Is an open letter on the Internet same as the good old letters that were written on paper? We weigh them out on the occasion of Letter Writing Day

For a long time now we’re all cribbing that email has killed snail mail and that the time and age of pen pals has long ended, but on the occasion of Letter Writing Day, we cannot help but notice a not-so-new trend blossoming again, that of open letters!

Those were the days when open letters were published only in newspapers and were mostly addressed to political leaders. Now that we have the internet with umpteen social networking sites and personal blogs at our disposal, it has become ever so easy to rant write and have a whole community of netizens reading such open letters.

Of the trend, content writer and blogger, Divya Sehgal, opines: “I think open letters are a source of amusement and fun, as they’re mostly circulated on the internet. It’s more like an open diary page for everyone to read. Almost like a letter that has been written, but not sent. And while I’m not sure how effective they are, I don’t think the recipient really takes them seriously. I think open letters are quite tongue in cheek and if received well, they’re replied to. It’s good for a debate if it’s around a political or celebrity figure.”

In that vein, that stereotypes of caste and creed perpetuate this country is no new thing. From writing books and making movies about it, the South Indian stereotype seems to be a favourite. So when in September a blogger, presumably a South Indian female living in Delhi, launched a sarcastic attack on the ‘Delhi Boy’ in an open letter that went viral, it grabbed enough eyeballs.

Anurima Singh, an advertising professional says: “I’m half Tamilian and half Punjabi and I have had harrowing experiences within the family itself. From being told that I’d be dark if I were only a South Indian to having distant cousins ask me if there aren’t enough men in the South to marry that Hema Malini and Aishwarya Rai would have to end up with men from the North, I’ve heard it all. So I really identified with this particular open letter and as enjoyable as it was because of the satirical way in which it was written, one could not ignore the seriousness of the real issue.”

Open letters addressed to specific restaurant owners, cops or other officials in command are also trending. It has hardly been two months since Jay Harish Shah, an extremely exasperated customer of Air France wrote an open letter on his blog to Alexandre De Juniac, chairman and CEO of the airline.

Upset by the way South Asians who were left stranded at the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris were treated with discrimination, the blogger left no stone unturned when he wrote about his ordeal which finally did receive a response from the airline over a fortnight later!

“I think writing an open letter is the easiest way to get people to hear you, especially when it involves an airline company or any other conglomerate for that matter. Quick to save the sudden assassination of their reputation, many of them actually issue public apologies. In such instances, we’re thankful for the internet and for people who share experiences that others can learn from,” says sociologist Sushil Chandranath.

In a country infamous for its increasing crimes against women, a few months ago, CNN published the account of an American student who said her three months in India last year were marked by near-daily sexual harassment. Soon enough, Indian women began sharing, commenting, condoling and raising their voice against heinous crimes like molestation and rape, among other issues. Then there was a letter written as a reply to Michaela Cross by an Indian woman who had suffered similar abuse in Paris that also took the online world by storm. Stating that her “story is not meant to invalidate the depth of your (Michaela’s) horrific experiences in India”… but “is meant to ignite the recognition that sexual harassment is indeed a global phenomenon,” this young woman received bouquets and brickbats alike.

Citing the same example, social worker Suhasini Murthy states: “Open letters are really eye-openers. I’m not sure we would know of half the horrifying experiences women in our country go through if they didn’t have an outlet online.”

While American author Anatole Broyard once said: “In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people’s lives”, with open letters, ironically on the internet and not on paper, it sure looks like revival of some sort is underway!