Sunday is traditionally a slow news day for newsrooms. But for publications around the country, February 21 burst into life with the announcement of the birth of Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan’s second child. The world that awaits the newborn, his parents, and his older brother Taimur Ali Khan soon revealed itself through a series of vicious tweets and hashtags on Twitter.
Alongside the congratulatory messages were guessing games on what the boy’s name might be. The options ranged from Aurangzeb to Jinnah and Kasab to Tipu – further evidence, as if any is needed, that the odious theory of “love jihad” has taken firm root. The high-profile product of an inter-faith union proved that bigots never rest, whatever the day of the week.
The all-purpose hashtag “BoycottBollywood” popped up too – deeply ironic considering the attention being lavished on an event that hardly merited it. As petrol prices rise along with Covid 19 positive cases, as concerns linger about the slow rate of vaccination in India, and as anxieties persist over the state of the economy, the ability of Twitter trolls to expend energy on the expendable would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.
The strafing of Hindi film celebrities that began with the death by suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June 2020 promises to be a permanent feature of public discourse in India. At least, that is what trolls hope to achieve by constantly bringing up the religious affiliations of actors and filmmakers and attacking their personal choices.
It eventually doesn’t matter if the Kapoor-Khan scion will be named “FYRGXSZ” or “Patriotic Indian”. His parents are already suspect of following from different faiths.
What will happen when the boy’s name is officially announced? We can already see the fingers flying over keyboards and keypads. We can predict what the tweets will say and what kind of hashtags will trend for hours unabated on Twitter. We can anticipate what some news anchors will discuss in their prime-time debates.
In the new normal, where prejudice and Islamophobia are swaggering about in the open, even an infant isn’t safe.