Sports Persons Influence Minds On Social Media: Need To Speak Responsibly

Tasneem Kutubuddin

March 1st, 2017 / 4:13 PM

The social media has always bridged the gap between celebrities and their fans and followers. With the advent of Twitter and Facebook, it has become easy for celebrities and sports persons to speak their mind without weighing their words and this kind of impulsive speaking often ends controversially.

Such was the recent incident of a DU student Gurmehar Kaur’s joining the campaign against ABVP which went viral. Gurmehar Kaur is the daughter of Mandeep Kaur, a soldier who was killed by militants. Last week Gurmehar spoke against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad after violence erupted in Delhi University. She posted against ABVP which read, “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP”

This got more attention after her picture video shot in April 2016 resurfaced. Opposing a political party is not the same as opposing India. If we watch the entire video, we will realise that she is only looking at supporting peace against hatred. Such a positive ideology cannot garner hate of this level. If anything it should have been supported by the celebrities. It takes so much courage to rise above feelings of vengeance and speak out on a message of peace when what you have gone through is only suffering at the hands of war and violence.

There is nothing we can say or do which can comfort the Kaur family for the loss they suffered. But the maturity that this twenty-year-old exhibited, by rising above her grief and spreading the message of peace and forgiveness is that we should learn from. No one likes war. And no one likes innocent people to be bear the brunt of it as war does not describe the collective sentiments of a nation. The loss of life is irreplaceable. This was her message.

But instead we do what we are best at – troll, bully, criticise, blame and render it anti-national and political. One of Gurmehar’s image from the video has been going viral after her old social media posts were dug up. Right-wing activists started trolling and threatening her for speaking up against war mongering with Pakistan. What added to this storm was when cricketer Virender Sehwag took to trolling her based on one of the placards she was holding which said, “Pakistan did not kill my dad. War killed him”. Sehwag put up an image of his with a placard saying “I did not score two triple centuries. My bat did. #Bharatjaisikoijagahnahi”

Making light of a sensitive issue by a sports person of his stature sounds rather distasteful. It is not okay to mock someone’s grief and loss, no matter what. And also to take an image out of context without knowing what the narrative was, is rather ignorant. To add to this, actor Randeep Hooda retweeted him in agreement claiming to appreciate his wit.

Now for a matter related neither to sports or cinema, we do not expect celebrities to engage in trolling a youngster for speaking out her mind on war and peace. To engage in issues and spark debates and controversies in the name of nationalism is unbecoming. They should not forget that they have many people who subscribe to their views and ideologies. To comment on a highly politicised issue and to make light of someone’s loss is highly insensitive. Whether they like it or not, they are the influencers of the society, and when they speak on a media platform, their words should be weighed and calculated to an extent. Yes everyone does have a right to freedom of speech, but why indulge in bullying and trolling something which is not directed at you?

This has now resulted in a verbal brawl between the Twitteratti and eminent sportspersons and other personalities after journalist Rana Ayyub’s tweet on 26 February after she pointed out that both the men who mocked the 20-year-old Kaur, are from Haryana. This was enough for everyone to shift their attention to her. And hell broke loose after that on the social media with many suggesting that Ayyub has insulted Haryana.

Ayyub went on to clarify her stand and pointed out to the misogynistic nature of comments by Randeep Hooda’s statement that Kaur “is being used as a political pawn” saying that the latter is from Haryana and he is doing his bit in liberating women.

Babita Phogat of the Dangal fame couldn’t bear this insult to her state, jumped to tweets not about Gurmehar, but to Ayyub’s tweet on Haryana. Babita responded to Ayyub saying “We Phogat sisters are from Haryana too. What do you know about Haryana?” 

When Ayyub asked Babita about her view on Gurmehar, she was very direct with her saying that a person who does not side with the nation does not deserve to be spoken about. Sister Geeta Phogat also joined into the controversy by replying distastefully to Ayyub. Both went ahead and gave statements to ANI against Gurmehar.

Wrestlers who were just being hailed as heroes a few months back let down quite a few Indians by their narrow-minded comments. Geeta and Babita did not protest against ABVP and BJP. Even earlier, when the man who immortalised them in Dangal was termed as a traitor, they had not spoken up. But were quick to jump to Haryana’s defence. Ritu Phogat was not far behind in dragging Kanhaiya Kumar’s name in the picture to which Javed Akhtar expressed shock at this coming from an educated person. Now entered Mahavir Phogat taking Javed Akhtar’s statement about education personally.

Many prominent personalities like Shekhar Kapur, Shashi Tharoor, Barkha Dutt, Atul Kulkarni lashed out against Sehwag but were trolled and rebuked in return by fans.

In addition to this, we also had wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt posting another meme in tune with Sehwag’s. When Rana Ayyub called him out, Yogeshwar Dutt asked Rana Ayyub to say Hindustan Zindabad for a change instead of mocking him. This just shows the ignorance of the sportsperson towards the whole issue. Their lack of understanding of the entire situation and blindly making this an issue of nationalism is immature. Freedom of speech does not stand for saying just about anything which has no relation to the fact of the matter.

Sehwag clarified that his earlier tweet was just done in light humour and did not portray his agreement or disagreement towards the matter. Well maybe not. But the hashtag did the needful and also affirmed his ignorance towards the issue at large. While he does say that everyone has a right to expression, we forget that this whole brawl could have been avoided in the first place.

This Twitter war has taken an ugly turn with a lot of mudslinging and blame game going on in the name of patriotism and nationalism giving it a political and communal colour, which had nothing to do with the whole issue in the first place. This is exactly why it is the duty of every sport/media person, celebrity and politician using the social media to act and speak responsibly and with a fact check of the matter at hand instead of following narratives blindly and in the process instigate or rebuke sensitive issues.

This said, the person who was caught in the eye of the storm, Gurmehar Kaur couldn’t handle the pressure and withdrew her name from the campaign against ABVP after receiving death and rape threats. Celebrities are also influencers of the thought process of fans and millions of followers. If they had lauded Gurmehar Kaur’s message of peace in her video instead, it might just have made a bigger and better difference in changing mindsets of at least a few thousands of Indians.


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