regress from 2014 to the political stone age, that it works very well. Here, therefore, is a counter toolkit to detoxify your environment, for anyone who misses rationality and freedom.

  1. The BJP’s (pseudo)-nationalism rests on two ideas: a) government equals nation and b) dissent equals sedition. They’re both rubbishy lies. Do not be defensive about your patriotism, and do not be timid about critique. Power will take as much ground as you give.
  2. The right wing tries to appropriate the language of moral superiority by accusing others of its own sins. When you advocate peace and pluralism, don’t be cowed by the fact that you’re accused of promoting enmity and instability. It’s totally laughable.
  3. Hindutva has weaponised pedestrian words like ‘cow’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Christian’, ‘protest’, ‘intellectual’, ‘secularism’, ‘dissent’,‘rights’, ‘nationalism’, ’foreign’, and ‘armed forces’. Don’t start treating these words with kid gloves, else they’ll become unusable. Use them in the space they deserve, with the weight they deserve (or don’t deserve).
  4. When bhakts cannot respond to an argument, they make it about some other argument. Don’t get sucked into digressive issues and whataboutery.
  5. A favourite way of getting around rational argument is to discredit the speaker. Don’t indulge talk about whom the speaker/writer is married to, or what books are on their shelves. The best response to “Her last name is Joseph!” is, “So?”
  6. Demand journalism, not cheerleading.
  7. Do not be gaslit into thinking that you’re the only one who thinks things are terribly wrong. You are not alone.
  8. Megalomania can be contained with copious amounts of laughter.
  9. Stand your ground, to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Especially if it’s the only ground you can stand. 
  10. Oh, and—hum dekhenge.

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