(This article was first published on 24 June 2018. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark George Orwell’s death anniversary.)
The comments are predictable on social media. Along with the choicest abuses (very non-sanskari and something our tradition would never have allowed us to do, we must say), we are branded either as Congressi dalals (Congress agents) or BJP bhakts, depending on the content of what we write. There is hardly a word on whether what we have written is cogent or not.
No critical feedback which we would love to get and act on, no pointing out inconsistency in the line of argument and no effort to counter the argument persuasively.
What we observe instead is an all-out war to decimate even the tendency to differ. There is a desperation to crush, in the inimitable words of celebrated British novelist George Orwell, “the essential crime (thoughtcrime, in his words) that contained all others in itself.”
Why is there such a strong urge to crush thoughtcrime? I had no clue till I started rereading George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, a good 25 years after I had glanced through the book but could comprehend almost nothing then.
The book talks about a despotic regime that believes in controlling everything — from basic instincts (the urge to eat, drink and sleep included) to everyday actions and from our understanding of the past to the manufactured reality of the present.
And all with a view to establish that Big Brother is always right.
‘Ignorance is Strength and Freedom is Slavery’
There are three slogans to perpetuate the Big Brother Raj: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength. There are four ministries to manage everything: The Ministry of Truth is concerned with news (read: propaganda of pure lies), entertainment, education (read: unlearn whatever has been learnt thus far) and fine arts.
The Ministry of Peace manages external aggression, real or fictitious. The Ministry of Love is entrusted with the task of maintaining law and order that includes dealing with thoughtcrime with iron hand.
And the Ministry of Plenty is responsible for distributing penury with a view to give the impression that all is well and will remain so forever. Do we observe shades of such ministries all around?
Then there are celebrations of Hate Days, Weeks and Months. The intent is to manufacture a deviant and blame him for everything that would have gone wrong.
Resonates with what we see all around? All of us are prone to blame others for our suffering. Bigger the stake, greater is the propensity to manufacture hate figures to divert attention and justify the unjustifiable. Caste and religious divides and accompanying violence are part of the same design.
‘Thoughtcrime is the Essence all Crimes’
Thoughtcrime, if I have understood Orwell correctly, can be as simple as notes in a piece of paper showing some sort of dissent, a flickering thought of not liking the dress of Big Brother or mental displeasure over certain speech delivered by Him at some important function. Let us understand the Orwellian notion of thoughtcrime with the help of some examples.
If we follow the Big Brother regime model, we run the risk of being accused of heinous thoughtcrime if we even contemplate opposing demonetisation or any decision taken by or on behalf of Big Brother.
Being a Bihari by birth, I run the risk of being put behind bars if I ever even think of drinking after the prohibition order came into being in the state.
The picture of totalitarian regime painted in the book is different from all other such regimes in the past in the sense it wants to rule for perpetuity and therefore does not permit deviance in any form. You have to be a believer if you want to live or die. Otherwise there is no redemption. No place anywhere – hell or heaven.
A long passage from the book vividly captures the thinking of the Big Brother regime. It says: “We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him.”
We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.1984 by George Orwell
A Request to Trolls
My request to all trolls therefore is to do some introspection. Aren’t you inspired by the fictitious kingdom of Big Brother where even the slightest of deviance needs to be abused, tortured and eventually killed? You must understand that there is nothing called a Big Brother and his infallibility. Definitely not in a democracy.
We have as much right to differ from you as you have from us. Abusing us or threatening us into submission is reminiscent of a totalitarian regime which we are not and should never be.
We have a fundamental right to question everything. We have a fundamental right to ask for accountability. When did the right to question become an anti-national act?
Dear bhakts, just remember that the backlash against the semblance of totalitarian regime being attempted by imposing Emergency in June 1975 was so swift and widespread.
My request to all of you Big Brother-inspired trolls is to go through certain pages of the classic 1984 (incidentally George Orwell was a born Bihari) and decide for yourself whether you would like to have a life of the novel’s chief protagonist Winston Smith.
He was tortured because he refused to believe that Big Brother would always be right. He was tortured because he had the urge to fall in love.
He was tortured because he believed that the regime was nothing but a propaganda machine always focused on listing out achievements which did not exist. He was arrested by the Ministry of Love because he dared to think and therefore charged of thoughtcrime.
Do we want our country to resemble that?