A common modus operandi on popular social platforms such as Facebook, and especially Twitter, is the practice of selective contextualising to fit a personal narrative and using it to attack an opponent's contrarian viewpoint. Many men and women have been victims to massive troll attacks because of the practice of screenshotting without context.
If it is just limited to debate and arguments, it's often an acceptable form of 'trollage' on Twitter. However, often it does not just remain limited to scathing tweets and mocking gifs. In many cases, it escalates to actual threats of physical harm.
The latest victim of such conjecture is 20-year-old Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur. In 2016, Kaur, a student of the national capital's Lady Sri Ram College, released a video that became viral on social channels. At the time, Kaur was praised for her empathy and courage, despite losing her father, Captain Mandeep Singh, in the 1999 Kargil war.
Her video was stunning in its simple appeal for peace. Kaur holds up, one by one, placards that spell out her stand on the feuding sub-continental neighbours. She essentially says that there was a time when she thought Pakistan was the enemy. She even tried to stab a Muslim woman as a child, thinking she was Pakistani, and hence responsible for her father's death. As a little girl, it must have been terribly tough growing up without a father, surrounded by peers who had theirs.
However, instead of becoming bitter and withdrawn, Kaur went on to forgive the perpetrators of her father's death, showing a maturity beyond her age, and said in the video that had it not been for the Kargil war, her father would have been alive. "Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him," she said. "It took me a while to know, but today I do and I have learnt to let go of my hate," she said.
"Today I am a soldier like my dad, I fight for peace between India and Pakistan."
Let me repeat that. "Today I am a soldier like my dad, I fight for peace between India and Pakistan."
A poignant message that strikes at the heart of the problem festering in the sub-continent for decades and robbing youths of their lives and hopes in a feud that both sides accuse each other of sparking. Millions of ordinary people, who have relatives across the border, have suffered as a result of this blood feud. Hundreds have lost their lives in terror attacks in both nations. What Kaur was doing in her limited capacity as a college student was to break this cycle of violence and send a message of peace to the authorities that control the India-Pakistan narrative.
Please spend 5 minutes watching this to see for yourself what Kaur said.
However, an attack on Left-backed students on 22 February at Delhi's Ramjas college turned this poignant video on its head and exposed Kaur to a seething, raging wave of troll attack. Kaur held up a board, not unlike her Indo-Pak style of video activism, to rally DU students to stand up against RSS-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), suspected of perpetrating the campus violence.
It didn't take people long to dig up her old video on India and Pakistan, take a screenshot of one slide out of many, the one that said "Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him" and use it attack her for "selling out" to Pakistan and brand her an "anti-national". This is expected from right-wing online trolls, but what happens when celebrities, with access and privilege, join in this attack?
That's exactly what happened to Kaur. Cricketer Virender Sehwag used that one slide to mock her and was cheered by actor Randeep Hooda. And yesterday, wrestler Babita Phogat decided to weigh in on the debate, except, armed with misinformation. Because why do the research when the popular opinion is a vague accusation that this student "spoke against the country". Appealing for peace apparently amounts to treason, according to many.
And Kaur is an easy target because the tide of hatred is turned against her.
The Phogat sisters, Geeta and Babita, shot to the limelight following the hit biopic Dangal, starring Aamir Khan, which outlined their struggle. This is what Phogat tweeted. She condemned the alleged rape threat against Kaur but refused to stand by her because she supposedly "did not speak up for her country".
It's a subtle point, however, that to speak up for peace is indeed speaking in favour of your nation. Permanent peace is in the interest of India. To be able to forgive an enemy takes far greater courage than letting loose an army of trolls on a 20-year-old. To hold authorities accountable requires fortitude, missing in many of the grinning trolls holding up mock-ups of her message.
However, one can counter any opinion if it's in public space. Everyone has a right to. What needs to be done, however, is to show the full picture. So, in case you do not have time to see her video, and have come across just that one slide where Kaur seems to hold war accountable for her father's death, here are some more. Before you compose that tweet blaming her for hobnobbing with the enemy, see these and decide for yourself if Kaur deserves the hate she's getting.
Phogat, a beloved national icon, included.