I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there is a new malaise infecting the netherworld of social media. I like to call it ‘whataboutitis’. Others prefer the term ‘whataboutery’. But whatever you choose to term it, this is an insidious disease that is steadily infecting the universe of our social discourse. For the moment, it is restricted to the virtual world but like all things trite and less than wonderful, it will soon be an IRL (that’s ‘In Real Life’ for all you newbies out there) phenomenon as well.
So, what is ‘whataboutitis’? Well, this is basically how it plays out. You express an opinion about a political party/current event/celebrity/politician. And no matter what the merit of the opinion itself, you are instantly called out because you omitted to express an opinion about that ‘other’ political party/ current event/ celebrity/ politician. That omission, apparently, makes the opinion you did voice completely and utterly invalid – pretty much useless, in fact. (Never mind if you did, in fact, have your say about that ‘other’ matter; if people don’t remember it, it doesn’t really count. Not on social media, anyway.)
The classic example is that of the 2002 Gujarat riots. You only have to mention them on social media and you will instantly have to do battle with an army of ‘whatabouters’. What about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, then, eh? Weren’t they as much a case of genocide? Did anybody apologise for them? Did anyone go to jail? Isn’t Rajiv Gandhi as guilty as Narendra Modi? Why are you just picking on NaMo, then? Are you ‘paid media’? Or just ‘sickular’?
And what about Godhra? Did you shed any tears for the people who were killed on that train? Did their deaths not count? Wasn’t that a pre-planned conspiracy? What about the Nellie massacre? Do you even know how many died in that? Do they not matter because they happened in faraway Assam? What about the Muzaffarnagar riots? Isn’t Akhilesh Yadav guilty for letting them happen?
The questions just pile on, as ‘whataboutitis’ flares into a virtual epidemic, with nobody stopping to think just how distasteful and vile it is to play partisan politics over the bodies of dead Indians, no matter what their religion (or political affiliation) may have been.
But this ‘whataboutitis’ is not restricted to riots, either. It extends to most discussions about feminism, sexism and women empowerment as well. It is impossible to stand up for any one woman without being harangued about how you didn’t stand up for that other woman. (The honest truth is that you did. But public memory is even shorter on social media.)
In my own experience, every single time I have tweeted against an instance of sexism against a woman in public life, the ‘whatabouters’ have struck back with nary a care for the truth. When I attacked Sanjay Nirupam for making sexist comments about Smriti Irani on television, the Congress brigade hit back at me with squeals of ‘whataboutery’. ‘What about Narendra Modi’s sexist comment about Sunanda Pushkar? How come you weren’t outraged about that as well?’ (Well, actually I was, and I tweeted about that too, thanks for asking.) On the other hand, whenever I comment on Modi’s sexist remarks, the right wing brigade gets its knickers in a twist about the fact that I hadn’t defended Smriti Irani against the smarmy comments of Sanjay Nirupam. (Er, I wrote an entire column about it; you can Google search it once you’ve stopped frothing at the mouth.) And what about the fact that I hadn’t defended Sushma Swaraj when she was derided as a ‘nachaniya’ by such Congress leaders as Digvijay Singh. (Only, of course, I did.)
Call Tarun Tejpal out on his Alchemy Of A Liar and you are asked why you didn’t condemn Asaram Bapu in the same breath. Express your anguish about the Delhi gang rape victim and you will get ‘what about all the tribal women who get raped’. Comment on how long Sourav Ganguly took to finally retire and the ‘What about Sachin?’ question will inevitably follow. Stand up for Shah Rukh Khan’s right to air his views about what it means to be Muslim in India and the ‘whatabouters’ will bring up Salman Khan and his celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi (now, isn’t that what ‘true secularism’ is about?).
Complain about right-wing trolls who call you names and threaten to rape you and you will be asked ‘What about the Congress trolls who do the same thing?’ (Answer: please name and shame them all; report spam; get their accounts blocked. I have zero tolerance for abusive people on social media, no matter what their political affiliation. The reason I outrage about the Sanghis is because they are the ones trolling me. The moment Congress handles do the same, I will call them out as well.) Say you like pizza and people will want to know what’s wrong with chaat. Talk about loving Delhi and people will want to know what’s wrong with Mumbai. Praise Peter and you will be asked ‘But what about Paul’?
I have to admit that despite my best efforts to Stay Calm and Carry On, this epidemic of ‘whataboutitis’ is beginning to get me down. I am seriously thinking of putting a disclaimer on my social media feed: Please feel free to assume that I am outraged about everything, unless I declare otherwise.
Do you think it would serve as an antidote to ‘whataboutitis’? Well, a girl can dream, but I kind of suspect that this nightmare has only just about started.
From HT Brunch, December 8
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