Some proverbial straw broke the proverbial camel’s back today and I have to get it out of my system.
There is one thing that seems to unite people on social media across caste, creed, religion, political beliefs, social standing, educational background, and economic status. The temptation to make strawman enemy, challenge them, ask them questions, then feel outraged or victorious that it hasn’t been answered, and pass judgment on them. This strawman enemy, at first glance, doesn’t sound like a strawman. Because their names do carry a meaning. Questions get asked to Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Atheists, Agnostics, Americans, British, Pakistanis, Indians, Liberals, Feminists, Upper-class Hindus, Sunni Muslims, rich Dalits, Men, Women, Transgenders, Homosexuals, Gay, Lesbians – you name it. And the victorious question typically takes the form of “Why is (category) X not saying thing A about the issue I?”
“Why are high-caste Hindus not talking about beef lynchings?”
“Why are Muslims not condemning terrorism?”
“Why are feminists not saying anything about this actress misbehaving?”
“Why are liberals not decrying this incident of state oppression?”
And when they don’t get an answer or don’t get a satisfactory one, they proceed to pass on a sweeping judgment about the group (sometimes the judgment is passed beforehand, because they already know they won’t get the answer).
Bhai/Behen, exactly who are you talking about? Do you know all the Hindus, all the Muslims, all the feminists, and all the liberals? Do you know about all the different places, where all of them express things? What on earth does it mean that X is not talking about I? Who exactly is X? Are you asking that question to all the people who belong to X? Do all of them have to talk about it? Are you looking at a certain percentage? Why that percentage? How do you know whether or not that percentage has been achieved? Do they have to talk about it on the specific forum you want? In the specific way that you approve of?
Get a grip. There is no Feminists Association of India that can talk on behalf of all the feminists. Even if there is an AIMPLB, what they say is not what all Muslims think and say. There is no Liberals United issuing memberships. There is definitely no Hindus of the World Association which speaks on behalf of all Hindus.
By all means, ask questions to an organization or a group that has a responsibility or has control over resources important to the issue at hand or whose job it is to have answers and which is identifiable enough to answer it. Ask questions of National Commission of Women (disclaimer: it is NOT a feminist-representative body, just a political-bureaucratic organization). Ask AIMPLB how can it support triple talaq in this day and age. Ask Congress why it had brought 66A and despite that is pretending today to be a champion of free speech. And ask BJP why it condones lynchings? Ask the government why people are being denied food because of Aadhaar when it was supposed to bring inclusion? Ask news channels why they didn’t cover a particular issue.
You are still not guaranteed an answer. But at least you are not being stupid by asking.
I can’t give you a strict definition of what kind of group can be asked a question, and what kind can’t be. I don’t have a strict classification in my head. If you really started making a list, there would be gray areas. But I know absolute absurdity when I see it. If you stop to think for a moment, you would know it too. Think, who you are asking the question to. Who are you passing the judgment on? If you are asking it to too broad a group with no ‘official spokesperson’, most likely you are being absurd. Most likely, it is just a few individuals you are following or connected to, that you are talking about. Then please do us all a favor and refrain from passing sweeping judgment about a group.
Of course, who am I to stop you from asking and saying whatever you want? Not only do I not have any power, I am a supporter of free speech and all. Even in principle, I can’t ask that you be stopped. Even if I had power, I wouldn’t. So ask if you want. Your freedom of speech. I will call it ridiculous and stupid. My freedom of speech. And I might especially call you out (and not answer the question) if you direct stupid questions at feminists, liberals or agnostics (even atheists). Because I identify myself with all those labels. Then you will perhaps ask why do feminists not call me out when I ask a question to Hindus. Why only when I ask a question to liberals. Guess what? You are being absolutely absurd!
Disclaimer: This rant is about what we see on social media, where these questions and judgment keep getting absurd by the day. I am not trying to say that groups don’t have specific, identifiable majority inclinations and characteristics. Just that discussing those and understanding the nuances is beyond the ability of our social media scholars.
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash