What The End Of ‘Humans Of Hindutva’ Means For Free Speech In India

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Representational ImageAP via Tehelka

“These intolerant voices find strength in our silence. Let them learn to argue using words instead of threats.” – Gauri Lankesh

Till date, our small editorial team has rarely felt the need to hold our tongue on issues pertaining to politics, society or governance. Though we are not a breaking news media house, nor large-scale reporters, we often cover topics, myself included, that are not considered PC and addressed them openly enough, regularly receiving flak for doing so. Be it sexuality, political art, caste politics or gender discrimination, we draw trolls in a variety of forms ranging from insults to very recently a lovely gentleman messaging us saying “you’re weird”.

Earlier this year I wrote a short op-ed about a ridiculous advertisement billboard for the launch of Arnab Goswami’s Republic, which came under harsh criticism on one of our social media platforms. While it didn’t phase me, my parents were far from amused. “Be careful about what you say, or just take your name off the piece at least. They can see the ‘Hussain’ in your name,” my mother immediately wrote to me from Delhi. This fear has been palpable for quite some time now, and the solution (“take your name off”) tucked away in the deep recesses of every writer and journalist’s mind. It is out of fear of the ‘they’ my mother refers to – people you could possibly offend, non-violent and violent threats, and the off chance that any of them could be enraged enough to track you down and hurt you.

When a satirical political page like Humans of Hindutva (HOH) has been shut down out of distress, then how much longer can we continue the way we do? Have Indians completely lost their sense of humour and ability to take a joke?

HOH was a parody account aimed at right-wing fundamentalists that was inspired by the very famous Humans of New York. Featuring humorous commentary on moral policing, Hindutva hardliners, cow vigilantism, casteism and overall Hindutva politics, HOH gained enormous popularity on Facebook. But now, the page’s anonymous administrator has called it quits after stating that they have received a slew of insults and death threats against themselves and their family included. Jairaj Singh, Editor at DailyO, took to Twitter mentioning that after a conversation with his friend who runs HOH he learnt that trolls had gained access to the administrator’s phone number. “He’s scared for his wife and children, so he’s shut the page for now. The nation can’t take a joke,” wrote Singh.

In an interview with Scroll.in, the administrator said he started his own parody account seeing the increasing amount of publications with “a clear right-wing bias, all of which were engaged in the business of peddling ‘alternative facts’, and he too “joined the fake news party.”

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We live in an age where politics is so aggressively driven by religious sentiments that freedom of speech is dying. This isn’t about Islam vs. Hinduism, nor finding faults in Hinduism – many seem to confuse it with what Hindutva is.

Posting on Satyansh, the administrator wrote that he’s shutting the page down out of his own accord, and has not been banned or reported. “I am outnumbered, live in a BJP state and come from a middle-class family with no political or police connections,” they write. “I have no desire to end up like Gauri Lankesh or Afrazul Khan...I hope those who threatened me considered this as a victory and leave us alone. I have deleted the HOH page and will delete this website soon. Congratulations to Hindutva on winning this David vs. Goliath fight.”

“Many newspapers were printing wrong news to incite and mislead the people. Our purpose right now is to ensure that the current situation is one of peace and stability. This is the meaning of censorship.” This was the sentiment expressed by Indira Gandhi in 1975 on an All India Radio broadcast informing the public about the proclamation of national Emergency. The message issued by Mrs Gandhi finds agreement in the core philosophy adopted by several political leaders in recent times. While the common man may easily lament the incomplete democracy India harbours, our fourth estate had always enjoyed extensive freedom in its coverage and reportage of varying issues and opinions. Over the years, however, we’ve witnessed a curbing of our freedom of speech and expression with a multitude of examples of such instances around us and it’s caused a number of questions to come up. When and how did this sudden need to constantly prove our nationalism/patriotism arise? When did questioning the ruling government make you anti-national?

While HOH being deactivated may not seem like the end of the world, it speaks of something so much larger than just a parody Facebook page shutting down. This isn’t about just HOH, this is about you, and me and every other thinker in this country that always hesitates or pauses for a second to think before speaking out against the government and administration. HOH was just one of the pages/people that made it okay, so to speak, to joke about the RSS, Modi and the BJP. Through humour and satire, HOH presented a reflection of the society we live in today.

We’ve lost so many formidable journalists and writers in recent times that there are times when the question arises, is it really worth it? When opinionated and fearless journalists and writers like Gauri Lankesh, M M Kalburgi, Rajdev Ranjan and Jagendra Singh lost their lives for continuing to voice what they thought was right, then freedom of speech in the world’s largest democracy really comes under question. What we can and must learn from them is to not stay silent. It’s okay to have views that differ or even question the state narrative, and voicing them is our right that we, today, have to fight for it seems. But we also need to understand that others have every right to do the same. We must learn to agree to disagree with each other, with respect and words.

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