Reverse Swing: The Irresistible Love of Hate
The current tirade of hatred is unabashed. There is nothing covert about it. It goes about its business openly taunting and maligning.
The Editors Guild of India has now issued a statement which, among other things, asserts that the ‘right to free speech does not mean a license to promote hate speech’.
This is extraordinary that an apex body of media professionals in a democracy has to actually spell this out to its constituents in an attempt to restrain and rein in rogue elements amongst it who have decided that the idea of free speech translates into compulsive broadcast of hate speech. It is the famous Caliban twist: ‘You taught me language and my profit on ‘t is I know how to curse’.
Hate seems to be the most loved emotion these days. And a public, in-your-face display of hate perhaps the most accepted act of contemporary citizenship. Parliament, universities, media, courts, administration, diplomacy, entertainment and the streets – are all suffused with hatred. After the drying up of oil, hate must be the new natural resource destined to drive humanity. It is the new legal tender, the new ‘cool’ – a Iago-like ‘motiveless malignity’ – which underwrites what is acceptable in films, advertisements, text books, citizenship and so on. Awash with hatred, as a nation we prepare for a new carnival of pogroms.
The distinguishing feature is that the current tirade of hatred is unabashed. There is nothing covert about it. It goes about its business openly taunting and maligning. The old class contradictions and hostilities have now congealed around religion and caste. In a film like The Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino confronts us with a vividly violent picture of the ecstasy provoked by racial and even political hatred. But that is a war situation and there is little love spared in contexts of war. There have been enough and more instances of blood lust in myth and history to bear mentioning. But when the same intensity of animosity and malevolence manifests itself in everyday behaviour – almost to the point of being ignored for having become normal – one can only attribute it to a compelling pathology of perversion.
A handful of English and Hindi television channels from metropolitan locations in India put up a daily display of this perversity in their prime-time products, where they make out as if truth were an unspeakable burden and as if their Constitutional freedoms were threatened because they were being called upon to maintain fidelity to facts. The pitch is so shrill and hyped up that recently, the Delhi High Court, in a case pertaining to the death of Sunanda Pushkar, had to admonish anchor Arnab Goswami and ask him to ‘bring down the rhetoric’ on his channel (Republic TV). He was firmly asked to ‘respect the sanctity of criminal investigation’ and to ‘not run a parallel trial or make unsubstantiated claims’.
The News Broadcaster’s Association (NBA) too has expressed reservations about the harangue and hatred that substitutes for news reporting on a few channels and their tendency to ratchet up decibel levels to pressurise the police with their own mock ‘investigations’ which invariably smack of jingoism.
As a corollary, cyber abuse has stormed in as our new national sport. With a multitude of talent for online abuse on display, a future inclusion in the Olympics ensures India a plane-load of medals. It is nothing short of wondrous when the teeming army of trolls and cyber bullies – protected by free speech guarantees and Uncle Mark Zuckerberg – are actually able to insert a neutral word or two in their tsunami of verbal abuse. It is like the alcoholic, when asked to take a blood test, exclaimed, ‘There might hardly be any blood in my alcohol stream’.
The social media space, to which a large segment of Indians from every social background, gender and age group is exposed, seems to have no use for any coy filters or blocks to sieve this volume of hate-filled verbal filth clogging the arteries of our communication channels. Even a media Moghul like Pritish Nandy, in a column in Mumbai Mirror few days ago, wondered why his long-deceased mother and his non-existent sister keep getting threats of being violated. It has become the new normal to issue rape and other threats as if it were an anniversary or wedding invitation. And civil society stands by and tolerates this uncivil hooting as, what it imagines, is a harmless sport.
And then, they have this charming penchant for threatening inventive forms of bodily harm. Deepika Padukone’s nose, Rhea Chakraborty’s hands, lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat’s life, Sudha Raghunathan’s career in music, actor Vijay Sethupathi and cricketer M.S. Dhoni’s little daughters – are all targets for our marksmen (and some women). From Arundhati Roy to Rana Ayyub, Umar Khalid to Teesta Setalvad, Apoorvanand to Shehla Rashid – there is a distinguished line-up of cut-outs used for daily target practice. Of course, there are many who have been outright silenced too through direct elimination – what V.S. Naipaul called ‘an extreme form of censorship’. (The latest example is the French teacher who had his throat slit for illustrating a classroom discussion on ‘freedom of speech’ by showing provocative cartoons of the Prophet).
Social-media platforms are drowning users in outright lies and bilious provocations, triggering some sort of mass fury over imagined transgressions. With the increasing call upon the social-media giants to clean up their act and regulate the tilt towards xenophobia, communal hatred and supremacism of all kinds, our parameters of free speech are being slowly mortgaged to the whims of a handful of multi-millionaire nerds in multinational companies. Despite the popularity of films like The Social Dilemma, which clinically expose the manipulation and control exercised over the life and behaviour of social media addicts by the giant corporations that own them, there seems to be a collective inability to snap out of their hypnotic hold.
Unlike during earlier moments in history, today’s display of rage comes not from the ‘Wretched of the Earth’, but from the restless dominant classes and castes and from majoritarian forces. The ‘unhappy elite’ (as The Economist calls them) who enjoy privilege are the angry ones, spewing foul-mouthed venom and a hysteria of hatred. The belligerent defence of the four rapists/murderers of a Dalit girl at Hathras by their upper caste families, as if being restrained from assaulting Dalits would affect their caste pride, was a national spectacle. In the prevailing atmosphere, it is difficult for even the very young to remain unaffected. It is a fever set to engulf major chunks of the population creating new victims and victors and undo the temperate mechanics of democratic polity.
Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s famous villanelle in 1951 urged us:
‘Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’
An entire generation of people influenced by him went out and produced ‘Wild men who caught the sun in flight’. Yet, in his wildest imagination, the poet would not have bargained for the kind of rage we are witness to now, which is turning cathartic and poised to purify this ancient land of all hypocrisies of its much vaunted pact with ahimsa. The blood-letting genes of the Pandavas/Kauravas (Kuru vamsa) and the Mauryan Ashoka continue to flourish in the modern day Indian. The curse of Ashwatthama – of endless retributory violence – still stalks our land. And we are embarked on the unrestrained path of liberatory hatred.
Philomisia, I believe, is the word for hatred of love. It might as well be the word now for the raging pandemic of the love of hatred.