What social media skirmishes tell us about ourselves

This Mother’s Day, remember the “mother of all battles” that happened in Bengaluru some weeks ago? No, it was not fought on a cricket pitch.

Rather, it involved moms who were part of a common forum on Facebook–a group called Mums of Bangalore (MoB, the acronym, turned out to be prescient, in more ways than one). Moms fought with each other. Local moms took on “outsiders” (including the group-founder) for disrespecting the local language, and being disinclined to learn the language of the place they live/work in. There was slander, much shaming, and slurs hurled back and forth. And of course, all this took place in English–the common language on the forum.

Things spilled out of cyberspace into the combatants’ homes, in the form of police complaints and threats against the outsiders. Till one of the outsiders quit both the fight and the forum, and ultimately, issued a subdued apology. And the local moms? Well, they decided to regroup into a linguistically-unified group.

Isn’t it ironic that the warring moms have basically shown their children that it is okay to indulge in the worst possible behaviour both on social media and in real life? That it is perfectly okay to insult and intimidate each other, while arguing the merits of one language over another? Not exactly the kind of life lesson exemplified by MoB’s logo of a female figure lovingly cradling a child.

But then stereotypical images/notions have very little basis in reality, do they? After all, it is now socially, politically, culturally and nationally pertinent to idealise and deify the mother and the state of motherhood itself, while in reality, women in India, continue to be abused, raped, murdered and worse, every day. Not just in our city, but in every part of the India that we are ostensibly worship as Bharat mata.

Logic or language?

The MoB fiasco is incidentally, a repeat of an earlier incident that occurred some months ago in the city. That too had locals pitched against outsiders. That skirmish began with a woman (an outsider) complaining that the conductor of the bus she got on refused to give her change, but instead, mocked her. And yes, she mentioned that the conductor spoke in the local language. Apparently, the aggrieved party had to give the conductor Re 2, but chose to give the latter a Rs 100 note. Anyway, the passenger later ranted about this incident on a website and things snowballed from there.

Personally, I think it extremely illogical to give a harassed bus conductor a Rs 100 note in lieu of Re 2 in change. But hey, that’s just me. The post led to increasingly heated debates among various aggrieved readers, who took on pro-and-anti-Kannada stances and fought with each other.

Us and Them

But the language issue is a simmering one, something that lies latent, for the most part. Locals complain that outsiders come into the city/state, and refuse to learn the language. “They don’t want to fit in, but expect us to speak their language” is a common complaint.

Problem is, fitting in is exactly what we all do, one way or the other. And especially on social media. MoB, for instance, is a forum/network, where you join on a voluntary basis. No one forced the warring moms to sign up. Such forums are popular–these offer support (anonymity guaranteed) so members can talk about their grievances or problems ranging from domestic abuse, to terrible in-laws to abusive spouses and more. Such forums are also excellent networks for drumming up business for entrepreneur moms. That’s why there are numerous similar groups based in the city–Moms of South Bangalore, Mums of North Bangalore, Moms of Boys, Moms of India, Working Moms, Work-from-Home Moms, so on and so forth. I could go on.

Most of these groups have anything from 500 to 30,000 members, all from diverse cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. So it is crazy to expect everyone to be “likeable” and like each other, all the time. Differences crop up. Which is why most forums have one or more administrators to set the ground rules–no offensive remarks, no rudeness, no bullying, so on. (Just like clubs in real life impose everything from dress codes to fees and basic club etiquette on members).

In real life, when friends meet, they have a history and know each other well. Plus, in face-to-face meetings, there is context and more, when they communicate. Misunderstandings can be sorted out, immediately. On social media though, “friends” are in name only. Subtle nuances in communication (sarcasm, humour, wit, etc.) don’t come into play through texts or emojis/emoticons. So what is offensive to one, can be humorous to another, or vice versa. And since most people don’t realise that what they post on their own walls can be viewed/shared publicly by others, an impulsive post/reaction, has far-reaching consequences.

Then the façade of likeability is destroyed forever. And real lives and relationships get impacted in the worst possible way.

Learn something new. Who, me?

And talking about languages, isn’t it true that we only learn a new (or local) language, if it matches our interests, inclinations and more importantly, if there is also an economic imperative involved. That is why businesses in Gokarna (a touristy temple town in Karnataka famed for it’s beaches) advertise their wares/goods/services in French, German, Dutch, even—they get a lot of backpack-toting, hashish-smoking European types. That is why parts of Goa have hotels/lodges/cafés that advertise in Russian. That is why you find Hebrew signboards in McLeod Ganj.

And even though learning languages is an individual choice, as parents, often our choices end up impacting our children the most. We adopt/embrace/learn the languages that mean the most to us (for personal reasons such as cultural/family roots) but which will also open up new opportunities for both ourselves and our children.

And what of the language at the heart of this social media storm? Kannada is a mellifluous classical language that some scholars believe dates back to the Third Century BC. It will certainly not be diminished or disappear because some people choose not to speak it.

Because, Kannada itself is constantly evolving, changing and adapting. That is why Bengaluru’s laid back culture of acceptance is summed by the simple philosophy “Swalpa adjust maadi”–a bi-lingual phrase.


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