The internet being what it is, I recently came across an article posted on Swarajya (How I Learnt That Liberals In India Are Not Really Liberal). Swarajya, as some may know, is a website that publishes extremely biased articles that are critical of liberals/anti-nationals/presstitutes and every political party except the BJP. It’s sort of a Breitbart knockoff and looks like it was designed by a 14-year-old for a computer science project. Reading through it often feels like reading the diary of a senile old man who is convinced that pigeons want to steal his soul.
I came across the aforementioned article on my newsfeed thanks to a Facebook friend (who fancies himself a Sunny Deol and publicly fantasises about slapping leftists and presstitutes). The fact that it was carried with the tagline: “On Women’s Day, a crude reminder of how Indian "liberals" respond to women who don’t agree with their views…” was the absolute cherry on top of the scatalogical cake.
You must understand that - being a man - I am wary of explaining anything to women these days lest my attempt be mistaken for mansplaining. But, in this case, I am willing to make an exception because it seems that the article’s author, a Shefali Vaidya, is suffering from Stockholm syndrome. In her bid to appease the right-wing, she has actually forgotten what most Indian women go through when they express their opinions.
Her article begins with examples of the unfortunate abuse meted out to her by liberals such as “a mild-looking 65-year old man with a flowing white beard… almost Tagore-like in his looks” who apparently told her that “If you like Modi so much, why don’t you go, sleep with Modi”. There was also the "feminist" (her emphasis) who allegedly asked her to “go back into the kitchen and stay there”. There was the supposedly liberal writer who called her a “mediocre housewife turned columnist” when he apparently couldn’t argue cogently with her.
The rest of the article is about how her liberal peers at university made her feel insecure about her patriotism and how, when a post of hers went viral on social media, she suddenly realised that “for the first time, people like me had found a medium to voice our opinions, without any filters, censorship or editorial interference. The average Indian citizen was no longer a passive consumer of news as defined by mainstream media, but she could be an active contributor”.
|The Hindutva army of nincompoops had no qualms about dissecting the intentions of a 20-year-old.|
My liberal heart bleeds to imagine all those times that Shefali must have gone through such crass online abuse. And yet, this is where I think I should take a deep breath and attempt to break down things for her.
To begin with, her online abuse, while deplorable, doesn’t seem to be in the same league as the downright menacing threats issued to most Indian women who regularly hold their own against an army of Hindutva trolls. The rape threats and physical violence meted out to liberal women and feminists is so far beyond her experience that to compare the two would be like comparing chalk and cheese.
Of course, abuse is abuse and I’m not one to rate and grade harassment. And yet, it is downright silly to suggest that a couple of mean comments are representative of liberals as a whole. The same cannot be said for Hindutva trolls because they have become synonymous with crude and crass online behaviour.
For example, Gurmehar Kaur’s post on social media resulted in such a backlash that even Shefali had no problem in rubbishing a young woman’s innocent plea for peace. The Hindutva army of nincompoops, had no qualms about dissecting the intentions of a 20-year-old who was only guilty of sharing her opinion and being an active contributor, much like the Shefali of yesteryears. Gurmehar too shied from mainstream media and found a medium to voice her opinion. But because Shefali is a hypocritical Gorgon, she broke down Gurmehar’s approach in a simplified 7-step process that is apparently applicable to all "media-run campaigns of outrage".
This hypocrisy goes to the heart of Hindutva’s voluntary amnesia when it comes to their own faults. Shefali’s piece, which set out to show that liberals can be misogynist too, failed miserably because it completely bypasses the extent of Hindutva’s own misogyny. Like a doting mother who is certain that her little Monu is innocent and always a victim of circumstances, Shefali doesn’t even discuss the appalling behaviour of most Hindutva trolls because doing so would make her two-bit arguments look ridiculous. Those who live in glass houses etc. etc.
When she writes that, “I am appalled when I see rape threats and sexual slurs being bandied about by some people to silence the voice of women”, she is being wilfully ignorant of the fact that it is almost always the saffron brigade that hurls such abuse. I don’t doubt that a certain minority of liberals may participate in such behaviour but you have to be downright delusional to suggest that they are on equal footing to their Sanghi counterparts.
There is a curious silence on right-wing media outlets when it comes to discussing the transgressions of those who belong to their side. There was no mention in Shefali’s piece of the recent harassment faced by BJP leader Shaina NC. Why? Because the man sending her lewd messages was a BJP activist. There was no mention of the recent arrests made in West Bengal over child trafficking. Why? Because the prime accused is a BJP women’s wing (no less) leader who helped facilitate the cross-border trafficking of children.
If the accused belonged to another party then you can be sure that the headlines would have read: "Oh my god, these minority appeasing leaders are scum of the earth who trade children! Shame!" If Rahul Gandhi followed misogynist trolls who issued rape and death threats to women then you can be sure the headlines would be: "Is this the kind of sick sexist leader that India deserves? You are the company you keep!"
On Women’s Day, Swarajya deemed it okay to publish an author who writes, “I refuse to label myself as a ‘feminist’, only because, at least in India these days, the term is being thrown about very casually. It has come to mean a rabid, blinding hatred of men”. Shefali finds herself so deeply entrenched in the Hindutva’s narrow view of feminism that she judges a broad movement based on vague stereotypes.
Tarabai Shinde, who wrote India’s first feminist text, challenged Hindu religious scriptures which she saw as a source of Indian women’s oppression. Pandita Ramabai, a Sanskrit scholar and social reformer, vehemently criticised the patriarchy and caste-system in Hinduism that inherently sidelined women. One can’t imagine that Savitribai Phule, who worked hard to abolish discrimination of people based on caste and gender during the 19thcentury, would have minded being called a feminist.
|There was no mention in Shefali’s piece of the recent harassment faced by BJP leader Shaina NC. Why? Because the man sending her lewd messages was a BJP activist.|
By Shefali’s obtuse definitions, even these luminaries were liberal snowflakes undeserving of their place in history. She forgets that without such women having had paved the way forward, she would not be enjoying the freedoms she takes for granted as a modern Indian woman.
So when we talk of Shefali facing online harassment from liberals perhaps she needs to consider that perhaps some of it stems from her continued silence on the harassment meted out to most Indian women by Hindutva trolls. Perhaps she should listen to Amitabh Bachchan - the feminist who always pens open letters to women before the release of a women-centric film - who suggested that, “If you are on social media, you should be ready for trolls and abuses”. That’s right, Mr No-Means-No! thinks that rape threats are part and parcel of an online existence and one should chin up and take it in stride.
Hell, while we’re talking online abuse should I list the abuse meted out to me by nationalists who have the best things to say about my mother and wife? I have learnt to laugh it off because I know it takes a special kind of loser to hurl abuses at a stranger from behind a laptop.
When Bob Marley was asked why he chose to perform even after getting shot before a concert in Jamaica, he replied, “The people who are trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off. Why should I?” I find great strength and solace in these simple words because they make me see the trolls for what they really are: sad, lonely, people with zero contribution to society. However, I can’t expect everyone to accept online abuse as their digital fate.
In closing her article, Shefali writes, “I think it was Martin Luther King Jr who had said, ‘our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter'”. That was the part that made me laugh because nowhere in her article did Shefali talk about things that actually matter.
Her piece was an elaborate straw man argument where she knows well that most liberals do not condone the kind of harassment that she was subject to. The same cannot be said for the right-wing which refuses to address and curtail the well documented chauvinism that exists in its ranks.
She could have used the piece to show her support for all women who face similar attacks (both online and offline) but that would be straying too far from the regressive outlook that the right-wing maintains. As such, her piece was nothing but a self-serving vehicle. Instead of speaking for her gender, on Women’s Day no less, she ended up attacking feminists and kept shtum about Hindutva’s pathetic and cowardly abuse of women.
Perhaps Shefali, who appears to be a big fan of MLK Jr, should remember that he had also said that, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
Also read: Smriti Irani, is it okay for women to get rape threats on Twitter if they're not a Modi bhakt?