Some Questions to Ask Next Time You See a Controversial Outburst in India

Photo by Navneet Shanu

India is increasingly getting polarized. We have a pro-government clan and an anti-government clan. Both are equally stubborn in their own thoughts and action, believing with all their heart that the other is up to no good.

It has become impossible to be objective without offending someone. I hesitate before sharing a piece of good news about the country because the anti-government clan will attack me. It’s the same when you criticize the country because the pro-government clan will get offended.

As Indians, we have sadly lost the ability to differentiate between politics and the well-being of the nation. We are unable to take an objective stance or take a step back to consider ourselves as “one” instead of separate entities and are instead getting into petty fights and finger-pointing. Our national anthem talks beautifully of unity but the truth is we are increasingly becoming divided as the years go by. For a free thinker who cares only for the well-being of the country and not any political party, for someone who wants to see her nation prosper and become a global powerhouse in all aspects, the manner in which India is behaving currently is a huge disappointment.

The riots, hate, and division hardly boost the growth of the country. These elements throw us back financially and emotionally if at all they do something. So why are poeple engaging in them? Where is this polarization coming from? There are a few culprits here:

  1. News Channels: No, I am not talking about only some channels. All are equally biased.
  2. Social Media: The Modi clan supports the leader loyally; the non-Modi clan trolls the leader loyally. There is no middle ground.
  3. Social Messengers: The WhatsApp University is relatively well-known. I need not elaborate on that.

When you subject yourself to a continuous flow of negative news from all three sources listed above, the frustration is imminent. The ground reality might be something else. Internet might be flooded with news of riots, outbursts, hysteria, and violence. However, in real life, you might be sitting in the comfort of your home, enjoying the peaceful surroundings, having a cordial relationship with your neighbors from all communities celebrating each other’s festivals with equal fervor. I have had people ask me if there’s an ongoing war in India, with people rioting 24×7. The fact is the media tends to highlight only the bad, not the good. So a person watching Indian news channels from abroad will end up thinking the country is a perpetual war zone with people getting beaten up or murdered every other second. This is quite extreme from reality. But it is an extreme that cannot be stopped. I happened to read this today in the Open magazine and I can’t agree more.

“The Noise Is Not The Conversation”

What can a citizen do in such situations? Each time you see a piece of polarizing news blasted across media, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why do some incidents make it to the news, whereas others, like the Assam floods, do not get much coverage?
  • Why do we get only one-sided POVs from some social activists? They tend to hide the other side. What’s their agenda?  
  • Why do we have debates on sensitive topics? And why are panelists who are well-known for making polarizing comments invited to such debates?

Always search for the other side, and not blindly follow what the media shows you. This mantra should be mainly applied when they are highlighting hatred or negativity. When you ask “why” to everything that’s happening, you will realize it’s all a game. A game where we are being played around like puppets. A game to spread hatred and disharmony, to cause division. Why? There might be political and personal reasons behind it. The motivation can also be business-oriented – negative news sells. We can never be 100% sure of the intention behind something, but that shouldn’t stop us from doubting and questioning someone’s agenda behind highlighting hatred – even if it’s coming from our favorite social activist or news channel.

The next step a citizen can take is to stop sharing hatred-inducing posts. We get tempted to share such posts because of the shock factor. I know I certainly do. But I had to step back and think, “Am I improving the situation by sharing this?” When we share polarizing news akin to “look what this person said about Islam/Hinduism” we are not promoting peace. We unknowingly encourage agitation and unrest as no person reads such posts with compassionate eyes.

I picture hatred as this greedy monster kept alive by our own dedicated, unwavering attention. We keep feeding this monster and recharging it with our own infinite supply of hatred. It then turns into an uncontainable being beyond our control. Maybe the only way to tame this monster is by ignoring it. We have given the monster so much attention till now, and it hasn’t worked. So maybe it’s time to do the opposite – ignore when someone is trying to divide us with hateful news or posts. Ignore when someone is trying to agitate you with spiteful comments. It is a long stretch because, as Indians, we are sensitive to a lot of things. But ignorance, sometimes, indeed can be bliss. If we learn to ignore the hatred and don’t give it enough attention, who knows, the greedy monster, with its excessive anger and polarization, might eventually die a slow, painful death.

An Ode to Surya Namaskar & How It Helped Me Manage My Heavy Periods

Photo by Elina Fairytale

Since it is International Yoga Day, I thought I should narrate my own experience with Yoga. I have an on-and-off relationship with it. The irregularity has nothing to do with the practice but my own laziness. I prefer walking. But each time I do Yoga, I am impressed by its benefits.

I started Yoga as a form of exercise to supplement my walking. At that time, I was unaware of the health benefits as the only reason I chose Yoga was to tone my body. I initially went through some basic asanas for beginners and then slowly shifted to Surya Namaskar. It involves 12 steps akin to providing sun salutations.

In one month of doing Yoga, I noticed the following:

  • It strengthened my neck muscles and helped prevent a stiff neck
  • My back pain reduced
  • And the most relieving of all – my periods became more manageable

I cannot comment on whether Yoga helped tone my body because I wasn’t committed enough to try it regularly. The stress is on the third point – how it helped ease my period flow.  

I recently shifted to menstrual cups, so half of my period-related issues got resolved with that step. Before Yoga, I used to have 3-4 days of heavy flow. During the months I diligently practiced Yoga, my heavy flow reduced to 1 day. My period cycle was shorter and more manageable. This is a big win for me. But mind you, you cannot do Yoga just once and think your periods are manageable for life. I have to do it at least twice or thrice weekly to see the positive effects. I skip Yoga during periods because I do not wish to subject my body to stress and stretches at that time.

If you are facing any of the problems I mentioned, I would highly recommend trying Yoga.

Happy International Yoga Day!

To Speak or Not To Speak? The Unexpected Side Effects of Speaking Out Online

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I used to be uncontrollably reactive. Being a hyper-sensitive soul, I would blurt out the moment I came across a social issue. I would write long posts on social media justifying why I felt the way I did. This behavior went on until realization hit – maybe, I was not helping by speaking out.

Maybe – worse – I was unintentionally fuelling hate.

Historically, a person speaking out against injustice with complete bravado has led to inspirational revolutions. The past is a witness to bold and courageous people who had kickstarted life-changing campaigns by speaking out (à la Rosa Parks). But I am beginning to think that similar changes emanating from collective online hysteria might be an exception in the modern era and not the norm.  

What am I on about? The whole point of speaking out is to bring awareness and extend our support. But the reality is that we end up attracting only those who already feel the way we do. It is akin to having yes-men around you. The people I should have influenced with my pitch retorted defensively instead of listening, much to my dismay. Real change only happens when people are open to change – when they are willing to listen, acknowledge, and evolve. Real change is when a person with a different ideology finally understands the seriousness of the issue – when a bulb goes off in their head, and they tell you, “Now I get it. I am sorry for thinking otherwise.

But how often do we hear that?

Instead, most refuse to listen. We talk again to explain further, and they get angrier, resulting in a never-ending cycle.

Bringing my personal experience into the picture, I will list down 3 sensitive topics I had often ranted about on social media and the outcome of each.

Spoiler Alert & Disclaimer: No one changed their viewpoint because of me. No one became any better because of my posts. I have only my personal experience to narrate. Your experience might be much better.

Topic #1 – Politics

I have strong political views. When my country is bleeding, I take it to heart. My loyalty lies with my nation and not any political party. I might prefer some over the others, maybe because they believe in some of the things that I deem important. But I have not pledged blind love to them – I can be rational and put them accountable if they fail.

Since I am not biased toward any political party, I tend to point out the pros and cons of each. Mostly, I like sharing the pros because India gets its fair share of negative publicity.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s assume there are two political parties – Political Party A (PPA) and Political Party B (PPB). The moment I laud PPA for implementing something noteworthy, the supporters of PPB get agitated. “But what about this other thing the PPA did? ” they ask me. When I applaud PPB, the supporters of PPA express their agitation. Of course, the opposite happens when I point out any cons of the party they support. No one wants to hear debauched stories about the political party they support either. There is no win-win situation here. This bias does not change even when you are armed with data and facts.

Did anyone change their political views because of me? Absolutely not.

Are they still blindly supporting the political party they love? Yes.

Did my energy get wasted in the process? A big YES.

Topic #2 – Women Empowerment

The #MeToo movement was a gamechanger for women across the world. It gave them the courage to speak out. But was it successful in powerfully conveying the message to the opposite sex that sexual molestation or abuse will not be tolerated? Not on the scale we wanted to.

Instead of supporting sexual abuse survivors, I have witnessed men (offline and online) explain haphazardly that women too can be abusive liars. Of course, without a doubt, women can be all of that. But when a man gets into a fight-or-flight mode citing #NotAllMen whenever you start talking about women’s issues, you know something has gone awry. When people are more invested in the #NotAllMen issue than the primary #MeToo issue, it means the whole purpose of the movement has been defeated.

Here too, we fell short of making a real change.

Topic #3 – Religion

Religion is a super-sensitive topic that should be handled with extreme caution. The “me” and “mine” mentality takes precedence over the collective well-being of a country when religion comes into the scene. Each one thinks other religions are inferior compared to theirs. Each one thinks their compatriots can never be wrong.

The more someone stresses the hate their religion gets, the more it seems to make the other communities angry. The responses become similar to what I had penned concerning women empowerment – the whataboutery starts.

When the minority communities talk about the harassment they face in the country, the religious majority gets offended, and vice versa. Religion is the trickiest of all the sensitive topics because it hits people right where it hurts the most. Each one thinks their religion is in danger. One community thinks, “What if our religion becomes a minority?” In contrast, the other one thinks, “What if they demolish our religion?” The main culprit is fear. The more we talk about our religion-based fears, the more it seems to be escalating the fear of our own and others.

Since there are more religious people than atheists globally, politicians worldwide undoubtedly know that the way to any country’s heart is through religion. And they take this to good advantage. Stories are planted, fake data is presented, and all types of hara-kiri happen, especially in corrupted nations. We fall for such antics. They string us around like puppets, and we dance to their tunes blissfully unaware.

The most sensible thing one can do is not give undue attention to toxic, hate-mongering politics. The more attention we give it, the bigger the hate-spitting snake seems to get. When attention wanes, the snake shrivels and dies. It does not know where to go, this attention-seeking monster.

In practicality, restraining oneself from polarizing topics is not easy. It definitely wasn’t for me.

Why is this happening?

I subconsciously knew that speaking out wasn’t panning out as intended. People seem to be getting more polarized. It was only after I read an article by Amit Verma that the truth stared right back at me. I am quoting the results from the 2005 Sunstein experiment from his page. It holds the answers for all this ruckus.

In almost every group, members ended up holding more extreme positions after they spoke with one another. […] Aside from increasing extremism, the experiment had an independent effect: it made both liberal and conservative groups significantly more homogeneous—and thus squelched diversity. […] Moreover, the rift between liberals and conservatives widened as a result of discussing.

Sunstein called this effect ‘Group Polarisation.’ Sunstein defined it thus: “When like-minded people deliberate, they typically end up adopting a more extreme position in line with their pre-deliberation inclinations.”

In other words, the more we discuss something, the more polarized we become. If we look around us and observe what’s happening from a distance, we might realize the truth of it all. With the advent of the internet, it has become easy to discuss things and become more polarized.

I have found that I, too, get agitated after discussing a sensitive topic. My rants do not make anyone better, nor do they enlighten anyone. The only adverse effect is on me – I feel agitated and unhappy. And wait for it – more polarized. I get angry when people with a different thought process don’t get what I’m saying. I get angry when people are quiet and not saying the right things. Of course, being right is subjective. My right might not be the next person’s right – this awareness can help calm our emotions in those moments of despair.  

Hypothetically speaking, if someone were to question my long-held beliefs constantly, it would be okay the first few times, but how long would I be okay? Everyone, unfortunately, has a listening threshold. It might explain why men get fed up with constant women empowerment and feminism stories, why religious people find it hard to constantly hear someone criticizing their religion, and why politically-inclined people find it hard to disown someone they blindly love. Beliefs and habits are difficult to break. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. You can lead a person to facts, but you cannot force them to think.

As an experiment, I decided to stop myself from sharing or discussing polarizing topics online. It has been a few months (I’ve stopped counting). I do express my discontent occasionally when someone is not being empathic, but only offline, in a more closed and restricted environment, not subject to foreign voices.

The outcome of this was that I immediately started feeling less agitated and secure. I stopped feeling angry over the slightest things. In short, I felt less polarized and more open to contrarian views. When the interaction is face-to-face, you get to express things more gracefully and compassionately – the things we often miss out on when we tweet or post on social media.

An Ode to Feeling Moody, Meh, and All That

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels

It has been a strenuous few weeks at work. At a point where I am just craving to take a break and go somewhere. Or just enjoy the weather and read. Even the usual weekend break is not cutting it.

But a vacation has to wait because of work deadlines.

I have realized something over the years—whenever I am stressed at work, I also tend to overthink a lot about my life in general and become unwelcomely crabby, subjecting myself to mind-numbing questions “Where am I heading? What am I doing? Why are people like this? Why is the world so bad?” And sulk about it even if I have no plans to shift out of the zone I am in because it is quite perfect for me otherwise, outside these moody phases. So I just sit with the feeling and wait for it to pass, like a hermit in search of worldly answers.

When work is more relaxed and I get a breather, life seems calm and harmonious. Professional life does affect your personal life, no matter how much you try to separate the two. I didn’t realize this behavioral pattern till I saw it repeat, time and again. Now, I know, and tell myself, “Yeah, it’s because you are mentally tired. You just want to take a few days off and do what you like best. You will be okay once you get that break.” This self-realization is cathartic in a way and a problem-solver because you know where the issue lies. But here’s the catch—it only comes when you choose to sit with your feelings and introspect, not run away.

So I am in that phase right now where I get moody seeing others’ travel posts on social media. I get moody when an ex’s update pops up somewhere on my social media feed because of a mutual friend. (Yup, social media is bad for your mental health, especially when you are stressed.) I even get moody when there are too many people around. The things that don’t usually affect you with much intensity, start gnawing at your brain and make you overthink.

As you grow up, you become more familiar with your emotions. You start to ask why you feel the way you do, so that the next time you face the emotion again, you know how to handle it better. Self-realization builds with experience. The more you encounter a feeling, the more you get to learn about its dynamic range and complexities. I feel the manner in which each person deals with their emotions is as unique as their fingerprints. All your experiences shape the way in which you handle or feel about things. What one person goes through in an emotion might be different from the next person as each one’s life story is exclusive and uncommon. So how can we say with finality that we should deal with an emotion only in one particular way? What if there are multiple okay ways to deal with things? And being moody is also an okay way contrary to popular belief.

Most people’s advice would be to snap out of being moody. Movies and tv series show loud friends whisking away their moody buddies to a party to dull down their emotions, hoping it would make them feel better. A person like me would have dissociated myself from such friends even if they meant good because the last thing I would need is a party.

Basically, the world wants you to do just about anything other than feeling your emotions. But I would say, just sit with it. Acknowledge its presence and understand it is only human to feel “nothing” or “moody” for a while. It is not a prison that you need to escape from. It is an intricate, delicate, and overlooked part of you that craves your embrace and attention.