A toolkit to tackle the boomer uncle on family WhatsApp groups 

If you are an Indian - regardless of your caste, class, income or demographics, you must have encountered religious or societal bigotry and conservatism. An audit of this bigotry might reveal that some of it are remnants from our colonial hangover, with a dash of our post-partition wounds thrown in with a sprinkle of misinformation & agenda-laden bull-crap sprewn by news anchors & politicians.

You would have thought technological advancement & bigotry don’t mix - like fire and water. After all, we are living in space-age times - doctors are replacing hearts within hours and robots are cleaning our homes. We’re harnessing the power of winds and rivers to fuel our cars, homes and offices. Our kids might soon plan for a vacation on Mars, and live forever. We are in the freakin’ Jetsons!

Why oh why is there so much bigotry & conservatism - do we not owe it to ourselves to be informed, peaceful and inclusive, if only for the utterly selfish purpose of technological development. But alas!

Bad economic policies, rampant income inequality and discrimation have made even our young minds ripe for the seeds of bigotry, intolerance and violence. This means we now have to face it at our dinner tables, our birthday parties, our family visits. The only antidote to this bigotry - in our families, our neighborhoods and our friendships is not rhetoric or violence, but love, patience and fact-checking.

With that, here’s a cheatsheet to tackle the bigoted Indian uncle, aunt, parent, friend of a friend, and anybody in between:

Statement #1: “Muslims will soon overtake Hindus in India.”

Muslims have the lowest levels of family planning (FP)- only 45.3 percent. However, their total fertility rate (TFR) is 2.61 which is the highest. But the fact that Hindus are not far behind, with second-lowest FP at 54.4 per cent, and second-highest TFR of 2.13, is completely ignored.

Another myth is that the Muslim population growth was upsetting the demographic balance. The demographic ratio of India shows an increase in Muslims from 9.8 per cent in 1951 to 14.2 per cent in 2011 and a decline in Hindus from 84.2 percent to 79.8 percent. However, this is an increase of 4.4 percentage points in 60 years!

HARDCORE BIGOT: Treat with a copy of ‘The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India’ by former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi.

Statement #2: “Non-vegetarians are more violent & aggressive than vegetarians.”

Hindu spiritual texts talk about practicing vegetarianism for spiritual progress—“satvic.” Non-vegetarian food is a hindrance for spiritual growth—“rajasik and tamasik.”

However, how many of us are imbibing ethical and noble (Satva) qualities to progress spiritually from the food we eat? Isn’t it also necessary to develop moral qualities by every other means? On the contrary, the greatest genocide ever to be carried out was by Adolf Hitler—a vegetarian. Mother Teresa, one of the greatest saints, was a non-vegetarian.

Brandishing non-vegetarians as violent is unjustified. Whether you eat meat or not you can be a demon or an angel. You can be a hero at times and vulnerable at times. You have the ability to reason and judge between the right and wrong.

Statement #3: “Muslims are stealing all the jobs.”

According to a World Bank report, nearly 34% of all Muslims in urban India are below the poverty line compared to 19% Hindus. Between 1983 and 2009-10, the poverty rate for urban Hindus declined by 52 percent, but the rate of decline for urban Muslims was only at 39 percent.

Poor Muslims are much poorer than poor Hindus and can easily be bracketed with the lowest Hindu castes and Dalits. Muslims are stuck at the bottom of almost every economic or social heap.

HARDCORE BIGOT: NSS Report 552: Employment and Unemployment Situation among Major Religious Groups in India by the Ministry of Minority Affairs

Statement #4: “The cow holds medicinal qualities.”

In Hinduism, the cow is a sacred symbol of life and the earth, and for centuries Hindus have used cow dung to clean their homes and for prayer rituals, believing it has therapeutic and antiseptic properties.

"There is no concrete scientific evidence that cow dung or urine work to boost immunity against COVID-19, it is based entirely on belief," said Dr JA Jayalal, national president at the Indian Medical Association. "There are also health risks involved in smearing or consuming these products - other diseases can spread from the animal to humans."

HARDCORE BIGOT: ‘Neo-Hindutva’: evolving forms, spaces, and expressions of Hindu nationalism research paper by Edward Anderson & Arkotong Longkumer

Statement #5: “<Insert discipline> was first in the Vedas/Quran.”

A while ago, on the occasion of the inauguration of the 105th Indian Science Congress, the Indian minister for science and technology, Harsh Vardhan, had claimed that the knowledge contained in the Vedas was more advanced than that of even Einstein. Speaking about Stephen Hawking, he had remarked: “He also emphatically said on record that our Vedas might have a theory superior to Einstein’s theory of e=mc2.”

A recent trend is the practice of explicating religious fables using science. It’s either ‘everything scientific was once found in ancient India’, or ‘everything that is science was invented by Muslims’, or ‘everything came from the West’. Perhaps it would be more productive for everyone to concentrate on actual science than quibble over who has dominion over its finding.

Statement #6: "Hindu-sthan (India) is for Hindus."

Hindus make up the overwhelming majority of India's 1.4 billion people but when Mahatma Gandhi secured its independence from Britain in 1947, it was as a secular, multicultural state.

Gandhi was a devout Hindu but was adamant that in India "every man enjoys equality of status, whatever his religion is". "The state is bound to be wholly secular," he said. The Indian Constitution declares it a secular nation - not a nation founded on religious ideals. If you believe otherwise, you’re technically against the idea of india. Period.

Statement #7: “China is a bad country. Down with chinese goods!”

Anti-China sentiment has been on the rise in India since the fatal border clash between the two nuclear-armed neighbours in 2020. The Indian government hasn’t explicitly announced a boycott, but by all accounts states and public sector companies have been reportedly asked to desist from issuing new contracts to Chinese companies. But, experts warn, it’s easier said than done to convert such boycott rhetoric into reality.

For one, China is India’s second-largest trading partner after the US. At least 70% of India’s drug intermediary needs are fulfilled by China. India’s booming smartphone sector also heavily depends on cheap Chinese phones made by Oppo, Xaomi and others with the lion’s share of the local market. Most consumer electronics makers say they’ll be paralysed if they can’t import crucial intermediate goods from China.

India and China have also become increasingly integrated in recent years. Chinese money, for instance, has penetrated India's technology sector, with companies like Alibaba and Tencent strategically pumping in billions of dollars into Indian startups.

China, on the other hand, is less concerned since India accounts for only 3% of its exports.

Statement #8: “This homosexuals are perverts.”

In 2019, the largest study of its kind failed to confirm the existence of a "gay gene" is not so much a disappointment for those looking to understand the LGBTQ community, as it is an acknowledgement that science does not need to tell us what should be plainly obvious: gays, lesbians, bisexuals and pansexuals are who they are.

The study by Andrea Ganna, lead author and European Molecular Biology Laboratory group leader at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Finland, said the research reinforces the understanding that same-sex sexual behavior is simply “a natural part of our diversity as a species.”

HARDCORE BIGOT: Just read the report!

Statement #9: “These mini skirts cause rape.”

Many people subscribe to this idea that sexual violence victims have some responsibility for their own assaults. In an online study titled Wake Up To Rape, polled 1,061 people aged 18 to 50, comprising 712 women and 349 men in London.

It found 54 percent of women at least partially blame rape victims for their assaults, due to victims dancing sexily, flirting, or wearing provocative attire. This is a dangerous status quo.

HARDCORE BIGOT: Show them photos from the 'Is it my fault?' exhibition at the Centre Communautaire Maritime in the Molenbeek district of Brussels

Statement #10: “India is the greatest country in the world.”

Though, a closer look at India’s “report card” reveals that it is faltering on several fronts. As is often the case, the Modi government has run yet another successful marketing campaign that has struck a chord with many citizens. But there is very little to celebrate about India at 75.

India’s economy is in crisis and has been since long before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic which devastated the global economy. Indeed, on the eve of the first COVID-19 lockdown India’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP) growth was the lowest it has been since 1975-76. Exports and investments were also on a downward trend.

As was the case the world over, the Indian economy witnessed a sharp downturn during the pandemic. GDP growth declined by 23.9 percent and, in 2020-21, the GDP shrank by 7.3 percent. The effect of this downturn was felt most severely by the country’s poorest. In 2021, a study by the Pew Research Center showed that the number of people in India living on $2 or less a day increased by 75 million due to the recession during the pandemic. This increase accounted for 60 percent of the “global increase in poverty”. The study also found that the size of the Indian middle class shrunk by 32 million in 2020. This also accounted for 60 percent of the “global retreat” from the middle class. You can’t be great if you are poor and miserable.

The easiest thing to feel when you meet a friend or family member who holds such views might be repulsion, anger or even hatred. Stop right there, take deep breaths and remind yourself that you won’t treat them the same way if they were ill.

Bigotry is a virus of the mind - treat a patient you spot with the same love, care and understanding as you would had they been down with fever, jaundice or malaria. And once you cure them, pat yourself on the back - you just won humanity another chance at progress!