Violent rape and death threats have become almost normal for everyone who chooses to oppose or critique the current right-wing regime. Whether through the written word, stand-up comedy, art, comics, or any form that they best express in. Ideas of intimidation, that start with vitriolic tweets, unsolicited photos of male genitalia, to profiles that you can see where they come from, to videos that don’t hide the identity of the threat giver, to actual final action, are normalized now, more than ever before.
They are ends of the same spectrum, ending with the shooting of Gauri Lankesh, the lynching of oppressed Muslims, and castes considered lower, by brahmins, steadily looking for ways to reinforce their supremacy. While the ideas of supremacy have always existed, where does the violence they now exercise, find its legitimacy, and impunity from? And what is the language of the right?
A potential answer to the impunity of threats is visible. The trio of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Ajay Singh Bisht (Yogi Adityanath), their rise to power and the ability to wield it, and to proliferate hate unchecked, almost glorifies their toxicity in the fast-accepted ideas of a ‘hero’. The veritable un-dynastic ‘leaders’ who have risen, carefully marketed, and who continue to work their image to drive home their ideas of a singular identity for a country that has traditionally been marked by its diversity, eclipsing other communities- almost delegitimizing their existence, and flourishing all the while, doing so.
Ajay Singh Bisht, after he became Chief Minister for the largest state in the country, ended cases of hate speech filed against him. He has on record spoken, that if Muslims ‘take’ one Hindu girl, they will forcibly convert 100 Muslim women . While his supporters have spoken of digging out bodies of dead Muslim women and raping them. Hate speech has been a tool used against minorities, with little checks.
Narendra Modi in his speeches during the lockdown has repeatedly missed mentioning ‘Eid’ as a festival. His insistence of not recognizing this minority population has received ire but to no avail. Amit Shah’s speeches before the 2019 elections, where he referred to illegal Muslim immigrants as ‘termites’ who needed to be ‘thrown into the Bay of Bengal’, is just one testimony to the vitriolic language used by these men in power.
When one adds the lens of gender while evaluating hate speeches, the realities are rife with misogyny and Brahmanical patriarchy. Women are often used as pawns in larger narratives of ‘cleansing’ or ‘punishing’ an oppressed minority, or if they are at the forefront of a conversation, are at the receiving end of vitriolic rape threats. The recent incident of the man from Vadodara, abusing comedian Agrima Joshua, is a testimony.
The threats aren’t just violent- they are descriptive. Most of those standing true to the founding principles of this country, secularism, togetherness, and fraternity, are at the receiving end of this hate, almost daily. Whether it is seasoned journalists like Rana Ayyub, Neha Dixit or Arfa Khanum, or Swara Bhasker (one of the few voices in mainstream Hindi cinema) and several others face this hate each day.
What the language used also signifies, is that for those giving these threats, women are nothing more than vaginas, and that to have a mind that they speak is an aberration. Rape and rape threats are about power and intimidation, and to ‘show a woman her place’. In that context, for these men, raised in an environment of strong patriarchy and toxic masculinity being legitimized as the only way to be a man, giving these rape threats exposes the very place they still see women deserve. To be mutilated easily when they articulate something, and specifically so when they contest accepted ideas of supremacy, by powerful men. Women, in their identities, are not recognized, persistently.
Narendra Modi’s often repeated refrain, of how he ‘abandoned his wife’ in the servitude of the ‘motherland’, brings forth this idea. A woman, is a veritable ‘distraction’, can be discarded for the greater good and this becoming a value to celebrated and emulated in the definition of the hero. At the same time, glorifying the idea of duty as service to the ‘mother’ land brings forth the age-old patriarchal idea of pedestalizing a woman, as a giver, and one to be protected.
This language of the right isn’t merely limited to India alone. Donald Trump, the single most powerful man in the world, drunk on the idea of white supremacy brings alive the same ideas each day and has done so historically. With tweets that are investigatory (and often factually incorrect), his speeches rife with racism- targeting minorities living in the United States, and often reducing women to props, and more often than not, objectifying them to general applause. With the rising and long overdue Black Lives Matter movement, one only hopes that America will wake up to the hate not choosing it again.
In India, still, the idea of hate and its language is conjoined with the idea of patriotism. The jingoistic nationalism unleashed by this regime relies strongly on this language of the right, which is embedded in supremacy and intolerance. The BJP IT Cell, often uses this tool, to intimidate and curtail free speech, and break down the most essential part of a democracy- disagreeing with the government in power, for the good of the country.
Language goes beyond what is said. It also moves to what is taught. It induces us to reason and question, shaping our ideas more than we admit. With steady pruning of syllabi across subjects, omissions of chapters by writers of minorities, removal of chapters that outline the potential impact of the current government’s decisions, we are allowing the government to rob us of our abilities to reason and to question for generations that are to come. And insisting we view the world and speak to it through saffron-coloured masks.
The very language of the right is oppressive and unidimensional. And it must be questioned in a language opposite to it- one of relentless kindness, empathy, inclusivity, and rationality. And consistently dismantling the hate and misogyny that comes with it.