By Jaya Pathak
'Anyone can do, say or be anything online, and the blurred line between what is real and what isn’t is difficult to get past'
Navigating yourself through a political environment is tough. Add in the fact that you are from an ethnic minority, a woman and are young, it gets even more difficult. This experience isn’t unique to just myself but is shared by many others who are from similar backgrounds or who seem to be “different” from what is perceived as “normal” in our society.
The concept of having pre-conceived ideas about those we do not know is an understandable one. It is simply human nature for our mind to do what it has been trained to do from a very young age - to use our experiences and the experiences of those around us to form conclusions about the unknown. The conventions of modern-day society do nothing but reaffirm this concept, and it requires a lot of patience, time and effort to work through our unknown prejudices and bias. All of this is just in the real world; the online world exasperates this notion hugely. Anyone can do, say or be anything online, and the blurred line between what is real and what isn’t is difficult to get past. It can become difficult to realise that even those who are honest about who they are online, are more than just their username or display picture.
Getting back into the online world of politics meant I had to kick-start my Twitter account again. I was apprehensive about doing this, to say the least, but I understand the positive power of social media, especially one as instant as Twitter, to raise awareness of issues that need to be discussed. My online persona is an honest one - my Twitter is mainly for professional use, and what I say and do through my account are my views only. I appreciate that it is important to remember each account is a real person, and though we know what they share, we do not know the huge amount that the underlying majority do not share. Yet I find that others do not have this same understanding, and I have experienced people from all over the political spectrum make false assumptions about me based on my background. Whilst some of these assumptions are made without bad intention, most of these interactions have been based on the premise of trying to undermine my views and opinions. It is frustrating and upsetting, to say the least, but at the same time, it is a sad state of affairs to think that myself and others have come to expect this to happen and have made peace with how we deal with it.
More recently, I have found that these comments made on false assumptions have worsened in the past few years. In particular, a couple of experiences that I have had stand out to me.
A few months ago, I tweeted about the fact that Churchill should be remembered for the good and the bad - a war hero and a racist - about which I wrote an article for Demographica UK. As to be expected, I had a lot of insults directed towards me from some offended at what I said. Every insult, minus a handful, were from people who assumed that my political beliefs regarding India aligned with the BJP (the current governing party in India). Two things struck me about these comments: firstly, why did anyone assume that I am Indian let alone Hindu? Until this point, I had perhaps tweeted once many months ago about my background, and even if I had made reference to being Indian, India is a diverse country with multiple religious groups. Secondly, even if I am British Indian and Hindu, why does that give anyone the right to assume I support the BJP, a party which reflects Hindu nationalistic positions when Hindu’s, as a religious and cultural group, are incredibly diverse too?
Minority groups are not monolithic, homogenous entities. Within our communities, we are unique individuals, with a range of different histories, cultures and beliefs amongst us. We have shared commonalities, but even more so we have unparalleled experiences which affect each of us differently. To assume that I am a “brown” girl (from my display photo) and have a “brown” name (from my Twitter handle), or to assume I am Hindu and therefore must support a Hindu nationalistic government, is hurtful when my personal political opinions about India are very different from the BJPs, especially given the poor treatment of minorities in India with a BJP government in power. Additionally, to try to undermine my opinions about British history and British politics, regardless of any opinions about my ethnic country’s government, shows that for many in the UK, being a minority as well as being British is a hard concept to understand. In fact, it appears to be rejected in a lot of cases where minority groups are stereotyped.
The second experience I have had links closely with the fact that I am a British Indian Hindu. About a week and a half ago, a former Labour councillor, who also identifies as Hindu, said he was leaving the Labour Party on India’s Independence Day. Amongst his reasons for this, it came across to some of us as though the anti-BJP, anti-Hindutva sentiment that appears by a few on the left side of politics was also a driving force. To be anti-BJP is not the same as anti-Indian. When I voiced this opinion online, I was met with support but also with attacks from some on the left. Why is it that when an older, Hindu man expresses his opinion, as he is entitled to do so, some of the same people who showed him are commenting under my tweet, resenting the right for me, a younger, Hindu woman, to speak?
Away from my own ethnic background, I have had comments from Twitter users on the left and right of politics telling me that I should “focus on [your] own problems” rather than spread awareness about antisemitism and Holocaust education. When I decide to talk about issues that concern me related to my own background, I get told not to, but when I raise awareness about problems experienced by other minorities, I get told to focus on my own. Minorities should stand by each other and support each other. It is not up to those who are not in those minorities to pick and choose when minority activism suits them best.
Generally, those of us from minority backgrounds have come to expect insults which are made about the very strengths that make us unique, in an attempt to undermine our beliefs and opinions. As frustrating as it is, it is a powerful reminder of where society stands around the topic of minority inclusion. It also reminds those of us using social media that what we see is what people want us to see, and there is a whole other side that we will never get to experience. It is with this in mind that I hope people become kinder to one another online - let the web be a positive outlet for our voices, especially those whose voices we need to hear the most.
Jaya Pathak's experiences as a British Indian led to her developing an interest in the use of education to combat racism, discrimination and prejudice. Alongside human rights activism, she also works with a Holocaust education charity and is the co-founder/deputy editor of the youth-led initiative Yet Again.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.