“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” RSJ’s invocation of Toynbee reminded me of an instance of majoritarianism from the past week that should scare us, once again.
A Bengaluru-based ready-to-cook food manufacturer was accused of mixing cow bones in dosa batter, through a targeted disinformation campaign on popular social media. To sound even more compelling, the posts also said that the company employed ‘only Muslims’, it Halal certified, and hence ‘every single’ Hindu should refrain from buying its products.
At one level, none of this should surprise us. Like everything else in India, food is also not personal. It’s communal and hence communal. The Information Age version of food-based majoritarinism perhaps began in 2015 with the lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri following the circulation of three photos of meat and bones of a slaughtered animal via WhatsApp. Since then, such instances have become irregularly regular.
And yet, this latest instance hurts. Perhaps because it is personal. I am an admiring customer of the brand facing baseless accusations. Their ready-to-cook food has popularised a whole new segment of breakfast eats, and inspired many a copycats in the process.
On deeper reflection, I realised how this instance illustrates the instrumental significance of tolerance. Religious tolerance (or the lack of it) can even change the nature of acceptable competition in markets. In a communally-charged environment, instead of product quality and differentiation, targeting the religion of a seller becomes the shortest-path-to-ground for a hypothetical adversary. Why compete when you can communalise? What happens to an economy in which this hatred itself becomes the primary method for oneupmanship between employees and between firms?
It is easy to blame social media apps that are used to propagate such messages. But its really the ‘social distancing’ between Hindus and Muslims that has allowed people to frame, disseminate, and want to believe, the most outlandish accusations against each other.
And so, when I think of twenty years since 9/11, my heart sinks. While the terrorists have been defeated over the last decades, it seems to me that terrorism has won. It has deepened the divides between religious communities. Terrorism has even managed to set the terms for casual debates about politics, society, and culture. And most importantly, it has torn down the carefully constructed idea of Indian pluralism. Like with the language of terrorism, the ‘other’, the ‘enemy’ has become central to the existence of all our religious communities. If terrorism is theatre, the show’s been running for twenty years and still going strong.
I’ll end this lament with a Puliyabaazi episode with Ghazala Wahab, whose book ‘Born a Muslim’ tries to bridge the knowledge gap between Hindus and Muslims. We need many more such stories if we truly want to vanquish majoritarianism.
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