Rise of the Internet Fanatic – Religion and Hate in the Cyber Era

The internet has changed our lives in ways we could not even imagine. The way we book our tickets, the way we prepare for our examinations and the way we watch movies. Netflix and Amazon Prime have modified our living rooms. It has been years since I have actually approached a travel agent to book tickets for me. The rise of internet has also had many darker effects. Cyber sex and hacking were words unknown to our parents. Pornography has influenced the sex lives of so many millennials. The late nineties saw the rise of the internet generation – Liberal, impatient and ambitious. We craved speed – faster networks and instant gratification. But a very decidedly different group of young men and women arose.

What was confined to the Wahabbi madrasas of Saudi Arabia could pervade the mobile phones of young Muslim boys in Tirunelveli. The xenophobia of the saffron fringe could infiltrate the living rooms of the Indian middle class. The fundamentalist Christianity of Billy Graham in the United States was in our fingertips.

A new sub-generation arose. Radical, opinionated and doggedly religious. The phenomenon started about 15 years ago. The Stonebench team approached Dr Akbaruddin ( names changed ) a general practioner in a southern district of Tamil Nadu. His family of devout Muslims was prominent in the nearby few villages. Dr Akbaruddin was a senior doctor who catered to the medical needs of many local villagers. The changes were subtle in the beginning. Dr Akbar’s nephew started growing a beard and Zakir Naik’s sermons started to inspire him. He refused to attend the Muharram festivities in the village because it was allegedly ‘shirk’ (prohibited). Dr Akbar and his family initially enthused by his new found devotion were shocked. One day he asked his own aunt to cover up and wear a hijab. Dr Akbar practiced a moderate and tolerant version of Islam that was suddenly being questioned by his own nephew. The inclusive Islam that his family had practiced for centuries was not similar to the new version. The final straw was when he told his own father not to vote for a friend in the local panchayat elections because he was a kafir. Anwaruddin all of 19 years then left home 7 years ago and joined a radical Islamic evangelist outfit which now proselytises all over Tamil Nadu. He is active on Facebook and frequently quotes radical preachers.

We approached Anwaruddin on Facebook and met Rajiv , a fervent internet Hindu through Anwar. Rajiv and Anwar had spent half a day trolling each other on a Facebook post about Modi. Abuses such as “cow-piss drinkers” and “porkistani” were exchanged liberally between themselves. Rajiv was an fervent internet hindutva warrior. He held beliefs that are incompatible with modern morality along with a masters degree in computer science. He spoke about how Hindus were being “ outnumbered and ill treated “ in our nation. A religion which had survived 3000 years was suddenly under threat. During the day he worked at a corporate office in an IT park. Evenings were spent spilling vitriol over the so called secularists and liberals. He spent hours justifying lynch mobs and cow-protectors. His knowledge about Hindu scriptures was limited but spent evening scourging for phrases in the Quran and the Bible to justify his anger against Muslims and Christians. The Facebook groups of which he was a member fed his fears and fuelled the hate. Violence in the name of a temple was justified. He told me unapologetically how he had once asked his father to stop doing business with Muslims.

It has been difficult being devoid of belief. The first time I encountered it was in school, when a Christian friend offered to ‘save me’. I had to politely refuse the offer. Offers to save me from mathematics classes were more welcome. College was not much different. I met young men and women who were more internet-savvy and more religious than their parents. They were educated and yet were ready to accept the non -scientific beliefs of their religions. I spent hours debating with colleagues about evolution – a concept my religious doctor friends could not accept despite immense proof. LGBT rights were an area when all the bigots of varying denominations agreed upon. “Homosexuality is a sin “they boomed. Babas, maulvis and pastors jointly agreed upon it and their online followers thundered their approval with clicks and likes.

It has become morally acceptable to tell women to stop wearing short skirts. Unsolicited advice is the norm on Facebook. It has also become mainstream to use your office internet connection to abuse a person who disagrees with your views. Bigotry spreads exponentially with every retweet. When I was a teenager, my father was more worried about pornography on the internet. It won’t be the same for my son. I would be more worried about grown men preaching from studios with scriptures in their hands. Drinking chocolate milkshake on Wednesday might be forbidden in your religion. Just don’t ask me not to drink it. Concept of God is a very private thing and is best left confined to the prayer rooms of your homes. Internet is not the place for it.

Vinayak Rengan is a General Surgery resident in Chennai who writes on socio-political issues and technology. He is interested in public health and using technology to solve public health problems. He sometimes forgets his wallet at home and doesn’t keep his room neat.

Why I can’t slap back #metoo

Krithika Rengan
Privilege is a term seldom understood. It can most often be only understood by the oppressed and the victimised. The #metoo debate has captured the imagination of the nation. Opinions fly past us without much thought put into it. The most striking opinion has been a ….

“Strong women don’t have *me too* sob stories, they only have * I slapped him back * short essays.

A thought process like this smacks of privilege and an utter lack of understanding of how power dynamic works. It reflects arrogance and lack of empathy. Abuse doesn’t occur with strangers. Abuse is most often perpetrated by a man/woman in a position of power. The victim is in a position of vulnerability. The abuser is a relative or an uncle. Sometimes he is a teacher, sometimes a superior. It breaks my heart to see the young woman who are coming out now being slut-shamed and having their motives questioned.

I am 50 years now , mother of two brilliant doctors and a doting grandmother to a beautiful young baby boy. I run my own business and for the past 15 years have been able to choose my time of work. 40 years ago when I grew up in Trivandrum , things were different. Father was a chartered accountant and we were socially respected. Ours was a large family. A favourite child of all my uncles , it was a shock when my privacy was first violated. 1970s we weren’t taught about good touch or bad touch. My uncle whom I loved the most decided it was ok to take liberties with me.

Unlike some of the women who found the courage to describe what happened to them, I am unable to type it out on the computer screen. The memories of the incident and its repeats will haunt me for a lifetime. I could confide only to a few and all of them asked me to hush it up. In my family whatsapp groups when I see men discussing the #metoo movement with disdain, I feel like shouting back. Often it ends with meek replies on how I disagree with them. Every word of mine subconsciously aims to not offend them. Yet that is one privilege they don’t afford to us women. Before they decry the entire saga of abuse , they don’t think that it could offend the women in their families.

In school, we had a master who would insist on pinching my underarms for every misdemeanour- real or imagined. I couldn’t talk against him then. I was all but a girl of 12 then. These men misused their position of power and proximity. They knew that their actions would go unquestioned. They would pinch me and next day smile at me as if nothing happened. We are the ones expected not to create a scene lest it offends them. I still don’t have the courage to name the relative who abused me. When I see these women coming out and naming their monsters years later, I know that they are taking a big step towards fighting for a safe environment.

I was born in upper middle class family and had access to good education. Yet it took me decades to come out. I shudder to imagine what the millions of underprivileged young women in this world face.

#metoo

Krithika Rengan , founder of Charvi Skin Solutions is a mother of two and a loving grandmother. She writes about women empowerment and gender issues.

Is Rape devoid of Religion ?


Less than a few months ago , an 8 year old girl was forcibly held for a week at a temple by the head priest, his nephew and a convoluted special police officer. She was drugged, raped and beaten. The trauma continued in repeat mode for a while till she was murdered in cold blood in the forests near Jammu. The priest’s son was ‘invited’ from Meerut to satisfy his macabre lust by his cousin before she was killed. The gory group expressed no regret during the entire episode. The girl was from a Bakharwal Muslim Gujjar community who had squatted in the surrounding areas.

Media screams that religion should be kept out of this issue – A rapist is a rapist. Every child is the same. Unfortunately in modern India that simply doesn’t hold true. Religion can never be kept out of the equation here. The girl was from an ostracised community of Muslim Gujjars who were hated by their neighbours. The perpetrators were ultra-nationalistic Hindus who were hell bent on driving them away. The rape was carried out in Maryada-purush Shri Ram temple by the head priest who was never seen without a red tilak on his forehead. Can religion be far away from this ? It is like saying Muslims can disassociate themselves completely from the atrocities of Islamic state .

The Stonebench team went into analysis mode. We started looking at family whatsapp groups of various Hindu middle class families. We prompted our volunteers to initiate discussion on the Asifa rape and murder case. What we found was interesting. Uniformly across backgrounds , we found that there was outrage. There were calls for death penalty and stricter punishments. There was anger at the rape being carried out in a Ram temple. There was indignation at the away the priest called his son home to rape the poor child. But we also found one shocking element. The discussion soon descended into a vicious chain of whataboutery. What about the Assam rape by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants ? What about the Rohingyas who are raping our Hindu women ? This was understandable considering that most people do that when confronted by uncomfortable truths. We descend into whataboutery and needless blame. There may be an element of truth in all this. Rape is a rape whether it is by an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant or by a Hindu priest. But we noticed something more sinister. In certain groups the discussion descended to greater depths. Some fanboys had to dig out random unverifiable Facebook posts about Bakarwals indulging in drug trade and how this rape was society’s natural reaction. What horrified our team was that even though most of the group members were opposed to such opinions, not many were willing to openly condemn it.

Our nation is a noisy place but when truth strikes us we descend into the cold depths of silence. We use it as a “chaddar” to escape from reality. We condemn the rape in harsh terms. Our Facebook wall are filled with ‘Justice for Asifa’ posts and our whatsapp statuses are filled with photos of shame about the rape. But most of us hesitate to condemn the inhuman protestors who didn’t allow the charge sheet to be filed. Rape has no religion we echo incessantly. But when rape is used as a weapon to induce fear in a community, rape can’t be devoid of religion. It is similar to how calls for ‘terror has no religion’ turned out to be a farce that didn’t resonate with anyone. Just like how the entire Muslim umma has a responsibility to prevent the radicalisation of its community, Hindus have an onus to prevent the venomous worm of bigotry and discrimination from creeping into our families. We cannot expect that our children grow into responsible adults without bigotry whilst passing subtle racist comments at our homes. Religion is such an integral part of our lives and it is imperative that Hindu leaders are strong in their comments and hard hitting with their opinions. We do have an responsibility to tell the world that our religion will not defend such acts.

These are moments when the entire Hindu mega-community must take time out and look inwards. These are moments when we should step back and disown these monsters totally. These are moments when we should introspect why the fringes in the community are taking control of our thoughts. Till we force our leaders rise up strongly against such crimes , I can easily say we aren’t outraged enough.

Vinayak Rengan is a General Surgery Resident in Chennai, India. He writes about global socio-political trends, healthcare and technology.

The Rise of the Brash Man

Vinayak S Rengan

Global politics is in top gear but the handbrakes are still engaged. The car is fast but it screeches as the braked tyres slide across the unpaved roads. Welcome to the era of the Brash Men – They are fast, they scream and shout, they are loud – very loud and they think everyone else is a fool. And yes they are all men. With a limited vocabulary and even more limited intelligence , the car often brakes unsure where to go. They are the new young Turks. Just that they aren’t so young either. When 60 decibels will suffice , they need to use 120 decibels. They lampoon the media but often seek their approval. Their source of information is often limited to late night TV debates on channels they hate. They swear often and their expletive ridden rants are lapped up by their supporters. Misogyny is in vogue now and so is infidelity. Welcome to the world of Duterte, Trump and Zuma.

Trump at 120 decibels

The masses need an opium. Most often they are satisfied by religion but it often progresses to leadership. Leaderless religions with no one to follow such as Buddhism, Hinduism and the ancient Asian religions of Shintoism have always struggled to proselytise. The shepherd is an essential component of human psyche. Exhausted by the struggles of daily living in a modern world , unable to cope with need for increasing skill sets and higher education – man often wants another man to tell him what to do. Thinking often becomes a waste of time. A strong leader gives them hope. The Macho leader is an enigma. He is not an illiterate man. He is often a successful professional or a consummate businessman. His involvement in politics is often downplayed or non-existent before he becomes the leader. The concept of a incorruptible outsider who will destroy the current corrupt and inefficient political system is an idea that appeals to the ordinary middle class man.

The ordinary middle class man is a man from the majority community ( racial / religious ) who struggles to make ends meet in an increasingly demanding society. All his problems arise from those around him. The minorities have taken his jobs, his college seats , his streets and sometimes even his women. He lives out of his sense of victimhood. He believes that salvation shall arise when a strong male leader from the majority community shall stand up for his rights and teach everyone else a lesson. He is not very educated and complex words befuddle him. He believes that every other country is against his and his understanding of economics is rudimentary despite the fact that he is very good at using the computer to file his taxes. He thinks women need to sit back home and make him roast meat yet his boss at work is a woman.

A similar scenario arose in Europe in the interwar years. Germans stripped of their pre-war might immersed themselves in a vicious mixture of victim hood and exaggerated sense of racial superiority. In this perilous cauldron of self-pity arose leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. They promised them glory and salvation from everything they faced now. Economic issues assumed a racial tone and the great leader gave them hope. Rabble-rousing speeches extolling the virtues of jingoistic nationalism and racial/religious superiority are honey to the ears of the deprived middle class.

Rodrigo Duterte is a prime example of such machismo. He is an mirror image across the Pacific of Trump. The mirror however is mirror right out of R L Stine’s horror stories. A meaner and more politically incorrect version of Trump , Duterte is a successful lawyer who rapidly rose to become the President of Philippines despite being the last person to file the nomination. He has portrayed himself as a rank outsider despite the fact that he was the mayor of Davao for 22 years. The “Punisher” as he is called is a strong votary of death squads to punish drug offenders. Foul-mouthed with a quick temper he is proud of the fact that he has personally killed a few people. Misogynistic attitude is worn on a sleeve and rape jokes are a regular feature on his speeches.

Duterte in pensive mood

Jacob Zuma, a serial sexual offender who believes that it is a man’s right to touch women without their permission was long seen as a moral successor to the much benign Mandela. His hyperinflated Zulu male pride combined with a perceived moral entitlement due to his role in the anti-apartheid revolution , Zuma proved to be pain in the neck for ANC in South Africa.

His initial popularity couldn’t compensate for rampant corruption and his personal excesses. Recently ousted as the President, Zuma exemplified what is wrong about this world. Each time he was accused of corruption , he blamed imaginary colonial forces who wanted to harm a poor black man. Playing on a sense of black victim hood, all the problems in South Africa apparently arose from the white man hating the black man for his apparent liberation. Dragged to court on rape charges , this serial polygamist has openly said that a woman’s primary role is to get married.

 

Jacob Zuma in crisis

Trump is a softer version yet a more dangerous one by the virtue of being the so called leader of the free world. His faux pas and gaffes have made him the butt of liberal coffee table jokes but the reality is that he is here to stay. Pride, lust and gluttony may be 3 of the 7 cardinal sins but that hasn’t stopped the evangelical zealots from endorsing him. The tea party conservatives conveniently ignore his extra-marital excesses while self-righteously condemning everyone else. A man who said we couldn’t vote for Carly Fiorina because her face looked ugly is the man who has become the President of United States. When asked how he was going to change Miss USA pageant , he said “ Make the bathing suits smaller and the heels higher “. Americans have made him their president. In 2000, he made a list of women whom he would like to sleep with and in 2003 he made a remark about how he thinks his daughter is voluptuous and he would be dating her if she wasn’t his daughter. Americans have made him their president. He infamously tweeted once

The sad part is that a large chunk of America now fits the classical description of the victim card playing jingoistic white male. A man who resorts to blaming mental illness instead of banning assault rifles is not a man who is fit to lead the great nation. Putin was the beginning. The strong man image , the photo shoot with guns and pandering to the idea that the nation is under siege is now a part of a global leadership manual.

The trend isn’t confined to the those mentioned. Viktor Orban Hungary’s prime minister is busy upping populist anti-immigrant rhetoric while creating a alpha male strong man image. Erdogan in Turkey is doing the same. Do they give results? The answer often is a resounding no. Economic decline and unbridled corruption often are the endpoints of such regimes. Zuma’s rule was marked by near “state-capture” by the influential Gupta family. Strong men of European countries are often ruling over states with mountains of public debt.The macho men are here to stay for a long time. No one really knows what the world faces in the next few decades.

Vinayak S Rengan is a General Surgery resident in Chennai, India with a strong interest in socio-political issues and medical technology. He writes on global politics and scientific trends in the world.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! The Stone Bench is a liberal opinions blog which shall concentrate on socio-political issues and science. Our contributors are from varying strata and from varied spheres of the society. We believe that change is possible only when voices are heard. We believe in making those voices heard – voices which don’t get a mention in newspapers and in conventional media. Our aim is to create a space where your opinions will be uncensored and uninhibited. We are neither left nor right. We are right there with you.

Vinayak S Rengan

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton