TW: Violence against women, mentions of rape and assault.
“Women face an uphill battle, from sexism and violence to inequality. In some areas, they are forced to deal with a culture that promotes primitive practices that endanger them, not just physically, but emotionally as well.”- Hagir Elsheikh, Through Tragedy and Triumph: A Life Well-Traveled.
There is uncertainty while I type this because, I am aware of the agonizing truth that women, who make sure to live guardedly in this country, despite escalating rape or assault cases going unnoticed, don’t make any difference to a majority of Indians on social media who deleteriously discuss a woman’s integrity in a disgraceful and offensive fashion.
As a 25-year-old woman, who has grown up pretty much conscious of when and where my body feels safe, I did not anticipate that a woman’s character and politics would go hand in hand. As much as I get angry every day when I see online abuse and rape threats to numerous journalists, activists, and actors, it also terrifies me. Because that is the reality, and I never wanted to grow up in such a reality where the damage to my respect is directly proportional to the public’s vile entertainment ‘agenda’.
What has been happening with Rhea Chakraborty is a clear example of a misinformed and misguided group of Indian men and women who are convinced they can casually throw murder and rape threats as an ideal way to show solidarity in Sushant Singh Rajput’s justice trial. It scares me because time and again, it has been proven that anyone can come at any woman, slut-shame her, send her rape threats, abuse her family, and get away with it, while no leader or politician protests against this transgression or takes actions for the same. This only paves way for more online harassment.
India’s social media ‘market’ is one of the largest in the world, which ends up making it a massive platform of organised sexual and gender harassment. There is no second thought for the amount of vulgarity thrown at women on an everyday basis. Moreover, women from marginalised sections of society are the main target of these offences.
When I, as just another sexual object for the public, was touched, groped, flashed at, or cat-called by strangers in public places, I remained quiet most of the time. I was scared of being ‘character-shamed’ for my choice of clothes or the colour of my lipstick or for taking the shortest lane to walk back home.
I am an unknown entity among millions of women who get harassed on a daily basis and hide it well. Most of the cases go unreported mostly because of the fear of retaliation. Rhea, on the other hand, has become a national symbol of ‘easy access’ to be character-assassinated, by both men and women, proving this system to be full of badgering mindsets. Guilty or not, how justified is it to publicly butcher a woman’s character and celebrate Bhojpuri songs produced only to name-call her?
Such acts of vilification have not even received judicial attention. Silencing women, just because of who they are, apparently is nothing in the eyes of the law.
Rhea Chakraborty’s t-shirt rattled social media more than it should rattle the encouragement of misogyny and harassment on these platforms. And, in real life where women, when they try to speak out for themselves, are in return mocked.
Gendered hatred through messages, social media posts, news reporting, and tv shows has led to the violation of privacy and the ill-treatment of women.
What if women actually started feeling safe without ever getting conscious in public places because of uncomfortable stares or uninvited touches? We will progress as a society.
As per the Council on Foreign Relations, “…the Indian economy would grow by an additional 27% by 2025, adding $2.9 trillion, if women were represented in the formal economy at the same rate as men,” which also makes it socially beneficial.
What if women in leadership roles actually start representing gender injustice irrespective of what political ideology a victim is from and tackle harassment irrespective of caste, religion, or colour? But then, we get stuck at “what ifs.’”
Indian politics is so controversial due to its polarisation and gender vilification, particularly targeting women from minority groups as easy prey for social media trolls. Why Rhea’s harassment infuriates and scares me at the same time is because I have been personally attacked for my identity every time I spoke about my rights and what I find wrong in the society. And so do millions of women who have been raising questions against any system they are a part of.
Attacks against women have resulted in broken limbs, damaged uteri, and murders. Still, here we are being subject to rape threats which are shared and retweeted by thousands.
Coming to New Delhi to pursue my Masters was just a first step towards dreaming big to have a voice of my own. And if at all I do, I wouldn’t deserve to welcome threats for the same. I’m already guilty to just feel relieved for just being molested and not raped. What has hurt me more is the fact that women themselves are a part of this harassment. And, when women vilify women, it is not only egregious but it also tarnishes basic civility.
It is really easy to ask women not to get intimidated by abuses and threats but when you belong to that section of society which is not politically and socially ‘approved’ of by the majority, it becomes extremely difficult not to feel scared, angry, and hopeless. Yes, women will fight back like they always have despite anything you throw at them but women aren’t meant to face unjustified judgements that make them question their mental and physical safety in a society that they equally belong to.