The Rise Of Online Vigilantism And Electronic Mob: We All Are Wrong

Justice. Who does not like this seven-letter word? But only until it is not served to us. We all need justice and good to be working for us. That we have rights is understood. It is ingrained in us. But do the same rights apply to others? And can the rights be above all law? Or should the rights be customised to suit our needs, whims and fancies?

If you do not live under a rock and have access to internet, you would ideally have spent some time to outrage on issues ranging from the Cauvery water dispute to a restaurant in Kolkata refusing service to a lady and her driver. You sir, are a part of the electronic mob, baying for the blood of anyone you feel is wrong. You, Madam, are a vigilante, who thinks she is above the law for that moment because she was denied a service she thought she deserves.

Now, do not get me wrong. It’s not that I am not a misogynist pig trying to get across his point because he knows how to use his words. I have a problem with online mobs and vigilantes. I have a problem with armchair activists who mock the slightest mistake and make sure the person behind that tweet/ post/ image loses their job. Sure enough, its a cruel world out there, a dog eat dog world. But since when did you get the licence to feed pooches to one another?

Take, for example, the most recent outrage that has happened.  On Saturday, Mocambo, a ‘fine-dining’ restaurant in Kolkata, denied service to a woman who visited this restaurant with her driver.  While the restaurant was okay with her sitting and eating, they refused to serve the driver. I can not fathom one situation in which this act by the restaurant management can be justified. Deplorable? Yes. Shameful? Absolutely, without a doubt. Cringeworthy? Perhaps more than that. The lady was upset and rightly so.

How could a restaurant deny service to someone because of what they look like. How could a private place not allow someone to sit and eat in a setting which has been defined and created by us for the elite. You can be sure as hell that we created a need for fine dining for ourselves because we could not tolerate being in the same vicinity as the lowly grade four employees. You can be sure as hell that the restaurant is there to serve a need, do business and not social service.

Forget the fact that the eatery could well have been within its rights to deny service to anyone because they reserve the rights of admission. Put aside the fact that restaurants in India have, by law, the right to refuse service to “patrons lacking adequate hygiene (e.g. excess dirt, extreme body odor, etc.) “. Yes Sir and Ma’am, the law permits them. But hey! Who cares about law when it falls on us, right? The law applies to everyone but us is what keeps us going.

Chuck that. Take the example of thousands of screenshots, and ‘viral’ videos of bloopers of various people failing in their daily jobs. Remember that news where a Doordarshan news anchor lost her job because she read ‘Xi’ and the number 11? Yes? One small mistake which took a good career away from her, just like that. And why? Because of online vigilantes. But hey, it is a dog eat dog world, so that is only fair that incompetence ate a job. Never mind the fact that the lady will find it extremely difficult to find another job because that tag of ‘The 11 lady’ will always haunt her. Will you sir, or will you ma’am find her a job? Better yet, why don’t you employ her?

Coming back to today. Visit the page of Mocambo on Facebook. Go ahead, give it a try. People who have never been there in this lifetime or the seven before this, have rated it one star, with the choicest of abuses. Sure enough, the lady who was angry would be dumbstruck at the virality of her post, and the change that she has been able to bring about from her chair. I do not say that her being angry or sad is not justified.

Freedom of expression is a beautiful weapon to use, and yes, it must be used. But with what consequences? Will she, or any one of the one million people talking about it and abusing the management take responsibility if the place downs its shutters tomorrow forever? Will they take a stand if a group of self appointed inspectors of the moral fabric of the society go and burn that place tomorrow? What happens if the online aggression translates into offline hatred?

I am not trying to equate the two situations and prove 2 plus 2 equals 5. I hardly have an issue with people outraging. What I have a problem with is people not trying to find out both the sides of the story. And moreover, not owning up, not swallowing their own words, their venom, when they are proven wrong. I do not think that the internet came to the rescue of the young men who were thrashed by two sisters for eve teasing.

The two sisters had so many inconsistencies in their story that even the law refused to side by them. The case eventually got cold, and no one followed it up. Did the two guys, one of whom was slated to appear for his army exams, get another job? The army recruitment board, by the way, disqualified the young man in question without even listening to his side of the story. Because hey, everyone has an image to protect, a mass to appeal to.

Until that image, that mass, that law does not rub the wrong side of us. Until then.

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