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Rhea Chakraborty, Hathras, Delhi riots and Covid — all these have something in common

In new India, people find comfort not in what the truth is, but what they want it to be.

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What do Rhea Chakraborty, Delhi riots, Babri Masjid, Hathras case and Covid pandemic have in common? They’ve all been the subject of multiple conspiracy theories that have now taken a life of their own. It is the season of conspiracy theories in India. From the Hathras case to Rhea Chakraborty, the word conspiracy is top-most in people’s minds.

In Hathras, it goes one step further. It is an ‘international’ conspiracy, just to give it a more ominous overtone.

Instead of focusing their energy on investigating the alleged gang rape and subsequent death of the 20-year-old Dalit woman, the Uttar Pradesh Police registered 21 FIRs across the state because it ‘sniffed out’ a conspiracy to defame the Yogi Adityanath government. In the eyes of the UP Police, it was not possible that the state government could have been legitimately criticised for their mishandling of the case. Instead, an ‘international conspiracy’ sounded much more plausible.

Who or what makes up this ‘international’ does not matter. The only important thing is that the line about the conspiracy has been disseminated to the public to reassure them that their holier-than-thou government can do no wrong.

But Hathras is not an exception, it is the rule. In India, the line between conspiracy and truth has become practically nonexistent.

Also read: Viral video shows ‘Hathras gangrape victim being lauded for exam success’. It’s not her

Endless theories in SSR case

Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide gave rise to the mother of all conspiracy theories in just a matter of months.

From theories that he was murdered, subjected to black magic, victim of an elaborate drug racket allegedly funded by underworld mafia, Sushant’s case has seen it all. It was, and continues to be, such a cesspit of misinformation that everyone from your milkman to random uncles on WhatsApp family groups have had their own version of the ‘actual truth’ behind Sushant’s death.

The viral hashtags used by primetime news channels, anchors yelling out sordid details of the case, all under the banner of ‘EXCLUSIVE’, made the entire situation even more macabre.

Ultimately, an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) report ruled out murder and said that Sushant Singh Rajput had died by suicide. The Bombay High Court also granted Rhea Chakraborty bail and said that she, despite all the yelling and shouting and deep analysis of her WhatsApp chats, was not a drug dealer. Kindly pass on this message to members of your own family WhatsApp groups, who have been so invested in this case.

In fact, a research paper, part of a study led by Joyojeet Pal, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, shows that the supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deliberately pushed the murder conspiracy to target the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government.

Also read: Don’t know how to take a U-turn? Learn from TV channels on Rhea Chakraborty and Hathras cases

What’s the larger narrative?

In the Babri Masjid demolition case judgment, which was delivered after 28 years, the special CBI court in Lucknow acquitted all accused on grounds that the demolition was a ‘spontaneous act’, despite some evidence indicating that it may not have been the case.

However, the February riots in New Delhi were allegedly ‘meticulously planned’ by Left-wing and Muslim activists to disrupt US President Donald Trump’s state visit, according to the chargesheet filed by the Delhi Police. And the evidence they have proffered are books on riots, some pamphlets, and a few WhatsApp chats. Former JNU scholar and a leading Muslim activist Umar Khalid has been named as the key conspirator, despite the fact that he was not even in Delhi during the riots.

Even if there is, in fact, a larger conspiracy, then why hasn’t the police looked deeper into the case of the two BJP leaders who were captured on video instigating a crowd to yell: Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko (shoot the traitors of India)’. Those incidents did not find a place in any conspiracy theory and have been conveniently ignored.

Something similar happened in the Bhima Koregaon case as well. Apparently, every possible Left-leaning and ‘urban Naxal’ activist, as they are colourfully described by everyone, was involved in a conspiracy to incite the violence that occurred in Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 2018.

Fifteen people have been arrested in the case, all Left-leaning activists, scholars, artists, academics, and advocates. Some have also been accused of plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Several of them are currently under arrest and recent reports reveal that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is now ‘struggling’ to find evidence against them.

This is the new truth of India. And when you have draconian laws such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the sedition law, the work becomes so much easier.

Also read: Are you anti-national, seditious, or simply inconvenient? Your bookshelf holds the answer

Legitimate misinformation

Conspiracy theories as a concept are hardly new, but in the age of social media, their dissemination has become dangerously easy. Earlier, these theories were laughed off or found resonance only in the fringes of society because only a handful of people truly believed in them.

But what is different today is that these theories have the backing of many. For instance, a very prevalent theory, one that is still widely believed, is that Covid was ‘manufactured’ in a Chinese laboratory. Many scientists and experts have dismissed the claim, but it is still the biggest conspiracy theory of the year.

According to a New York Times report, one in three Americans believe this theory to be true. And this is not surprising because US President Donald Trump believes it himself. With him constantly labeling the virus as “Chinese” and yelling on Twitter about how it is part of a Chinese conspiracy, it is not difficult for his citizens to believe the same.

In cases like these, such theories stop being just theories and prevent rational thought from interfering with these manufactured truths.

Also read: India’s Covid data like counting potholes under streetlights. There are far more in the dark

Conspiracies make people feel part of a tribe

According to Thomas Roulet, a sociology professor at the University of Cambridge, politicians can “capitalise on the claims made by conspiracy theorists, to antagonise certain groups, bolster their identity and, ultimately, convert them into loyal voters.”

And this is what can be seen happening in India. A lot of conspiracy theories are key to the loyal votebase that the ruling government enjoys.

Roulet also notes that people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories during times of extreme uncertainty and fear — which literally sounds like a word-to-word definition of a Covid-fuelled 2020.

“Believing in conspiracy theories also makes people feel part of something bigger than themselves, and provides them with a tribe to belong to,” he wrote.

This is nothing but a dangerous exercise when seen in the context of India today — people find comfort not in what the truth is, but what they want it to be. And in this quest, a lot of people end up becoming collateral damage, because no one really knows what is true and what is a conspiracy anymore.

Views are personal.

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  1. Well manufactured in a lab or not the virus did emerge within Chinese borders. I believe it to be a good enough reason to call it ‘Chinese’ Virus

  2. You know dear writer, this was supposed to be about India’s problems regarding misogyny, caste, failure of government.
    But you shoehorned in how China is innocent of Corona outbreak. You simply cannot stop yourself from from protecting your mentor, can you?

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