Surviving a social-media witch-hunt

Banned: A Social Media Trial is the real-life story of Boria Majumdar.

In sporting parlance, when the word “ban” is used, the temptation would be to think of some kind of a massive doping scandal. No, this is not like the big news-break moment which rocked the Seoul Olympics in 1988, when superstar sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for Stanozolol, a steroid. 

Nor is this ban about what happened in Indian cricket over two decades ago, 24 years back to be precise, when some famous Indian cricketers’ reputations were blown to smithereens. Cricketers, who were worshipped as Gods, fell for the lure of the lucre. Anyway, that’s history.

Banned: A Social Media Trial is the real-life story of Brave Boria Majumdar, who faced the wrath of social media thanks to ‘The Cricketer,’ an India international who played an unfair game away from the 22 yards. Boria and his family remained inert, to borrow a phrase from the chemistry books, for 730 days. To come up with a book minus vitriol, but purely based on facts and his state of mind and heart for two years, makes for compelling reading. The backdrop is the controversy which broke out in 2022, when the cricketer flexing his muscles against a sports journalist showed just how vulnerable the Fourth Estate is.

We live in an age where Google throws up almost every page written about a topic, in print or digital. You cannot hide what was written nor can you delete it, even on social media. Even at the time of compiling this piece, just prior the book launch in Kolkata today, this writer did Google the name of Boria Majumdar along with ‘ban’ to see what was thrown up. The hundreds of pages, if not more, captured what all ‘wrongs’ a sportswriter/analyst/TV star had done with this international cricketer from India, back in 2022.

Threat. Coercion. These are words which you would associate with an extortionist, not a man who has been part of the sports fraternity for over two decades. Boria has written about his journey and that of his family, over the last 24 months. After being accused of threatening the cricketer in 2022, he was slapped with a two-year ban by the BCCI. That prevented him from visiting cricket venues, stopped his media accreditation and denied him access to the players he had interviewed for years. Yes, the ban came after a hearing held by the Indian cricket board. For Boria to have accepted it quietly was the right thing to do. After all, a cricketer matters more than a media man, no matter how big he is in stature or what his track record is.

But there was no “quiet” or “calm” for a celebrated media personality like Boria, who had to face all kinds of flak on social media. The trolling was venomous. How and why, he has attempted to describe in his book. Usually, a sportswriter pens words about an athlete. This time, the book is on his own trauma, and his family being called all kinds of names by those with minds in the gutter. 

As the author says in the book, he preferred silence for over 730 days before telling his story. And this is where the narrative becomes compelling. No, this is not meant to be a Desmond Bagley thriller. What this book tells you is a true story of being victimised and abused on social media. 

There is an old saying, ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ In this case, a cricketer’s words were taken as gospel truth. As many of us have seen in Bollywood movies, villains touch the ‘holy book’ and say they will speak only the truth in a court of law. In the case of Boria, the cricketer in question never touched any such tome before going on social media to paint his old friend black.

For obvious reasons and the very realistic threat of being slapped with legal cases by The Cricketer and his cronies, I am not going to name him. Even Boria has, rightly, not identified him, though we all know who he is. When a cricketer Boria had helped many times, through highs and lows, becomes desperate enough to lie for his own survival, it tells you more about his nature than anything else.  

It is touching, I dare say, to the point of bringing you to tears, when the author speaks of how he, his wife Sharmistha, daughter Aisha and other members of the family were attacked on social media and faced an ostracism of sorts. How much they suffered has been described in detail, not to seek sympathy but to highlight how dangerous social media can be. It is more corrosive than acid. It singes, and the scars left cannot be treated. This is just the physical part. The mental toll it takes is worse, and Boria has written about what he faced, day in and day out.

It requires more than bravery to face a 730-day ban and think of penning a book during this period. The story is full of emotions, feelings, and betrayal, not just by the cricketer, but also former colleagues at an organisation where he and I once worked.

The saddest part about being a journalist is that you have very few real friends. You may think that the guy who is called “Paaji” or who calls you that will stand by you. You do not need to know Punjabi to know what Paaji means. It comes from the heart, and is an emotion and a feeling.

The events leading to the ban have been detailed in a very racy manner. Where Boria has spoken of mental health, and his fears of what scars it would leave on his young daughter and more, he has done so with vulnerability and courage.If you think this book is about getting sympathy, think again. It is about how one needs to be thick-skinned and brave when dealing with social media. Half of those out there are not human – they are paid trolls, BOTS, or worse. 

I have been with RevSportz since October 2023. Boria and I were in the same media company, in different verticals, for quite a few years. We did not meet daily or share pleasantries each morning on the phone. I never called him “Paaji” and then tried to stab him in the back. For the record, RevSportz won five awards from the ENBA recently, proof that Boria and the team have been doing some wonderful work. I just play a very small role in it.

PS: If you use social media, be brave. As a RevSportz colleague opined, Boria could change his name to Bravia Majumdar. You will recognise that bravery after reading Banned: A Social Media Trial.