While spiritual leaders were making genocidal remarks at religious gatherings at Delhi and Haridwar, something sinister was brewing in the underbelly of India's online right-wing presence.
The recent arrests in the 'Bulli Bai' and 'Sulli Deals' cases have blown wide open a thriving community of alt-right internet users who share dehumanising memes, promoting anything between genocide, rape, child abuse, and murder. The target of these memes are Muslims, Dalits, Christians, and women, along with whoever is deemed as 'subhuman'.
The four accused in both these cases - namely Vishal Kumar Jha, Shweta Singh, Neeraj Bishnoi, and Aumkareshwar Thakur - have used their respective online handles to engage in a vicious level of trolling, harassing people relentlessly using their extremely provocative content.
The group of people they belong to are being labelled - by the media, the police, and the accused themselves - as the 'Trads'.
"I've been documenting these 'Trads' from 2020, when this user called LiberalDoge did an auction of Pakistani women on Twitter," said Sania Ahmed, who has been facing constant online harassment from this group for over a year.
Ahmed, who has been vocal about the trolling and threats she faces, was targeted using the 'Sulli Deals' app last year, along with the 'Bulli Bai' apps recently. She told BOOM that she had filed two separate complaints with the Delhi Police back in 2020 before the Sulli Deals incident, but no FIR was registered.
"Their conversations are not the usual right-wing stuff; they would use casteist slurs, glorify extremism and call for the killing of Muslims openly," she remarked.
'Fun' With Genocide, Rape And Murder
Wojak faces, Pepe the Frog, and the Doge - these popular memes are frequently circulated among these online groups of young internet users on Twitter and Telegram to depict despicable acts of rape, murder, genocide, and dehumanisation - often as a form of twisted humour.
The terminology and references they use have been taken right out of the dictionary of the American alt-right - an online community of Neo-Nazis.
Shweta Singh, the 18-year-old accused in the 'Bulli Bai' case, used one of her handles @kadhiichawal, to appropriate a 1930 poster by the Nazi Party, showing an ideal 'Aryan' family, and use a photoshopped version to portray the ideal Hindu family. "Every Hindu should have 10 Arya Santana," she wrote.
Like their American counterparts, these young Indian 'Trads', often labelled as 'Edgelord Trads', draw strongly from the Nazi culture. And, just like them, they refer to their targets as 'subhuman', and discuss their 'extermination'.
In one of the more extreme examples of meme shitposting (posts that are not funny, interesting, or make any sense), a Twitter handle @Bukago2002, shared a highly offensive meme to depict rape against an 8-year-old from Kashmir's Kathua district. The girl had been abducted, gangraped, and murdered in 2018 - a crime which had shocked the nation.
Some of them regularly joke about the Kunan-Poshpora mass rape incident of Kashmiri women, allegedly by Indian Army soldiers, in 1991. Through their tweets, posts and comments and memes, they threaten Kashmiris with rape and genocide.
This group of people does not shy away from making casteist remarks, often propagating hatred, and genocidal sentiments towards Dalits. They show disdain for Dalit activist B.R. Ambedkar, and refer to Dalits as 'Bhimta'.
They would not even spare India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and deride him for his caste often.
Trads, Raytas, Blackpillers, et al. - The Diverse Right
"During preliminary interrogation, he had admitted that he was member of a trad- group on Twitter," Delhi Police stated on Sunday of 24-year-old Aumkareshwar Thakur, who is accused of creating the 'Sulli Deals' app.
Once relegated to the fringe of India's online right-wing community on 4Chan and Reddit, these young extremists have grown - in terms of number, support and visibility. They now have a strong presence on Twitter and YouTube, along with Telegram.
The term 'Trad' comes from the word 'traditionalist' and describes those who adhere to Hindu scriptures and practices.
But, even this divisive group is divided.
"'Trads' are from the upper class, urban and Upper Caste background. They aren't ready to acknowledge that something wrong happened in the repression by our ancestors on basis of religious grounds and scriptures - mostly Smirti, Naradasmirti, or Manusmriti," said Twitter user R, who spoke to BOOM on condition of anonymity. R describes himself as an anti-Trad right-winger and believes that a 'Trad' would probably identify him as a 'Rayta' - a term used by 'Trads' to describe 'non-Trad' members of the right-wing.
"They justify the act of burning of a woman (Sati) if a woman wants, but aren't ready to acknowledge "forced incidents" of Sati. They see everything as propaganda to defame (Hinduism)," R added.
However, a prominent right-leaning handle, whom we shall address as B, believes that dividing the Indian right-wing into 'Trads' and 'Raytas' would be an oversimplification of the matter.
"Raytas see Hinduism as a very accommodating religion without any binding scriptures. They believe Hindu scriptures to be confined to space and time, and not necessarily prescribing anything," explained B.
While being strongly supportive of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Hindutva values, 'Raytas' also believe that Hinduism is congruent with liberal ideas like secularism, feminism, freedom of speech, and the free market.
"But in the traditionalist worldview, Hindu scriptures override liberal choices. Seeking scriptural sanction, they resemble in their worldview the majority of Hindus, until 19th and early-20th century, when it comes to these issues," B added.
In the online world, Raytas and Trads seem to be at loggerheads with each other, often insulting one another. Despite that, B believes that this schism does not necessarily spill over offline.
"We don't see offline fights between "Raytas" and "trads" in the real world. The "Trads" and "Raytas" are demarcated by geographical prevalence. In rural India, people on the whole are closer to traditionalists when it comes to their views on issues like dress, wine, western influence etc. Whereas in town and cities, people are closer to "Raytas" in their worldview," B told BOOM.
B also believes that being a Trad or a Rayta is not mutually exclusive and that there are similarities in their beliefs. B told BOOM that most Trads and Raytas agree on their views on Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam, and would want a blanket ban on the sale of beef, and on religious conversions by Christians. Their opinions on 'Leftists', and the Congress are also similar, B added.
B added, "I identify as a "Hindu" and I desire to see Hindu revival, resurgence and renaissance. I have great respect for traditional Hindu saints. In this sense, I am a traditionalist. I am also a believer of peace and coexistence of various communities in India. I am also a supporter of equality, women rights, children rights and animal rights."
Edgelords - The Young ExtremistsWhile 'Trads' have been frequently derided for the abuse, harassment, and hate on social media, B believes that the culprits of the more serious acts are only a subsection of the 'Trads', which B describes as a diverse group among the Hindu right-wing.
"There is within this group a section which is "traditionalist" in the socio-cultural sense of term. This section consists of practicing Hindus who perform rituals. There is another section within this group that perceives democracy as incompatible with Hindu society. And they perceive the future as inevitably doomed. This section is sometimes referred to as "black pillars"," B said.
On those resorting to online abuse and hate, B had another word for them - the Edgelords. In internet culture, an edgelord is someone who takes up a provocative persona (usually online), in order to shock others.
"Edgelords often use abuse and intimidation as a tool to attack their opponents. One could guess that these people are almost all in their teens and twenties," B clarified.
According to B, Edgelords are only a fringe group with small numbers, who use technology to amplify their voice. "Each one of them has multiple accounts. So, their number and prevalence are an exaggeration. They are all extremely small accounts with hardly any reach. Anonymity and lack of accountability give them perfect immunity to give expression to indulge in such online expressions, although it is doubtful if they would ever be like this in real life," B added.
However, R disagreed, and said that the link between Edgelords and the Trads are prominent. "Edgelords are Trad patrols. Their deep-rooted ideas are inspired from Trads. Edgelord Trad would continue to troll or patrol those who are Rayta, with slightly liberal or progressive views. But sometimes this patrolling turns into hate speech and abuse and harassment," R explained.
R had alleged that 'Trads' in general believe in the supremacy of the Hindu Upper-Caste male, according to ancient scriptures. When asked about whether such beliefs were common among the 'Trads', B replied, "I have no idea about the interpretation and scale of the prevalence of these ideas. I do not subscribe to these ideas."
While the exact size and reach of these young, tech-savvy, radicalised Edgelord Trads is not yet known, they have now made enough noise to become a national issue.
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