It seems like whistling in the dark, but you can hear its sweet symphony from a distance. In the contemporary times of one-dimensional discourse and chest-thumping pseudo nationalism in India, surely, the music of alternative narratives is replete with a certain magic, full of the possibilities of hope.
In a recent meeting in a packed hall in Delhi, with mostly youngsters, the collective mind found new by-ways of unravelling the zigzag of social media in the time of organised trolling and the high-octave onslaught of WhatsApp propaganda.
Gathered here were individuals and collectives from 40 plus no-profit independent portals, outside all corporate strings, working against all odds, with nothing but idealism, resilience and a burning desire to tell the truth.
How to combat the trolls, what is net neutrality and cyber laws, how to share authentic information, join the process of syndication, and block rumours, xenophobia, sexist, perverse and violent assaults on women; how to protect whistleblowers or be on guard against surveillance, what are the ways to dismantle the apparatus of war mongering, the attacks on minorities and Dalits, on freedom of speech and knowledge systems, on campuses.
Participants also entered the limitless realm of the social media; that it is crucial to double-check facts and not fall in a trap, that objectivity, factuality and impartiality should be paramount in the dissemination of information, that information should be verified and also the sources, that there should not be a compromise in editorial standards. That is, if four mutton shops have been burnt in Hathras in UP soon after the ‘great Hindutva victory’, then all details should be verified, including the illegal nature of the shops, if any, even though, a large chunk of India’s ‘free market’ street shops or hole in the wall joints might be outside the realm of legality.
Is it possible to create alternative narratives, and not follow their agenda? Can we create a counter-culture? Yes, it is possible. A woman blogger said that she runs an independent portal, and, gradually, more than 30 bloggers are freely expressing their views on the world, and on women’s liberation, unafraid of sexist attacks. They are not retreating to the kitchen. They are not bothered by sarcastic MCP remarks like, “If she is reading Pablo Neruda, who cooks?” They can give it back as good as it gets.
Hence, when you resurrect the lyrics and music of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), the poetry of Faiz, and Tagore’s views on nationalism, or when you work on many fronts on a chain-signature petition, backing it with resistance on the ground, or when you are able to quickly share information on a simmering communal polarization unleashed by cow vigilantes, you are consciously ‘donating’ your social media presence to a large, creative collective, from Shillong to Kashmir, to Gorakhpur and Ahmedabad. The relentless ‘Truth of Gujarat’, run so effectively with meticulously documented information on the ‘Gujarat Model’ including facts on the genocide of 2002, is an empirical pointer. Started by legendary lawyer, late Mukul Sinha, it is his son, Pratik, who is now running it with thousands of views everyday; he has added to the repertoire with another successful venture: Altnews.
Indeed, as youngsters and veterans entered the inner lanes of the alternative narrative, what emerged was a parallel cinema, carving a synthesis between the periphery and the centre, the mainstream and the margin. A virtual world, yes, but as truly virtual as the world we live in. A sign of hope. Like love in the time of cholera.