Political dissent is increasingly being met with undue ire, threats, and violent rhetoric. What should be an integral part of a healthy democracy is now a cause for socio-legal harassment. With dated laws, thought police in the form of organisations, and unhindered internet trolls, expressing dissent no longer seems safe or sane. In an increasingly fascist trend, political dissent is being shunned by being labelled anti-national and anti-Hindu. The critique of the government is being portrayed as inward-xenophobia in an attempt to clamour down on opposing voices.
Predictably, in this hostile environment, the newest episode of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act was met with over-the-top and ridiculous outrage, complete with nastiness online, calls to boycott Netflix, and a harsh critique of Minhaj – all of which is exacerbated by the fact that he is Muslim.
The episode starts with a seemingly over-the-top reaction to him stating he is going to speak of the Indian elections on his show. The people he interacts with, all Indians or of Indian ethnicity, list to him the greatly exaggerated ways in which he can be persecuted and ‘done away with’ (like an accident where he will burn to death) for this and how he will be seen as a terrorist or a Pakistani agent. Instead, they suggest alternative ‘safe’ subjects, like sneakers, ‘because that’s more comical.’
To the uninitiated, the introduction may seem like an exaggeration for the sake of laughs, but anyone aware of the Indian socio-political scenario can attest to just how real it is. At the beginning of the episode, Minhaj mentions that he knows what is going to come – severe backlash, and even states why it is going to be worse – because Minhaj is Muslim.
On Twitter, the hashtag #BoycottNetflix is taking off, with accusations of Netflix being anti-Indian and anti-Hindu. Netflix is being asked to ban the episode and even whole series, altogether. People have been posting screenshots of their cancelled Netflix subscriptions and demanding that others do so, as well.
It is crucial though that Netflix not succumb to the pressure. This undemocratic and fascist display of intolerance and bigotry has the advantage of having overwhelming numbers of supporters, but it is essential for Netflix and even India that we don’t witness a repeat of the Jack Dorsey incident.
Jack Dorsey succumbed to the bullying on Twitter and apologised for holding up a ‘Smash The Brahmanical Patriarchy’ poster, which only strengthened misogynistic and casteist trolls trying to erase a history of casteist gender politics through bullying. If Netflix follows suit, that would be a dangerous precedent to set and the platform can safely bet that this won’t be a one-off incident and it will be bullied to shut down content that doesn’t sit well with majoritarian views, in the future.
Claims of Minhaj being biased are unfounded, though. Minhaj took a dig at Modi and the RSS, but he didn’t spare the Congress either. He spoke of how the Congress has been embroiled in corruption allegations and scandals for decades. He even spoke with Shashi Tharoor about his alleged involvement in a criminal case. Although, Minhaj’s claims regarding the failure of Modi isn’t without merit and can be backed by legitimate media sources.
Artists like Minhaj shouldn’t be persecuted for expressing dissent or speaking the truth, there is merit to every claim Minhaj made against Indian politicians, parties, and organisations. If we don’t make unbiased platforms available to our artists and dissenters, we will only strengthen those who believe they can bully dissent to die down by sheer volume, it will only strengthen those who only want one voice to be heard. In a country where artists, journalists, and activists are killed, persecuted, and confronted with violence, each day, it cannot be overstated how essential it is that we stand up to authoritarian and majoritarian bullying. We owe it to those who use their voice to defy bigotry,
Minhaj took a dig at Modi and the RSS, but he didn’t spare the Congress either.
The response to Hasan Minhaj’s episode perfectly encapsulates the illiberal socio-political scenario that plagues us today, where dissent is come down on heavily and dissenters are persecuted, each day. There is truth to the reports of increased violence, intolerance, and bigotry under the current government, and these same vices plague the masses which are blinded and swayed by the majoritarian politics of an unquestionably prejudiced government.
In a democracy, political participation and involvement should exist, but when political support takes the shape of cultism – essentially, a rudimentary form of fascism – it is time we stop the democratic principles that comprise the foundation of this country from being caught in a downward spiral of destruction fueled by majoritarianism, hate, and bigotry.
Dissent, especially political, is an integral part of a true democracy. A democracy that doesn’t allow for dissent to thrive, be it legally or socially, is starting to tread a very fine and dangerous line between democracy and totalitarianism.
The hate which Hasan Minhaj is being met with can function as a cautionary tale. When dissent is met with hostility in an attempt to eradicate it, it is essential we stand with the dissenters. Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act is a comedy, but still focuses on the nuances of an increasingly right-shifting bigoted world, and in today’s times of intolerance and authoritarianism, this is the kind of programming we need.
Instead of having over-the-top responses to Minhaj’s honest commentary of Indian politics, we should start a dialogue on the increasingly fascist approach we are starting to take as a country.
Instead of having over-the-top responses to Minhaj’s honest commentary of Indian politics, we should start a dialogue on the increasingly fascist approach we are starting to take as a country. It is undeniable that the Minhaj being Muslim is a great contributor to the widespread ire.
The claims of Minhaj embodying Hinduphobia are as empty and hollow as claims of ‘reverse-racism’ in America, majoritarian politics has regrettably become the norm of the day and now is when we should attempt to change that. We, as a country, are growing increasingly intolerant towards all minority groups, and even though dissent isn’t a luxury afforded to anyone if they attempt to defy convention, this is even truer for minorities.
Also read: Who Is Afraid Of Gauri Lankesh?
In Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj said his episode is more likely to get him in trouble because he is Indian and Muslim – thus he is something that people love and something people don’t like as much. In today’s troubling socio-political context this is truer than ever, now when you’re one-half oreo cookie and one-half minority, there is no winning, like Hasan Minhaj stated, but now is the time we change that, now is the time we don’t embrace silence in the face of fascist outrage.
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