Opinion | Why a majority’s story often fails to convince the world4 min read . Updated: 08 Mar 2020, 08:54 PM IST
The victors of an era cannot tell stories of their suffering the way an oppressed minority can
Across the world, a large number of Hindus are angry. Others are saying that there was a mass murder of Muslims in India last month. American and European politicians, professors, taxi drivers and the most serious people of our times, comedians, are using words like “pogrom" and “genocide" to describe the recent Delhi riots in which fewer than 60 people were killed. Upset Hindus want to say that it is a small number for unnatural Indian deaths, by Indian standards, which is one of those Indian statements that is at once a fact and a gaffe. They do manage to point out that many of the dead were actually Hindus, but the world is not listening.
US presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders said there was “widespread anti-Muslim mob violence", and another noted American politician, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “ethnically cleansing" India’s “religious minorities". Those who live here know these statements are not only outlandish but could also put the lives of many of us in India in danger, as they are reportedly being exploited by Islamist terror groups.
The most enduring images of the riots were of assaults on Muslims and of cops themselves joining Hindu mobs to attack Muslims. But much later emerged footage of a large apparently Muslim mob armed with stones and sticks assaulting a few poorly equipped cops. More contagious than this video clip was the image of a cinematic young Muslim called Shahrukh pointing a gun at an unarmed cop. If this had occurred in the US, Shahrukh would have been shot dead by the police. Neither Sanders nor AOC would have questioned the right of the police to shoot an armed raging man.
Why is it that angry Hindus have been unable to tell their side of the story to the world? How is it that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, whose area of speciality is telling great stories to a billion Hindus, seems to have failed in this matter? A rookie writer in the global liberal network can tell a more influential lie than the most powerful political party in the world can convey a dull fact.
There are three broad reasons why the Hindu camp has been unable to tell its side.
One: The fact is that nobody cares. People think that stories are powerful because everybody cares about these. This is wrong. The truth is that nobody cares for your story or for you. What matters to people is themselves. They are always searching for themselves or their beliefs and prejudices in a story. Sanders or AOC might see in the riots what they wish to see—a majority oppressing a minority. “Hindus and Muslims equally to blame" is not a story, not even a retweetable tweet.
We often think a misunderstanding is due to lack of understanding. But often, people misunderstand because it is more interesting and suits them at that point in time. Empathy itself is a medium of misunderstanding, not understanding.
The world has extolled “empathy" as the most human of all human qualities, but it is a process of self-absorption. It is this force that made some Muslim nations condemn India for the riots. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, said: “The hearts of Muslims all over the world are grieving over the massacre of Muslims in India." He may never give work visas to low-skilled Indian Muslims, but his heart will beat for them, just as the hearts of Indian Hindus beat for Pakistani Hindus, as though Indian Hindus treat one another with so much love they now need foreigners to love.
Two: Exaggerations protect the weak. Many Indian journalists, who knew better, saw no need to refute claims that the riots were “a genocide" or “ethnic cleansing", and wisely so.
From reports that have emerged, it is clear that in the first hours both Hindus and Muslims were responsible for the violence. But then, cops sought revenge on Muslims for a violent attack on them. Hindu criminals meanwhile were better organized for a modern dark strategy, which was to hand out disproportionate punishment to Muslims. Impoverished Muslims are extremely vulnerable in a riot. Sometimes, truth is not as important as the protection of the weak from the strong. Exaggerations serve to defend the weak.
Also, what is tricky about a riot is that an objective analysis can be right one day, and completely wrong the next. What was “spontaneous" for three hours can transform into a planned attack, as we have seen before. So, there is no motivation for many sane and humane influencers to be “objective" when exaggerations that get the world’s attention can help India’s Muslims more than their own politicians. An old code of survival is that when your thug cannot protect you, find a bigger thug. The West is the bigger thug for Indian Muslims.
Reason three: You cannot beat liberals in storytelling. The response of hurt Hindus to their global defamation has chiefly been lament. But it is in the nature of storytelling that the strong tell bad stories. A majority population, or the victors of an era, cannot transmit powerful stories of their suffering. A defining quality of our times is that the strong are trying to imitate the ways of the oppressed to tell their stories. Brahmins, Caucasians, Israelis, and men have all tried. But it does not work.
Considering the nature of storytelling, there is no way a majority can tell their side. One way to ensure that they are not defamed in the future, though, is to ensure that there are no riots in India.
Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’