By Karan Mujoo Jan. 20, 2018
The anonymous creator of Humans of Hindutva was forced to shut down his page after he received death threats. A parody Facebook page now draws the same level of bile as a Gauri Lankesh and MM Kalburgi. This is not a great time to be a dissenter in India.
In the final weeks of December 2017, I was interviewing the anonymous creator of Humans of Hindutva for this story. HoH, which started out as a Facebook page, achieved the kind of attention and virality that online outfits can only dream about. The founder, who we had earlier christened a “one-man anti-bhakt army,” had built his brand on razor-sharp satirical takedowns of communal politics, parodying the popular Humans of New York page (and its several iterations across the globe).
About a month prior, after several run-ins with Facebook’s “community standards”, HoH started his own website, http://satyanash.com/. And then, all hell broke loose.
Some of HoH’s virulent opponents had gotten a hold of his number and he and his family began to receive death threats. All the care he had taken to preserve his identity had proven futile. We had to abandon the interview, most of which had been fun and insightful. The answers, given before he had received the death threats, were irreverent and funny, but still held the strain of uncertainty and wariness which eventually forced HoH to take down the page. Some edited excerpts below:
Q. Do you really think politics matters to the privileged urban Indian?
Humans of Hindutva: Politics affects all of us. Period. If you’re middle-class like me, then instead of the casteism faced by Dalits and OBCs, you will face a financial oppression as you find that all the jobs are in urban areas which have skyrocketing rentals and paralysed infrastructure. Your savings are depleting, taking your girlfriend out is more expensive, your electricity/fuel/transportation bill is rising.
Q. We know your stance on the right wing, but what is your take on today’s liberals?
Humans of Hindutva: Oh God, the fucking liberals. I’ve started to hate them as much as the other side these days. No matter what the issue, you can count on a liberal to show up with his why-don’t-we-all-just-get-along-and-sing-Kumbaya bullshit. These idiots actually think that the mobs setting people on fire and filming the act are open to a reasonable dialogue and want to discuss the nuances of freedom of expression. I’m a fairly passive guy but have always believed in giving people a dose of their own medicine. Which is why, when someone abuses me, I have no problem in giving it back. I don’t believe in taking the high road or turning the other cheek. I am not a better person and will gladly stoop to the other person’s level. It’s rather infuriating when some right-winger threatens to kill me and rape my family but when I call him a “dickhead” or “sexually frustrated”, a liberal magically pops up and says that I’m just as bad as people threatening me because “attacking someone based on their sexual history is oppressive as everyone doesn’t have access to sex.” You couldn’t make it up.
Q. Why have you even been doing all of this? Why have you courted trouble for the sake of a few memes? What is your incentive?
Humans of Hindutva: I created this page only as a reaction to several right-wing pages that openly spread their hate. I have no delusions of grandeur about the end result. A silly troll page like mine is not going to swing elections. I’m only slinging mud at mudslingers and don’t really think it’s going to achieve anything at all. I do this only for myself and don’t represent any movement or political party. I simply want to show how ridiculous the right wing’s arguments are. The memefication of politics is only an attempt to make it accessible to the masses. Journalists are doing commendable work in breaking stories and discussing the nitty-gritty of politics, but they have to maintain decorum and fall in line with editorial policy. I use the information provided by them and give it my own spin without any filters. I have no end result in mind other than expressing my take on a topic and having my voice heard. As long as I can get my message of humanism to as many people as possible, I don’t care if they agree with the method applied.
It’s rather infuriating when some right-winger threatens to kill me and rape my family but when I call him a “dickhead” or “sexually frustrated”, a liberal magically pops up and says that I’m just as bad as people threatening me.
Q. How afraid should one be, given the fate of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh, and Justice Loya?
Humans of Hindutva: I admit that I look over my shoulder a lot more these days. Sometimes I even imagine that my barber has been given a supari to take me out, but then I realise that the right wing probably hasn’t infiltrated the hairdresser community just yet. I’ve been fairly careful about maintaining my anonymity which is why I find it hilarious when women message to ask for my phone number and offer to take me out for a meal. As if someone getting death threats on a daily basis is going to be tempted by a free lunch.
In hindsight, the vitriol that HoH faced, was probably not comparable to the kind that was directed at Lankesh, Kalburgi, and Pansare. Their idea of dissent and questioning the establishment skews far from Humans of Hindutva. Yet, in the lynch-ready environment that we live in, it takes very little for a digital threat to turn analogue. It might seem preposterous that a man and his family would receive death threats over a Facebook page. But the answer is simple.
HoH fought fire with fire. Meme with meme. Post with post. Crude language with crude language. He did not hide behind esoteric arguments in fancy magazines read by the elite. His biting satire left the bhakt army bloodied, bruised, and bewildered. In the short span of its existence, HoH ruffled many feathers. And that never bodes well for dissenters in India.
Yet, it isn’t as if we exist in an exceptional era where the right to dissent has suddenly come under fire. The history of freedom of speech in India is a fairly shameful one. And it is party-agnostic. When the Emergency was declared in 1975 and the press and dissidents gagged, the Congress had been in power. Again in 1998, the Congress government was guilty of acquiescing and banning Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Under the BJP, well, we only have to look at the fracas surrounding Padmaavat. The only difference is that earlier, it was the state that directly censored. Now it is the agents of the state.
For now, the enemies of freedom of speech and dissent have won. They have managed to paraphrase Voltaire: “I will disapprove of what you say, and I will give you a death threat to prove it.”