Published: 24th June 2018
Dear Ms Proud Indian, refusing to talk to the Muslim Airtel rep is as Anti-Indian as it gets
If every nationalist actually read the Constitution and the provisions about secularism before they hoisted their nationalism on their Twitter bios, the country would be a better place
We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic...
— The preamble to the Constitution of India
Every day, during my 12 years in school, I opened an NCERT textbook to read these lines. Initially, I didn't know what these words meant. Then, in class VII, our Social Science teacher broke it down and explained what each word meant. All of a sudden, a 12-year-old, studying in an Indian school in the Middle East, with a bunch of people from different races, religions and ethnic groups around her was proud.
Why? Because my country was secular! Which meant, that the country is "not subject to or bound by religious rule; not belonging to or living in a monastic or other order." In a primarily Muslim state, the concept of secularism can seem strange — especially if you don't belong to the primary religion. But then, as a 12-year-old, there were other pressing issues at hand. It was, after all, time to attack and empty the snack box of my friend who wore a hijab to school every day. She never minded and she paid the compliment back to my snack box in equal measure. Despite growing up in a predominantly Muslim State, I was taught to not ask anyone their religion as that was never a yardstick to measure the worth of a person.
Cut to 2018. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, while I was doing my routine social media sweep on my phone, a certain news post caught my eye. The headline was the equivalent of 'Woman asks Airtel for Hindu customer care rep on twitter'. Unable to control my curiosity, I went ahead and clicked the link. Here's what I found:
One Ms Pooja Singh tweeted to Airtel that her DTH connection wasn't working. When the customer service guy, who identified himself with a Muslim name offered to help, she said 'Thanks but No Thanks' without the politeness... and the rest is pretty much well-threshed out Twitter history.
Understandably, Twitter was outraged. Many, including Omar Abdullah were calling out Airtel for advocating bigotry by offering a change of representatives (Though I suspect that's more an SOP than anything else). I was hurt too. But I had some time. So I went to the profile of Pooja Singh, the woman who was particular about not being assisted by a Muslim representative. A marketing professional, her bio identified her as a proud Hindu, a proud Indian and someone who thinks that the Indian Army is the best. Despite all the outrage, Ms Singh doesn't feel that she has done anything wrong, so it is unlikely that she will realise how she is contributing to the communal hatred that is on the rise in secular India these past few years.
As a young, educated woman who lives in India, this disturbed me immensely. It disturbed me because I had never understood the logic behind refusing to accept a service or indulge in a conversation with someone because their faiths are different and they read different texts. If that can't amount to discrimination, then I don't know what is. If Ms Pooja Singh could educate me, I will be more than happy to alter my sociological viewpoint.
For reference sake (and to aid name-callers and trolls), I identify myself as liberal. Now, for the ones who often think that the term translates to 'Hindu hater', you're wrong. The dictionary defines it as someone, "willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one's own and is open to new ideas."
Secondly, Ms Singh says she is a proud Indian. And yet, she does something as clearly Un-Indian as discriminating against someone on the basis of their religion. I have a problem, dear lady. I don't have a problem with you being a proud Indian. But how many times have you read the constitution? India always upheld unity in diversity. If one is unable to accept the diversity of races, languages, ethnic groups and religions, then what is the point of calling yourself a proud Indian? Is it just because you mandatorily stood up for the National Anthem in a cinema hall? Or is it because you follow out Prime Minister on Twitter? I have always believed that one should take pride in something because they understand it inside out. I may be wrong, you're free to correct me. After all, I'm liberal.
Put an end to bigotry: Airtel was called out for advocating bigotry by offering a change of representatives
Now, Ms Proud Indian, as an active Twitter user, you are obviously aware of the communal violence in our country. People are getting thrashed, lynched and raped in the name of religion. Now, I think that you're also an educated Indian woman. So, why would you in your right mind indulge in communalising something as simple as a DTH service? You are obviously tired of the online abuse. But do you realise that there are millions who go through this offline, just because they're born into a certain religion? Aren't we as responsible citizens, supposed to promote a peaceful environment in our country?
And that is why, Ms Singh, I'd like to tell you that I think you're wrong.
Wrong to hate a person you don't know because of a bias you have towards the second largest religion in the world.
Wrong to show that bias on a highly visible platform like Twitter, in this day and age.
Wrong to teach our kids that it is OK to dismiss someone you don't know from Adam (or Ahmed perhaps?) on the basis of your bias.
These statements of mine apply, in part, to Vivek Agnihotri, Shefali Vaidya and others, who came out in support of you. Aren't they, as influencers supposed to wipe out certain phobias and hatred?
Always remember, you cannot always be in a situation where you can choose people around you on the grounds of religion and caste. Do you know the name and religion of the person who bakes your favourite chocolate cake? Do you know the details of the person who made your favourite dress? I hope that tomorrow if you have a medical emergency and the only doctor available on call or if your building is on fire, the firefighter who saves you or the pilot who flies the next airplane you're in is not a Mohammed, Ali or Shoaib.
(The views expressed here are the author's own)