A WhatsApp group, a Facebook post and an Instagram photo is no more an application for leisure, but a drawing room full of uncles, aunts, friends, debaters, ideologist, fans, supporters, haters, lovers, family and what not. These are no more just messages or greetings on a page but rather a hot spot of major debates about things that offend Indians.
But let’s start with what offence is- it is a breach of law or annoyance bought by a perceived insult. Indians ironically spend much time on second while the first which needs to be catered to is left off with not much attention to give. As a nation, we are much attached to our heritage, culture, ancient text, values and rituals as these define our identity, our existence – yet when in picture these instantly limit our cognitive capacity to function in the right way in turn ironically break those same traditions, values, cultural bonds we hold so dear to us. Majority of our offended feelings stems from those. I could be cracking a joke about cricket, but there would be another citizen who could be a fan and may take offence on it. However, the case here is not cricket alone, the offence goes deeper on the ego, knowledge, love and dedication to the sport which Mr./Ms. abc. could hold. It gets personal at a public level.
I often think of the idea of free speech at the biggest democracy of the world. It is a beautiful right, yet a powerful tool that can transform lives, levitate people, improve knowledge yet there are more dark corners to it that some of us get caught into. The idea of free speech is to speak and let speak, if I may. However, in the boundaries of law. But is a movie which talks about fantasy and magic in historic India or a sport which has new player selection a law breaker here? Or are we agents of law to raise a finger on it? Much is yet to defined with a line that we do not know how to draw as of yet.
The idea of live and let live is a must if I am to live in a community and I am unharmed. Offence can only reside if I am of the thought that whatever I love is mine alone and not a shared commodity, which it is in reality. An easy example to this is the concept of a public good in Economics; like a river running between two states of India. It is to be used by both states equally, yet one tries to exclude the other in its usage and creates rivalries in the process. The catch lies in the fact that the river here is a public good on which the whole of two states has an equal right on, so why does one hold dominance over it? Or rather who gives them the right to hold that dominance? An offence works the same way, there is no guidelines of what can be liked by one cannot be disliked by other. Yet, we use offence as a tool to suppress free speech in general and likes in specific.
Indians display intense feelings of offence when it comes to sports, culture, heritage, education, art forms, political leanings, clothing, actors, entertainment, shows etc. There is not a single area that can be left as there is someone who masters it or loves it or supports it. A single post with significant leanings can get even a person with status in trouble. There is an inherent need to display that supremacy or love with showing offence, with shooting an argument and to come together to bring down the another one with an opinion. There is usually gang-ism based off ideologies that are deep rooted in partial facts and assumptions, which are further fired by the similar thought processes. The chain of thoughts is mindlessly turned into a heated argument with the support of many like minded people.
There has been a drastic change in the way Indians perceive an offence now courtesy social media and virtual worlds. I could be sitting in one corner of the universe or even space and punching in my comments of ideas on a social media site with no one really knowing where I live. The awareness of anonymous identities that are dissolved into one on a social media platform give me or someone the power and courage to offend, get offended, argue, debate, agree, disagree, share and support with me being nothing but a username. This gives us a need to get offended as an unconscious exercise of that right.
The other side of this is also the right to defend that comes along when there is a need to do so. India is often taken as a country with tons of issues and relentless comparison comes along with it. Offence may be needed, however with known limits of it. A better word for it would be “defend”. Baseless offence with no factual backing, hurting sentiments to actual violence has been a huge indication of the offended Indians. A more delicate aspect of this is – religious sentiments, which are quite volatile topics of concern in India. The offence here can never be not validated. There is also the circuit board of kinds here which makes issues connect and domino sentiments on different layers altogether. Hence making Indians easily offended with one topic leading to another.
The essence here is not fault finding, perhaps more of just introspection of what we as a nation can do and what we are capable of beyond the world of the offender and the offended. A call to be informed and tolerant for better or worse.. The need is urgent for we would shape our coming generations minds and their choices. The better India which we dream of, the more developed India we dream can only be a reality, if these issues can be kept aside and united front can be achieved. As there is no bigger offence than a uninformed thought.