Pakistan Flood

An Indian comedian did an experiment recently that tells us tales about people and their vituperations. The experiment was brilliant: Prime Minister Modi tweeted a standard-world-leader note of sorrow to those affected by the floods in Pakistan. The comedian tweeted largely the same thing under his own name. And? You guessed it. He got a torrent of hateful responses from so-called “desh-bhakts” and the usual Saffron crowd, some of which included lectures on the sufferings (by flood) of his fellow Indians- suggesting that he was a traitor for caring about the suffering of Pakistanis. These very people salute the PM and extoll him for his statesmanship and humanity.

I will admit I have an ego so when I saw that, I was both thrilled at the brilliance of the experiment and disappointed. The disappointment came because I had planned something similar, though I was going to do it on LinkedIn not Twitter. Before I share the details, a digression is called for.

Despite the hype and the proclamations of the kept-media, India is in many ways a country of sorrow. 40% of the world’s malnourished children call India their home. Over the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of farmers have committed suicide, citing debts, desperation, and lack of hope. Potable water is scarce and forests are denuded. India is also witnessing a violent majoritarianism and a wanton destruction of institutions, so carefully conceived of and built by the early architects of modern, free India.

Still, if one reads the mainstream press in India (and most of the press about India, elsewhere) one gets the sense that India is a prosperous country, tilting towards modernity with a vengeance.

So the question always remains, what will open the eyes of urban, upper middle-class and rich Indians to the horrors in their very midst? How does one reach someone whose ideology trumps facts, whose narrative doesn’t correspond with any real inputs or data?

And for those who are willing to at a minimum absorb inputs, but who won’t admit to something that would dash their entrenched worldviews, how do you get them to articulate –openly and honestly- what these truths are?

There is a way. But it is one born not of nobility but in fact it’s opposite. Here, we return to the opening paragraph and my ego-hit.

Well, a few days ago I thought of my own experiment, fairly sure that I’d elicit the predictable response. Pakistan has been ravaged by floods as has Bangalore. Many, many Indians (in India and in the Diaspora) omitted any commentary about the former but made the usual platitudinous, virtue-signaling emanations on LinkedIn (and elsewhere) about their “thoughts and prayers” being with the suffering in Bangalore.

My experiment was to thank them for the “caring” shown to Bangaloreans but to chastise them for their- clearly partisan- elision of any reference to the –much, much larger- human toll in Pakistan. I knew the types of responses I’d get. They’d run the range- from the most virulent forms of patriotic threats to lectures about suffering in India as well. If we got into details of how structural poverty and the poverty-induced denudation of the countryside make it worse in Pakistan, I’d get strong lectures about structural poverty in India. And so on.

From the same people who talk about “shining India”, “Modi-nomics” and the number of “Unicorns” India has produced. From the same people who say that calling India “poor” is a Western conspiracy. From the same people who boast that India’s is now the world’s 5th biggest economy. From the same people who feel “pride” when corporate India manages another take-over.

The ONLY time you can get these people to admit that there is suffering in India is when they want to bludgeon you for having solidarity with others, especially their “enemies.”

Well, the comedian beat me to it. But I’m sure- very sure- that the thought-experiment would have turned out the way I figured it would.

This is my experience in 30 years of activism, writing, and observation.

Sad but true. This is a tale of solidarities and perversions.

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