Physician, Heal Thyself - Three Questions

Alice Mitchell: Dennis?!!!!!!
Dennis Mitchell: What strawberry pie?!
(a Dennis the Menace single frame)

Q: Who is in the puja room?
A: But I didn’t eat the bananas!
(old Bengali proverb)

Over the last 24 hours, much is being made of the governments attempts to “censor” or “regulate” offensive content on the social media sites. While the official was quick to go on air and proclaim that this was out of concern for religious sentiments and national security, everyone is aware of what the real intent is. In many ways, what is happening is a good thing. It shows up people for what they are, something that has been happening with a heartening frequency over the last several months.

It was really the anticorruption movement of the civil society led by Anna Hazare that brought this into focus, as the web brought the masses together. One of the arguments offered by the ruling party politicians and officials then was that the movement really didn’t matter much, since it was an elitist movement supported by armchair intellectuals tweeting and blogging in an elitist language.  This view was endorsed by many grassroot social commentators too. But then, this was in April. By later in the year, this perception had been changed altogether by the millions across the country, across class and caste, who joined in the movement.

Watching the twitterverse and blogospheres explode with the developments, I switched on the TV. There were several white haired boys taking different sides of the debate, and I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s definition of true terror as waking up one day and finding that your country is being run by your high school class. This prompted me, like the thousands of other bloggers who are right now doing the same, to put my thoughts down about this. I took three of the allegations indirectly being made against bloggers and social activists on the internet and tried to answer them as objectively as possible.

1. Are bloggers elitist?
2. Do bloggers spread hate and intolerance?
3. Are bloggers vain and self centered?

1. Are bloggers elitist?
It is obvious that those in power are totally unaware of what is happening in the social media space. With Indian language support growing in leaps and bounds among all social networking platforms and with mobile phone penetration putting social media access at the user’s fingertips, one no longer needs to blog or tweet in English using complex applications on a computer. Vernacular blogs are multiplying, evolving, and maturing rapidly. Perhaps the explosion of social media in societies like ours is precisely because of the frustration with the system, since most blogs are openly critical of the ills of the system. One of the startling discoveries for me was to find political parties using the social media in regional languages to put their ideologies forward. That aside, there are some extremely popular and thought provoking vernacular blogs out there. What is worrying for those in power is that the numbers are growing, and so is the realization that we as a people have been taken for a ride by the political elite. Is blogging elitist? Of course it is, but it brings a different type of elite of our country together, the elite who believe in values, in human welfare, and in standing up for the truth.

2. Does social media spread hatred and intolerance?
The Indian society is built on the principle of tolerance. Our major religions teach us tolerance. Our national leaders and politicians are epitomes of tolerance. Do you think they are not aware of what the common man thinks of them? Yet they go about doing what they have to for five years without a complaint, and then come and ask to be voted to power again. We as citizens too are a tolerant lot. We tolerate the lack of roads, water, power, health, and education for years and years without complaining. At best, we turn to the private sector and fill their pockets instead. We even tolerate the hijacking of our oppression for political ends!  Is there not a need for something to balance this excess of tolerance that we have built into our society? What is intolerance? Is protesting against corruption intolerance? Is speaking about the obvious dynamics within the ruling party intolerance? Is the disapproval of an inadequate and biased legal system intolerance? If yes, the social media does promote intolerance. On the other hand, the social media is also where balance is restored to extreme emotions. When Sharad Pawar was slapped by a young man recently who was protesting against corruption and high prices, the social media was quick to criticise the act even though for all intent and purposes, most people could identify with the man who committed the act.

3. Are bloggers vain and self centered?
The social media space is occupied by people of all shades and hues. They cover the entire gamut of ideologies - political, philosophical, economic and religious. Some of them do write about what they actually do in terms of living their ideologies. Most don’t. However, that does not mean that they do not do anything, but just that they do not talk about it on their blogs. The true agents of social change on the internet are by and large quiet about their personal contributions but vocal in their propagation of the need for change, vocal in their criticism of what they see as wrong with the system. This does sometimes create the illusion of a lot of chatter but little of matter. It is perhaps important for the blogging community to start sharing in the most appropriate manner what it is doing to make a difference. A small but powerful example that comes to my mind is that of Surabhi Surendra, a blogger from a remote part of Andaman and Nicobar islands who spent Children’s Day realizing the challenges faced by children there in pursuit of learning and creativity and decided to do what she could for them. This is just one example of how people are making a difference through their presence in cyberspace.

I now turn my questions around and leave it to my readers to answer them. The answers are obvious even to those least in the know. The tragedy is that few, if any, of our politicians are either willing or capable of answering these questions with any measure of honesty.

1. Are politicians elitist?
2. Do politicians spread hate and intolerance?
3. Are politicians vain and self centered?

2011 has been a year of coming from the shadows for social media. While marketing and advertising professionals have been figuring out the consumption patterns of those who log on to update their status thrice a day or to upload pics of their drunk friends from last night’s party, a quiet revolution has been taking place that is capable of bringing governments down and saving lives. Apart from the free and in depth access to information that the internet offers, there is now a new sociopolitical dimension to being a netizen, one that rises beyond all that is petty and provincial. The internet has made social activism possible on a global scale, where the entire world can know first hand what living conditions are all over the world and how they can contribute to a remedy as individuals. The internet has created a new elite, an elite that prides itself for its humanity, its compassion and its commitment to positive change! An elite that just might make it possible to regulate and censor politicians and their activities.


  1. Like your blog... Has almost everything in it!!

  2. very clearly explained

  3. Thank you for mentioning me Subhorup! :) I am honored.

  4. @Surabhi, welcome! Wanted people to know about how people like you go the extra mile without any expectations.

  5. Yes, we should all answer those questions!

    Those who can write should write, I feel!


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