Monday, August 27, 2012

Censoring Vs Sensitizing: How to deal with communal messages, hate speech and misinformation on social media

The rumours that led to panic among people of North East over the violence in Assam and sharing of photographs—both real and morphed, regarding alleged atrocities on Muslims in Myanmar, have brought the issue of monitoring online content at the centre stage.

But first see the three incidents:

1. Photograph of Indian women who were part of the contingent at London Olympics was circulated. Such was the angle of the photograph that it was not clear whether Sania Mirza was carrying flag or not.

This was used to spread false rumours and accuse her of not being ‘Indian’, particularly, because of her marriage to Pakistan’s Shoaib Malik. There were thousands of people commenting at a page specially made for Olympics on Facebook.

While Sania was being targeted rather unfairly, few bothered to see that other women in the same photo had held the tricolor upside down--a much serious issue. When it was pointed out, the number of abusive comments suddenly came down.

2. Photograph of a youth standing with his foot on the ‘shiv linga’ at a temple made rounds on internet. The name of the person whose profile carried this photograph sounded Christian and hence enormous amount of hate was directed at the community.

When the person was finally traced, it was found that he was not a Christian, but Hindu. He was upset with God because of failure in exams repeatedly. Due to malicious act, there were rallies in different cities and lot of hate speech on internet. Finally, he was arrested.

3. Of late, a photograph is being circulated on internet. It shows people wearing skullcaps [clearly Muslim] and whose ire is directed at Indian flag. It is a photo of Pakistan. But this is used to direct anger against Indian Muslims also.

In fact, in one city alone, VHP-Bajrang Dal burnt Pakistani flag twice in less than a month over different issues. Clearly, there are hate-mongers on both sides. Why use the acts of fringe elements to rouse feelings and instigate people.

Of morphed images, rumours and gullible netizens

So are the people so gullible [and fool] that they believe whatever they see on internet? To an extent, it is a fact that when you carry biases and you are presented with similar things, either inciting texts that are based on wrong facts or morphed photos, they tend [or like] to believe it.

Also, there is a large loony fringe on internet. They are just like normal people who appear sophisticated but when they are alone, make dirty graffiti on toilet walls in trains and other places. Hence, such people under false or assumed identities spread their message and get vicarious pleasure.

The above three examples are just a tip of the iceberg. There are groups on Facebook that are ideologically driven and intend to distort things, spread wrong information and create divide among religious communities through their diatribe. But are we so immature that anything can cloud or vision!

Tell youths about cyber laws, online safety

With millions getting news and information through social media, particularly, websites and internet sources like Facebook and Twitter, it is more important to think of sensitizing people. There has been no serious effort at on part of government to tell citizens or students about cyber etiquettes and online safety.

Every day we have large advertisements are published by government. Railway publishes ads about how to travel safely by not taking eating from strangers who can drug your food or Delhi police giving you information about help lines in the form of newspaper advertisements.

Educate, advertise, update school & college syllabi

We see ads on birth and death anniversaries of leaders, politicians and other prominent personalities of yore, to recall their contribution. On particular days like Anti-Child Labour Day or Polio Eradication Day, we have such ads on TV also.

But when crores are using internet and young minds can get poisoned or communalised, why there is no focus on this ever-burgeoning population. Why have we seen no initiative on part of government to tell people that they shouldn’t believe everything and that photographs can be morphed, just like in case of Myanmar violence.

Shouldn’t governments have started teaching cyber etiquettes as a subject by incorporating it in school syllabus. So many youths are getting booked, arrested and jailed, all over India, for posting inflammatory posts or even writing communal comments. This fact is also not known generally.

Creating awareness about laws can reduce hate-mongering

 Not just for objectionable SMS or obscene MMS, people who are writing or sharing controversial images or texts, are booked under IT (Information Technology) Act apart from IPC sections. People spreading rumours or falsehoods are being booked regularly across India.

They don’t get bail easily and spend time in jails. Just that one has to file a report against those spreading mis-information or using threatening or abusive language. If people come to know that there are provisions under which they can be booked, there will be a decline in such incidents.

I feel that one hazards are known, people will behave more maturely and responsibly. Those who commit offences, just like they do off line, will face law here as well. Shouldn’t the recent incidents, particularly, the panic among North East students in South Indian cities of Bangalore and Hyderabad, serve as wake up call.

Ironically, many of the URLs that were blocked were not connected to these issues. Pages that are banned resurface again, on different URLs. What is needed is to inform people about how things can be distorted on virtual world and that they should act with restraint.

There is no better option than educating citizens in this regard. Blocking websites or banning twitter handles is not a solution. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Celebrating Id-ul-Fitr: With sweets, toys and 'eidee', the real fun is for children

On the left is photo of children eating the traditional 'siwain' [or sewaiyan] sweets, while playing with their balloons bought from shops at Idgah and are carrying the Eidee* as well.

Though Id-ul-Fitr is a day of festivity, naturally kids have maximum fun on the day.

The phones were ringing from the evening and news of moon sighting came from different towns and cities. Preparations begun soon after.

Ramzan, the month of fasting, had ended with the sighting of moon. As one went to market, one could see excitement among youths and kids. There was rush at the kite shop. "Its Hazrat Amir Khusro's tradition, to fly kites", explained an elder.

Yummy Biryani ...
I too thought of buying a 'charkhi' and string. While girls were busy selecting the bangles, dresses to be worn on Eid, elders focused on having everything ready for the next day's feast.

People queried as to what's the time for namaz at Idgah and which mosque will have the earliest prayer time and those where late risers can go.

The most colourful aspect of Id namaz is that large number of children including girls go to the mosque. For children, the attraction is the 'Idi' or 'Idee' [pronounced as Eidee], the cash given to them by elders when the kids, and toys sold outside mosques.

The 'Idee' reminds one of the famous Prem Chand's famous Urdu story in which the orphan boy, Hamid, brings his grandmother 'chimta', so that her hands won't get burnt while cooking rotis, unlike other boys who spend it on toys.

Kids ran, played and fought until the balloons burst. Those with their balloons intact teased others, who cried and ran to snatch the remaining ones until elders intervened.

When the 'Idee'' goes up, kids plan spending them on toys. Sligthly elder ones go to movies or spend them on things in accordance with their own idea of fun.

Of course, one has to go the house of elderly relatives and congratulate them. Though out the day, it's a stream of visitors.

Instead of the customary three hugs, many now finish it with just one light embrace. Till late night, the rounds of 'mubarak-baad' continued and exhausted, but contented, I hit the bed, having replied to most of the SMS and phone calls.

The train had begun chugging in my head. Leaves gone, one has to return and resume work. With Id-uz-Zuha barely two months away, the thought that whether I would be able to get leave then, has begun bugging me. It is always satisfying to celebrate Id at your hometown.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hindus hosting 'iftar' for fasting Muslims, wishing them on Ramzan and vice versa: Communal Harmony Project-18

Secularism is practiced on street in India
So many banners with messages of communal harmony are seen on the streets in India. We take them for granted and often don't pay attention to the hoardings on road sides.

Till a few weeks ago, I was spotting Muslims welcoming the 'Kanwad' yatras. 

There were banners congratulating Hindus on Janmashtami. Now, I see Hindus putting up banners, wishing Muslims Happy Ramzan and even Id.

Often due to hurry to reach office or home, one fails to take a snap.

Besides, if there is traffic on the road, its tough for a person who doesn't look like a professional photographer.

The reason I consider these gestures important, is because it shows close bonds between Hindus and Muslims on the ground.

These people are not politicians who organise Devi Jagran or Roza-Iftaar parties with a purpose. They don't do it for getting votes. For them its goodwill, harmony and a feeling of brotherhood for their neighbour with whom they have relations over decades and even for generations. Either its 'iftaar' or Muslims welcoming 'Kanwariyas', it all symbolises our strong cohesiveness.

This is important, as on internet, particularly, Twitter and Facebook, you find a different world. Communal trolls, opinionated guys who talk of secularism as they get it from books or those patronising the ordinary Hindus & Muslims about harmony.

'Ramzan ki tah-e-dil se mubarakbaad'
Just have a look at the banner here. It is from Durga Utsav Samiti, a committee that organises the religious and cultural programmes during Durgotsava celebration.

But, they express solidarity with Muslim brethren. They put up 786 & crescent [moon] on their banner. Is it a small thing? NO.

In fact, the team that goes for collection includes Muslims also. And all Muslim households give 'chanda' generously. This happens in mixed localities where holding a function or festival of one community is considered important for all, and its a matter of prestige of mohalla.

Ghettoisation kills this beautiful aspect of Indian culture. In every city, we still have, fortunately, innumerable mixed colonies. It is these people who know and practice secularism on the street. For them religious differences and diversity are something to cheer and celebrate.

For posts on similar topic on this blog. Click HERE & HERE

[Harmony exists all around us but is often ignored. Instead, stories of hate, discord and communalism get spread easily.

There are a million examples in our daily lives across India but they don't get promoted, hence, news of hate and discord gets heard more. Let's change it, now. This is a small attempt to change it through Communal Harmony Project]

For reading similar reports on this blog, Click the link HERE and also find out more about Communal Harmony Project

#communalharmony #communalharmonyproject #india

Monday, August 13, 2012

Excessive Emotions: Indian Muslims must exercise restraint, shun needless passion

B'desh, Malaysia, Indonesia are Muslim nations near Burma
Two recent incidents that include protest over 'discovering' the Akbarabadi Mosque in Delhi, and then the agitation at Azad Maidan in Mumbai which turned violent, must serve as wake up call for all Indian Muslims.

I'll come back to them but just a recall: In the late 70s and even up to early 80s, Urdu newspapers like Nida-e-Millat and Nasheman, in India would spend tonnes of ink on the plight of Palestinians, perennially.

This was not just an interest but an obsession. With the decline of Urdu press for a phase in eighties, there was a marked decline in Indian Muslims' interest towards the faraway territory.

It was the era when Muslim here faced the heat due to Ayodhya movement. Thereon, either it was Babri Masjid demolition or major communal riots, we never heard any foreign Muslim country or people in other lands, shedding tears for Indian Muslims or issuing any statement for them. Was there any strong voice over Gujarat from a foreign power?

There was no need either for any outsider to speak for us. We are a democratic country. Like most nations and societies, we will have our issues, and then we will sort them out ourselves. There is no need for  intervention. Mostly our Hindu brethren are fighting the cases for justice with minorities.

Still, whenever there is an issue in a faraway country, Indian Muslims are the first to hit streets. Of course, not when Muslims kill Muslims in an African country, or when Ahmadiyyas or [even Shias] are blown to pieces in supposedly 'Muslim nations' on a regular basis.

Some of us unfortunately might look at Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries as model states, despite the fact that they are monarchies. Despite, their rigid and regressive attitudes when it comes to treating women, minorities and even Muslim settlers from other countries, who are not given equal treatment or citizenship and kept below par with even American and other white races.

The Akbarabadi mosque in Delhi
Yes, Arab countries have their laws, we have our laws. Have you ever seen Arab Sheikhs protesting killing of Muslims in Myanmar or their citizens.

Do the Arab people have the right to protest. And if they don't have it or even if they have it, do they intend to do it.

From Egypt to Lebanon, Iran to Turkey and Kazakhstan to Bosnia, which Muslim country saw such huge numbers pouring out on streets to protest the killings?

Frankly, we have the right to protest and we are perhaps misusing it. We don't join other communities to protest for injustice on others, but our blood boils when we hear or see images of attacks on Muslims.

Don't we realise that the world looks at it, as a case of Muslims just thinking about themselves and none else. Wouldn't it be better if we submitted memorandums, met MPs, wrote to President and Prime Minister, to apprise authorities in Myanmar about our sentiments, rather than creating road blockades and fiery speeches. Already online campaigns were on.

Our heart must bleed for everyone who is facing injustice, not just for Muslims. For a moment, it can be accepted that till a few years ago, other communities didn't have much presence in countries outside India and failed to understand this excessive show of solidarity by Muslims for events outside.

Now with growing diaspora, Indian Hindus and Sikhs also begin to feel for attack on co-religionists outside. However, the catch lies in the fact that there are no Hindu and Sikh nations apart from India. While we can surely be unhappy with what is happening in Myanmar, we must understand the realities.

What Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country is doing? This country amended its secular constitution and became a supposedly Islamic country, and it closes border on Rohingyas, it forcibly sends them back and doesn't hold serious talks with Myanmar regime over this issue.

They did the same with fellow Urdu speaking Biharis for decades. These lakhs of Biharis remained in camps and both Pakistan and Bangladesh avoid taking the responsibility. Only recently did Bangladesh accepted them and gave them citizenship.

Don't expect permission for protests easily now
Forget Gulf countries, what about Malaysia, another Muslim majority country, close to Myanmar.

It is also an economic force and just a bit far away is Indonesia. What these governments are doing? If Indian Muslims want to the feel pain of Rohingyas, it's okay.

But holding demonstrations of such size, that can go out of control, what message we want to send. We are further harming our own image in this country.

Rather than taking proper routes or legal ways, we always go for rhetoric and streets, which turns counter-productive and hurts our image even more. It is not that you shouldn't be concerned, but head must prevail our heart.

On the issue of ethnic cleansing in Burma, for the last month, we have seen demonstrations not just in capitals, but districts, even towns and at smaller places. Why? In cities, where twenty people aren't seen ready to join a delegation over a matter of genuine concern or the issue of delay in recognition to a school in minority dominated area, 2,000 easily come for such a gathering or protest. Isn't that amazing?

It tells a great deal about the emotions which the Indian Muslims seem to have in excess. Its better to use and channelize this energy elsewhere. Either it's the issue of Akbarabadi mosque in Delhi,  for which passions were whipped up by an MLA or the Burma issue, our priorities are misplaced.

Isn't it a better idea to have funds collected for victims of violence in Assam, both the Bodo victims as well as Muslims, rather than giving advertisements in papers and then heading for rallies! In Akbarabadi mosque case, the issue was handled in such a way that now it could cause severe embarrassment to community.

Just a few decades back, a senseless emotional movement over a frail old woman, had turned Muslims into villains in this country. The Shah Bano case had strengthened right-wing forces, led to rise of BJP, destruction of Babri Masjid, and the entry of the word 'appeasement' in Indian political dictionary.

Despite going through so much, the Muslim leaders seem to have learnt nothing. Either it's Akbarabadi Masjid issue in Delhi, for which later FIRs were registered, or the Azad Maidan protest, where Muslim youths ultimately died, one sees misplaced priorities and 'josh' prevailing over 'hosh' that only harm us.

Read this post on similar issues that were posted on the blog earlier:

Indian Muslims must avoid street protests: Ten lessons to be learnt from Jalna incident

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rains and Ramzan: Barbecue in Balcony, Kababs & Chiken Tikka

Barbecue begins....
For the last couple of days, it's been heavenly. Incessant rains have brought relief after the long summer season and now the city looks green.

It was fun, having barbecue at our place. In the balcony that overcomes the vast expanse of greenery, we set up the portable barbecue set, which was bought sometime back but not used.

We weren't sure how it would come out to be. The coal had been arranged. First, we found that there two kinds of coal, the patthar ka koyla [stone coal] and then the lakdi ka koyla [wood coal].

One of them burnt easily while the other didn't. And that we had to get the latter one. After searching for a few days, we managed to find the place where the particular coal was sold. The date was decided when we had to do this experiment.

The barbecue set was opened and kept in the balcony. Showers had made the weather pleasant. In the balcony, there was no direct rain but a cool breeze that brought droplets. It was not so easy and took an effort before the coals caught the fire.

Seekh ke Kabab
As flames reached the desired height, the 'seekh' were kept. Newspapers served as traditional hand-held fans that are used to keep the flame up.

The 'Seekh ke Kabab' were getting ready. There was lot of stuff--chicken tikkas & mutton pieces, to be cooked later. The aroma had increased the appetite.

As evening descends, one waits for the call of Azan and the 'gola chhootna' [cracker's sound] that signals that the fast should be broken now. In fact, it's great to have Ramzan [some guys spell it Ramadan], the holy month of fasting, fall in this season.

The fasts don't seem long, unlike summers when you look at the clock ticking and waiting for the minute hands to touch the 'iftaar time'. We were a bit skeptic initially that whether the kebabs had been adequately cooked or not.

'Chimta' and Chicken...
They came out well and were really tasty. So were the other delicacies. The salt and 'masala' was also fine. There is definitely a different kind of aroma and taste when food is cooked on coal, especially, in the open.

There was smoke in a couple of rooms for a while, but then, one has to bear it. Though I am not a foodie and due to my laziness, there are not much 'dawats' or parties at my place, I did enjoy this one thoroughly.

When you put in a bit of more effort, the result is always better. As we had just started savouring the delicacies, there came the heavy rain.

With the house surrounded by trees and a rivulet flowing on one side, it made our day. [I heard that Delhi and parts of North India, are still reeling under the hot summer] Enjoyed every bit of the mausam and the mughlai food. 

Not much, but our own little adventures, for a change which we all are probably entitled to. The portable barbeque set is fine, as it becomes a small light suitcase, that can be carried anywhere, and when needed turned into a barbecue. So it was a nice, cosy, little picnic at home. Next time, we might go near a dam for more fun.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

'White supremacist', 'insane gunman' or 'Temple shooter' but why not Terrorist: Media must de-link religion with Terror, see all abominable acts alike

Either it's firing on Sikhs in the Gurdwara near Milwaukee or the last month's killings in a theatre in Colorado, both the incidents in United States, caused outrage, but as soon as identity of the shooter was known, a new word was coined to describe him.

In both cases, the shooters were White Americans. Just like the killing in Anders Breivik in Norway when he shot dead 77 persons. What is similar is that in all the cases, there was initial hysteria on TV channels and usage of words like, 'terror attack can't be ruled out'.

But as soon as the identity of the perpetrator was known, new expressions were coined for them. Breivik, who had a large cache of arms and ammunition and went on a firing spree, was later arrested and follow up stories described him as 'Madman' or 'Insane', more often, as 'Delusional Shooter'.

Media should stop playing with words: Coining new terms for Terror!

This is perhaps because of his association with right-wing and his ideas against immigration. Then came the incident in Colorado. James Holmes who had kept explosives in his Denver house, and who launched an attack in the theatre that was screening Batman movie, killed 12 persons & wounded many others.

Holmes, 24, who doing a research in neuro-science, and then quit his PhD, was called 'massacre man', 'mass murderer' and 'shooting suspect' once his identity was ascertained. Won't people feel that there are double standards in dubbing a person as terrorist?

If he is a Muslim, he is one, but if he is not, then he is either a Fundamentalist [Extremist] or simple Criminal [Gunman, shooter], even if he is driven by an ideology. The latest incident at the Gurudwara in Wisconsin (USA) again proves the point.

This time the man identified is former US Army vet, Wade Michael Page, 40, who has been accused of killing six persons and wounding many others at the 'Sikh temple' in Oak Creek, has got another label. He is being termed as 'White supremacist'. Others dubbed him as 'Temple killer'.

Mass killings are always Terrorism: Why use softer terms or new labels?

This happens in India as well. When an incident occurs, the immediate reports say, 'Cops don't rule out terror angle'.

Aren't deaths same or does the magnitude of crime change when identity of the perpetrator is established.

In Assam, Goa, Karnataka and incidents in certain other places, we have seen that initially they were termed as terror strikes but when names like groups like Abhinav Bharat, ULFA, Sanatan Sanstha, NDFB, Black Widow came up, the words were 'wanted for blast' or 'extremist action. The 'T' word was missing now.

Governments and media fail to understand that use of word 'Terror' creates a scare. This is what the enmies of humanity want. Shouldn't we get rid of it and stop scare? Every incident of crime should be condemned but shouldn't there be similar criteria. Words and terminologies surely have impact.

We have heard the adage, 'Show me the Face and I'll show you the rule'. Is it now, 'Tell me the person's identity and we will dub him terrorist or a gunman'?. Should every incident be seen from the same prism, forever!

Just like Islamists, lunatics are found in other faiths also

There are lunatics and fanatics in all religions. We, often hear, that Islamists are driven by an agenda. But so did Breivik, who had strong right-wing connections, particularly with fundamentalist Christians. And Wade Michael Page is now being reported as a neo-Nazi. They too have their agendas.

My sole appeal is that all terrorist activities should be treated as terrorism. Or if they have to be reported as crimes, then they should all be termed as crimes. As words and jargons change with a perpetrator's religion, it caused prejudices in society, fuels racial hatred and these biases percolate down, staying in minds for long.

Muslims feel that they get bad press and just because of section of media, feel that lot people in the world are iased against them. This is a continuous cycle. Media must get out of it now. Time to de-link religion with terrorism. It is in the best interests of the people.

For stories on this subject on this blog in the past CLICK HERE