Archive for May, 2016

One of the significant attributes of the computer mediated communication is the way in which it has altered our traditional ways of negotiating with the world. Many scholars of hyppereality associate this computer generated universe with the declining ability of the human perception to distinguish between real and the simulation of the real. It is under the premises of such context that we are at present witnessing a ‘virtual war’ in India fought on the terrain of cyberspace. This war is the manifestation of clash between multitudes of ideologies constituting the character of public opinion in hyper diverse Indian society. The access of media literate Indians to social media platforms, video sharing sites, and online news has provided a foundation for the formation of new virtual communities. Through internet these virtual communities unite with their ideological comrades and pontificate certain version of beliefs. These beliefs however often contradict and clash with the inimical beliefs of virtual other and create a content dominated by hatred, abuse, bullying, incitement, chauvinism and other forms of virtual violence. What is strikingly important on these virtual battlefields is the way in which the construction of facts becomes the function of the will or the entitlements of the participants. The recent clampdown on the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students by the incumbent Hindu nationalist government in India led by Narendra Modi raises essential questions concerning this newly developed hypermediatic manifestation of societal, political and cultural affairs. With the ongoing countrywide politically charged ambiance created in India after JNU sedition controversy, we see the emergence of a pattern bearing striking resonance with concepts used by scholars, writers in their explanations of the societies and polities in the post truth and hypermediatic era.

In the dominant imagery Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) symbolizes a bastion of left-wing political spectrum. The vibrant culture of student politics can be termed as one of the indispensable facet of JNU. With students from assorted backgrounds of India and outside, JNU continues to hold the reputation for providing a congenial setting for mushrooming of multitude of ideologies. The ubiquitous graffiti and posters on the walls of the buildings inside the campus communicate volumes about the world around us. While India as a society largely continues to adhere to its traditional customs and moral values, certain aspects of left-wing brand of politics of JNU attempts to challenge such norms. This conflicting character of left wing JNU politics and the society that inhabits it sometimes create an atmosphere of fissure. However despite its dominating left character, JNU has also in the past invited war mongers, hate preachers, Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes, Tarek Fatah to speak on global politics and so called Muslim rage. Many Hindu festivals like Holi, Diwali are celebrated fervently with the institutional approval. It is the existence of this contradictory nature of norms and ideologies that makes the essence of JNU multivocal. In the backdrop of multivocality, it is largely the accommodation of dissent that gives university its distinctive character.

In no time after the event organized in JNU on 9th February, the electronic media in India seized upon the incident and framed the event as an attack on the mother India.  Since the formation of the government by the BJP, nationalism in India has come to mean consenting to the ideology of Hindu nationalism. Any opposition to the ideology of Hindu nationalism also known as Hindutva has been bracketed as treason or anti-national or Pakistani. Since the allegations involved sympathies shown for Kashmir and Pakistan in the heart of India, few nationalistic private media news channel anchors left no stone unturned to showcase their jingoism and apathy for student politics in JNU.

Zee News, an Indian News channel, was one of first to report the incident. The chairman and the channel head of Zee News are known for their support for Hindu nationalist politics in India. To showcase its support for the BJP government, the channel supported the claims of the ABVP in JNU. The channel without any delay played the video clips as a proof to indicate the raising of anti-national slogans in the JNU campus. One of the clips also showed the president of student union addressing the gathering of students and chanting of anti-national slogans.  The video clips shown on TV straight away caused frenzy on the cyberspace. The video clip began to be circulated across the digital sphere in India. Zee TV and other new channel named Times Now (referred by some as Fox News on steroids for its sensational journalism) immediately summoned the main organizers of the event and the president of JNUSU on their channels for the clarification.  During the live debate the news-anchors of Zee TV and Times Now openly branded the invited student guests on their respective news programmes as treacherous and anti-national. The moral diatribe of news-anchors against these students fuelled national outrage against JNU. The anger orchestrated by student bashing news-anchors began to be articulated on social media with hashtags such #ShutdownJNU, #JNUantinational. The stance on the JNU students by the popular and controversial news-anchor of Times Now named Arnab Goswami was seen as an act of courageous journalism by the majority. The name of news-anchor Arnab Goswami as a symbol of true nationalist trended on twitter for days.

The ruling government instantaneously seized upon the political atmosphere in the country and condemned the slogans in the JNU. To maneuver anger and discredit JNU for political benefits the Home Minster of the country by citing later to be found fake tweet claimed said that JNU students received support from Hafiz Saeed, of Lashkar e Taiba from Pakistan. Without allowing the JNU administration to settle the affairs, the government ordered the police to crackdown the university. The Police filed First information report on the basis on the video clip footage made available by Zee TV. The president of the students union Kanahiaya Kumar was arrested for sedition charges. The police also issued look out circulars for the arrest of organizers of the event. One of the student organizers of the event with a Muslim name was without any evidence reported by few media outlets as the sympathizer of the terrorist organizations in Pakistan. There is very generally little need for the evidence in India in order to frame any Indian Muslim as   Pakistani or anti-national. Muslims in India are often questioned over their loyalty and patriotism in India. Being Muslims they are repeatedly linked to their co-religionists across the globe and particularly to Pakistan. In the past several years many Muslim youth have been illegally detained by the Indian police by linking these later to be found not guilty Muslim youth with terrorist activities. The involvement of the Muslim name in the entire JNU controversy provided a captivating opportunity for suspecting the protesters and believing the narrative of those championing the nationalistic cause.  The name of the Muslim student trended the social media sites and led to vigilantist death threats against his father and threats of sexual violence against his sister on social media.

The relentless covering of the incident by the media took a new turn when a news channel came to establish that Zee TV video clips showing students chanting anti-national slogans were doctored. According to this report, the clip especially of the president Kanhaiya Kumar which led to his arrest had been inserted with words such as (bandook) gun. Despite these turns and twists, the resentment against JNU has continued to persist. The explosion of interactive nature digital communications in India have encouraged the media literate Indians to lay claims over the public discourse in unprecedented manner.  According to the latest 11th annual report 2014-15 of Internet and mobile Association of India (IAMAI) there are more than 300 million internet users in India. Of these internet users, nearly 72% belong to urban India. One of the major reasons for the rise of right wing politics in India has been connected to rapidly growing middle class in India. It is this middle class that is currently dominating the comment sections of open ended social media platforms. By randomly classifying the nature of this content produced by middle class via internet, there is a typical right wing pattern of thought process dominating the cyber discourse. This is also for the first time that those who access information through internet are coming into contact with knowledge which used to be domain of experts. In the Giddenian sense this intrusion of expert knowledge into the day to day affairs of the lay people gets routinely interpreted and acted on by lay individuals in the course of their everyday actions.

One of the major trends to be experienced is the unbending online support for Prime Minster Narendra Modi. The massive and fervent armies of online Modi supporters post their comments across the cyberspace to defend every action by Modi and his government. The beef ban, egg ban, censorship, curtailment of dissent, Islamophobia, murder of rationalists, cultural supremacy and many such features characterizing ruling government are unequivocally defended. While at the same time intellectualism, Dalit resistance, opposition to Hinduization of the education, anti-neoliberal stance, and questioning role of Indian army in Kashmir are aggressively targeted by these cyber Hindutva. These online supporters of the ruling government with brazen disregard for anything associated with social sciences have turned the terms such secular, liberal, intellectual into ‘sickular’, ‘libtard’ and ‘pseudo-intellectual’ respectively. This bears resemble to what Susan Jacoby observes in her celebrated book The Age of American Unreason. Susan Jacoby argues that the emergence of modern media platforms coincided with the ascendance of culture which promoted an attitude denigrating the importance of tradition, history and knowledge.  The access to prosthetic knowledge made possible through internet allows these online supporters of the government as experts. The media technologies have come to inform these right wing cyborgs as never before.

The justification of beliefs irrespective of facts available is one of the dominant trademarks of the content generated by the online supporters of the present government in India. In the age of the infoglut, the cyber Hindutva communities only allow themselves to be associated with the content which conforms to their pre-existing beliefs. Any content that produces a cognitive discomfort is immediately deemed as irrelevant or a conspiracy to malign the present government. Scientific facts are criticized, interrogated and appropriated with the existing thought process.  In the events which followed JNU clampdown by the ruling government, even when the evidence do not favor the hysteria which the media channels such Zee TV and Times Now spawned, the belief that JNU is the hub of anti-national activities  continues to dominate the comments sections of any news about JNU. The use of information for ideological predispositions by the cyber Hindutva groups makes digital spaces largely as platforms for breeding delirium, misspeak, falsehood.  Ralph Keyes in the ‘Post Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life’ argues that in contemporary eras, lying has been raised to a highest platform. Keyes attributes this breeding of dishonesty in contemporary life to social dislocation and disconnectedness. In India in the recent past there have various cases where the government representatives holding public positions have lied about their qualifications. The significant example is the controversy over the educational qualifications of the Human Resource Development Minster, Smriti Irani and also the Prime Minster Narendra Modi. The inflation of resumes has been termed as a characteristic of the post-truth era where digital media revolution has come to a significant role.