A break between hectic tasks and a black coffee in hand, I opened my Twitter account to see what was trending.
Expecting propaganda-laden hashtags, I saw Disha Ravi “Joseph” trending. For those still unaware, she has been arrested for alleged involvement with a ‘toolkit’ that Greta Thunberg had tweeted. Of course, I wasn’t shocked at the tweets. In this day and age, hatred has been normalised to a large extent. Her religion was targeted (with her friends debunking the lies being spread about her religion and background). I am not even discussing the offensive remarks here.
But what continues to anger me is the way her pictures have been strewn all over social media and the so-called mainstream media. Pictures that have no relevance are being tweeted, retweeted and shown during prime time debates – selfies with her dog, pictures with her friends and during volunteer work. The same treatment is being meted out to another activist who’s been in the news, Nikita Jacob.
Her picture is accompanied by typical news graphics on literally every news channel. Ironically, for another activist in the news for the same reason, his picture is nowhere to be seen. I am definitely not advocating for derogatory remarks or unwanted publicity for him. However, the way these news reports are being handled talks a lot about the way we treat our women.
To mention a not-very-long-ago example, I’d have to take you to Kerala, a state with the highest literacy and a high human development index. It was also ranked as one of the best in sex ratio, until recently. But one fine day in July 2020, news channels across the state popped up with pictures of Swapna Suresh, an accused in a massive gold smuggling case. She was linked to a vast network of smugglers, politicians and high-profile government officials, including the Kerala Chief Minister’s former principal secretary.
Whether or not she is guilty and whether the ruling party politicians were involved are issues the courts are deciding on. But what irks me is the way her pictures were downloaded from her Facebook profile and put up for display in every prime time debate. Her selfies at late-night parties, pictures with the co-accused and alleged videos of her ‘enjoying’ life with the money she got through smuggling were up for public consumption, with details that didn’t matter.
She was linked to the accused civil servant with primetime anchors claiming eyewitnesses saw him leaving her house late at night. She was painted as a shopaholic and a terrible mother who thrived on money and only money. Her character was assassinated and unbearable for any sane person to witness. Just do a Google search and you’ll understand.
Female news anchors too jumped in the pool of vilifying Swapna Suresh. I am not defending her here, because if she is guilty, the judiciary will hold her accountable. But live updates were fed to the Malayalis who were glued to their screens as the saga unfolded. Ironically, the news channels and the social media community treated the male accused differently here.
Does this remind you of another case up here in North India? Yes, Rhea Chakraborty. She was vilified, followed and hounded. Her pictures were dug out to feed the voyeuristic pleasure of sick minds everywhere. It’s not just news channels and the social media trolls who are guilty here. You’ll find the offline version in your own neighbourhoods.
Let a woman return home late at night, be it after work or with friends (it’s nobody’s business), your neighbourhood aunties and uncles will start their gossip cycle.
It’s utter vilification here, choosing to slander a woman whether or not she’s guilty of the alleged crime. It’s abusive to target an accused based on her gender, because hey, shouldn’t we be respecting women instead of just writing it in our Twitter/Instagram bios or claiming to work on women empowerment projects to make our resume look cool?
Don’t just read this and stop. Maybe the next time you see a woman being vilified irrespective of what she’s done, engage in a conversation or start a meaningful debate. Let the discourse be more about practically respecting women instead of just mere catchy slogans. Start questioning yourself if you have ever behaved in a manner that vilified a woman. If one person changes their mindset, there’s hope for us.