Bigots on the Internet

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People’s Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of
India (Marxist)


No. 43

October 28,2001

Bigots On The

Amit Sen Gupta

WE like to
believe that modern technology facilitates the dissemination and nurturing of science and
rationality. While it does contribute to such an endeavour, we must realise that there is
nothing in technology per se that does not lend itself to quite the converse.
Communications technology merely allows us to access information that is sought to be
communicated by people across the globe at speeds that were unthinkable even a decade

It brings to us
the latest in human enterprise. But the latest is not necessarily forward-looking or
progressive. Cable TV has opened a window to the globe for millions of ordinary Indians.
But a view through that window also includes glimpses of decadant bourgeois culture and
revanchist feudal values. Trashy American soap operas compete with the
“teachings” of Rajnish.

The role that
the Internet plays, has to be seen in this context. Today, it is possibly the fastest and
the most accessible medium of communication. It is also more egalatarian, less hemmed in
by restrictions, and thereby allows rapid exchange of information and views. What sets the
Internet apart from other forms of mass communications—TV, radio, the print media,
books, journals—is its relative anonymity. It is difficult, sometimes impossible, to
reliably check the source of material that is available on the Net.

This anonymous
character of views expressed on the Net lends itself to two kinds of tendencies. Because
it is anonymous, it allows greater freedom to people to put information and views on the
Net. At the same time it also alows people to air their views and place material on the
Net with a markedly lower degree of responsibility.

The former
tendency has made it possible for a radical counter culture to establish itself on the
Internet. The character of the Net ensures that a Bill Gates is as prominently
“heard” as are hundreds of voices that oppose Microsoft. The Internet,
theoretically, provides equal opportunity to large corporates and the opposition to their
growing power and influence.

As a medium for
exchange of information the Internet is more democratic than any other medium that we have
known. But this very democratic character comes with a “cost”. The line between
informatioin and disinformation is much easier to cross on the Internet because of its
anonymous character. The Internet allows freer exchange, but does not determine what is
going to be exchanged. The medium has no control on the superstructure that determines the
flow of ideas.

Contradictory Influences Shape
the Internet

Thus the Net
also allows free flow of decadent, obscurantist, and backward ideas. The Net is thus also
a haven for pornography, fascist and communal propaganda, and crass consumerist
ideologies. In other words, the dominant ideology of our times and the ideas and their
reflections that grip the minds of people also dominate the Internet or the World Wide

It is this that
makes it more likely that milk drinking by dumb idols is discussed on the Internet, rather
than humans dying of starvation in Orissa. The strength of the Internet—its anonymous
character—thus becomes also its greatest weakness. Anonymous people sitting behind
their personal computers are presented with an opportunity to share their views with
thousands, often millions. What they share is not shaped by the Internet, but by prevalant
values and ideas in society.

The Internet
provides the opportunity to reveal ones identity, and yet deny it. While it is often
possible to glean the source of information available on the Internet, it is much more
difficult to prove the same. This relative anonymity allows views to be shared and
propagated, that would otherwise not be tolerated in society.

The gullibility
of common people towards anything that is linked with the tag of modern technology allows
the Internet to become a source of disinformation. Propaganda on the Internet, thus, is
privileged over ordinary word of the mouth propaganda. Few realise that the information
available on the Internet is less likely to be accurate than what is available through
other methods of communication. The Internet allows the user to choose in a more focussed
manner the kind of views he or she wants to access. The Internet is a democratic medium
only as long as we use it with open minds.

These complex,
often contradictory, factors that shape the Internet also shape the manner in which ideas
and information are exchanged on it. In India, nowhere is this more visible than the way
the Internet is being used as vehichle for propagation of communal propaganda. The
Internet is a major source today of material that is designed to push the communal agenda.

Tarun Vijay,
editor of the Rashtriya Sevak Sanghs’s mouthpiece, Panchjanya, proudly
declares on an Internet website, “One of the world’s best-organized internet
websites belongs to the US-based RSS body, the Hindu Student’s Council. RSS is
probably the first organization in the country to hold conferences of its workers, the
world over through its own cyber unit.”

Vehicle for Communal Propaganda

Material that
was earlier available on railway platforms in the form of shoddily produced pamphlets have
now acquired a new sheen on the Internet. The messages are all too familiar—hate
campaigns against the alleged enemies of Hinduism, glorification of feudal and revanchist
values, anti-minority, anti-women, anti-dalit, anti-modern. The anonymity conferred by the
Internet now allows these messages to be communicated more blatantly, in a more virulent

It would be
incorrect, however, to infer that all sites on the Internet that seek to push a communal
agenda are of the same ilk. Communal propaganda carried out on the Internet has many
layers. Individual members of the Sangh Parivar have separate websites, apart from the Panchjanya
and the Organiser (the organs of the RSS) which are regularly updated.

Websites run by
the sangh parivar’s official political and social arms, the BJP and the RSS for
example, are more sober. They do not carry overt “hate messages”. But even here
the window dressing is known to slip. The BJP’s official site, for example (
ran a bulletin board before the 1999 general elections where messages from people could be
posted. Messages on the Bulletin board posted at that time included those that called for
physical extermination of muslims and other minorities. They also included pornographic
references to prominent non-BJP women leaders, including the Congress president. The
Bulletin Board was taken off the BJP’s site only after some organisations sent an
official complaint to the Election Commission.

Manufactured Experts on the

Other pro
“Hindutva” sites on the Internet operate in a more insiduous manner. They target
NRIs—a major source of funds for the Sangh Parivar— and also seek to supply
their supporters among the middle class and intellectuals with supposedly
“unbiased” data and arguments that buttress communal “pro-hindutva”
propaganda. These sites have, over the years, created a breed of self styled intellectuals
as the Internet has no means of checking the credentials of “experts” and

manufactured experts strive to propagate spurious evidence that try to confer legitimacy
to the familiar communal arguments regarding the origins of early Indian civilization and

There is another
genre of websites on the Internet that seeks to utilise the religious sentiments of common
people to draw them into their communal agenda. For example, The Hindu Universe Resource
Center website provides links to numerous sites that carry information on various Hindu
festivals and rituals. They contain detailed calendars of such events and information on
places (mainly in the US) where such festivals are celebrated. These sites facilitate the
offering of prayers and even material offerings to major Hindu temples in India through
the Net. They instruct people on the manner in which specific rituals are to be observed
during Hindu festivals. They also link up with websites that are now being run by a number
of large temples in India and abroad. A visitor from the US to such a website, for
example, has the opportunity, sitting at home, to make an offering and pray at a temple in
South India.

The Stormtroopers on the

The next set of
sites are the real “stormtroopers” of the communal brigade on the Internet.
These sites carry overt communal messages, and often prominently display exhortations to
physically eliminate the supposed “enemies of hindutva”. The names of many of
these sites—Hindu Unity, Sarvarkar Darshan, Soldiers of Hindutva, Mabharati,
Karamsad, Indian’s Hindutva Web Site, Mera Bharat Mahan, Hindu Women vs. Muslim
Women, Hindu Force, Saffron Tigers, etc.—are a good indicator of their content.

The common
refrain in these sites is the alleged atrocities perpetrated by muslims and christians on
hindus and the need to unite against them. The sites are replete with false propaganda and
virulent attacks against minority communities. They spout venom against individuals who
are perceived as enemies. Most of these sites are managed from North America, by
associates of the “Friends of the BJP”.

The Hindu Unity
site is a perfect example of the kind of propaganda that these websites carry out. The
opening page of the site starts with a quote from Nathuram Godse that ends with the
following words: “I do say that my shots were fired at the person (Mohandas
Ghandhi) whose policy and action had brought rack and ruin and destruction to lakhs of

Discussing “Hate”

Websites such as
this also spawn hundreds of, what are called “e (electronic) discussion groups”
and “newsgroups”. These groups exchange their views through e-mail, and
subscribers to a single such group may run to thousands. Many of them maintain detailed
and elaborate “mailing lists”, i.e. lists of email addresses of potential
converts and sympathisers. They attempt to network potential sympathisers and also
disseminate information released by organisations such as the VHPA (VHP America). They are
active in collecting donations and organising protest actions.

Most of these
groups are based in the US, though their tentacles reach out to most parts of the globe.
These groups also track initiatives that they percieve as harmful to the “Hindutva
cause”, and are known to target specific organisations and individuals.

The NRI Connection

community in the US lives in scattered pockets and is prey to contradictory pulls. On one
hand they feel the necessity to assert their Indian identity, and on the other they feel
the pressure from their country of domicile to integrate within the “American way of
life”. These pulls ensure that a section are prey to parochial and communal
sentiments, as a reaction to their relative isolation and the perceived threat of being
overwhelmed by the dominant local community. It is this terrain that has been used by
communal organisations, prominently the VHP America. In the eighties the VHPA were faced
with the gigantic task of “organising Hindus” scattered across the vast country.
Two events caused a qualitative change in their scope and span of activities.

The first was
the growth of the Internet that allowed easy and fast access to scattered groups. The
second was the recruitment into their ranks of a section of educated professionals who
started migrating to the US in larger numbers in the nineties. A section of whom,
moreover, were already beginning to embrace the sangh parivar’s ideology. The Hindu
Students Council, the VHPA’s student wing was created to tap into the space created
by these developments. Members of the HSC, largely drawn from amongst professionals, were
proficient in the use of the Internet and fast emerged as a solution to the problem of
growth and expansion of the VHPA. The first HSC was formed in 1987 at North-Eastern
University (Boston) and by 1995, HSCs accounted for 45 chapters across the US and Canada.
Thus, the internet and its websites, newsgroups, mailing lists and discussion groups
became an insulated space for expressions of nationalism and identity.

Learn From the Enemy!

It would be
necessary to end with a word of caution, lest what has been discussed be construed as an
attack on the whole construct of the Internet. The Internet opens a whole new way of
communicating. The sheer volume of material available on it would have been
uncomprehendable even a decade back. A lot, in fact a major portion, of this material is
junk or worse. But that still leaves an enormous amount of material that is useful.

Like any form of expression,
expression on the Net needs to be regulated. We already see this happening in areas where
the use is most blatant and fraught with dangerous consequences—child pornography,
terrorism, etc. But a censorship of the Net is not the answer. For if the Internet were to
be censored, it would be regulated by the same forces that control the globe today. The
Internet allows us to share and exchange our views with a much larger community, at a
relatively much lower cost. Let us, instead, avail of this opportunity to make our
presence felt on the Net. At times it is useful to learn from the enemy!

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