Call them silos, echo chambers, the algorithm or well-curated interests, but more and more, venturing out from ours is hard. Partly by design, partly because doing so is simply bewildering.
Like many, I learned about the terms “trad” and “raita” because the founders of two bigoted apps that target Muslim women were identified as being part of the former group. Raitas are the kind of rightwing people that everyone in India knows well – we either are them, and if we are not, we most definitely have colleagues or family members or other close associates who are, or at the very least we have been attacked by them online. But it seems even they distance themselves from the trads, who are even more hardcore, and who in turn distinguish themselves from the raitas (whose name they coined, disparaging them as a kind of liberal too). One knows that political views are on a spectrum, but the extent of fundamentalism accepted and nurtured by young people on the rightwing side of it is alarming to learn.
Alishan Jafri and Naomi Barton’s in-depth analysis in The Wire, “Explained: ‘Trads’ vs ‘Raitas’ and the Inner Workings of India’s Alt-Right” which goes into detail about ideology, social media behavioural patterns and Nazi inspiration for trads, is highly recommended reading, especially if like me you are new to these terms. It’s important to know that these are not fringe elements, but are now mainstream – and will only continue to grow.
The idea that there are enough people out there for the trad ideology to have a name, and not just be a few stray extremists on the margins, is terrifying. The idea that there are so many people out there who think that the ruling party or its IT cell are not hard-hitting enough is terrifying. These aren’t just ideas, of course. The reality is that the nation’s moral rot is deeper than it’s bearable to imagine.
But imagine we must. I’ve been thinking about social researcher Brené Brown’s Braving The Wilderness, a book that largely focuses on the ways in which polarisation, siloisation and loneliness interact. Brown writes, “The sorting we do to ourselves and to one another is, at best, unintentional and reflexive. At worst, it is stereotyping that dehumanizes. The paradox is that we all love the ready-made filing system, so handy when we want to quickly characterize people, but we resent it when we’re the ones getting filed away.”
What this means in actual terms is that we can’t just balk in horror or further fortress ourselves away, but must be curious about how radicalisation happens, and how to reverse it. It is emotionally demanding to engage – that won’t change. It can also be a risk to well-being or to life – that, clearly, is going to intensify in this country. But the subtitle of Brown’s book offers a rumination. It is: The Quest For True Belonging And The Courage To Stand Alone. Those who align with hatred inevitably become devoured by it too. That is not true belonging. But those who stand alone stand also stand together, against a tide that will otherwise sweep us all away.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in January 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.