Posted by Mohini Mushrif
The idea of public decency being dead in the Indian discourse has been a topic of discussion for quite some time now, the people who talked about it have been chided for their elitism or for sounding the horn when there was no need. Those now seem like early warnings of the beyond sorry state we’ve reached, where any discourse attempting talk about a real issue gets shrouded in about fifteen layers of distractions, personal attacks and social media outrage. More recently, this was witnessed in how the owner and editor-in-chief of Republic Media Network, Arnab Goswami, was arrested by Raigad police in a 2018 case of the death by suicide of a Marathi architect named Anvay Naik. He is now out on bail, but has stayed put in our eyes and ears for weeks.
Disentangling the mess that covers up real issues takes so long even for professionals that for regular people it is impossible to be well-informed about the things that matter. Algorithms of social media platforms, combined with our need to only use them for confirming our biases have made the echo chambers more impenetrable than ever. When Arnab Goswami, who sees victimising oneself as a competitive sport, was arrested, this distraction tactic was more evident than ever.
The accusations of political vendetta have been thrown around against the Maharashtra government since Arnab Goswami had challenged the Chief Minister of the state to do him harm. I hesitate from calling Arnab a vocal critic of anything, since there is a difference between accurately criticising and actively supporting a party by resorting to false claims and made-up stories. Anyhow, from the facts of the case, everyone is free to come to any conclusions they want. The problem starts when the invalid attacks do not just remain limited to the state government but also become personal, targeting the family involved.
What makes it even worse for the deceased’s family is that the person at the forefront, asking for justice happens to be a woman, the wife of the deceased. She has a daughter, who happens to have a social media account that she posts from, and in one of her posts where she is with her mother, she dared to look happy. The first of many vigilantes who abhorred this display of positive emotion was a BJP Maharashtra’s IT Cell Convenor, Satish Nikam whose (now deleted) tweet took offense at the post for 1) not being Pati-vrata enough, 2) not being mournful enough, and 3) not looking enough like a “#MarathiManus”. Given the rich misogynistic tapestry that this is, I would like to deal with every part.
The first accusation is of not being ‘pati-vrata’, a wife devoted to her husband, so devoted that she is not allowed a moment’s respite from being angry and sad about his death. I don’t know anything about her personal life and the context of the picture and I gained no information from them. But that is precisely the point, why should I feel the need to pass judgment about a wife’s or daughter’s attachment to their husband or father. Men too are not free from such attacks, but the idea of “pati-vrata” in itself is misogynistic, and a woman’s identity being bound to her dedication to her husband, in a way that she can’t have a life outside of it, is problematic.
The second point extends from the first, the family is being targeted because they’re going against a powerful representative and mouthpiece of the establishment at the Centre. No one batted an eye, as they shouldn’t have, when the family members of Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan continued to have a normal social media presence, even though these deaths were very recent. They being active on social media was never equated with their grief or lack thereof. With regard to the Marathi Manus part, what portrayal of Marathiness would satisfy these trolls? Posing in a navvari saree in every picture, maybe with a puranpoli in their hands? Such are the exaggerated expectations from those who oppose them, leaving no possibility for people to be normal, flawed human beings.
It seems like a petty issue to react to; so what if some guy on social media posts something stupid? Nothing new! Yes, if it stopped there. What started with the daughter of Anvay Naik being attacked for looking happy culminated into searches of porn videos, inappropriate content in her name. This is not the first time that right-wing vigilantes have tried to vilify a woman using her sexuality. Earlier this year, Jamia student and anti-CAA activist Safoora Zargar also had to face a similar situation. This dimension is too vitriolic for any woman to deal with, and there is no way out other than staying quiet, backing down and letting the news cycle take its course. It becomes a dedicated campaign of taking away a voice, of delegitimising a just cause.
The people who share such hideous posts from a million fake accounts are not unaware: they aren’t doing this on a whim. It is a strategy; if they vilify any outspoken woman enough, so many other women get silenced with one “masterstroke”. The same thing was attempted in the sexual harassment case against Anurag Kashyap: doubts were cast on his character, sure, but the entire Me Too movement was called a farce. One woman making a fake claim is nothing short of destructive for an issue that almost every powerful man wants suppressed.
What is interesting is that as vocal as certain women opposing the Maharashtra government are, or women from the right wing media have been, such vile content has not found an audience, and social media accounts have not massively shared such content. That speaks volumes about who feeds this perversity and who has the ability to bring it under control. Meanwhile, refraining from sharing such content and calling out people who do are steps that all of us can and should take, without contributing to the filth and hate.
Mohini has completed her MA in Politics from Mumbai University. She believes that it’s possible to find a solution to all of life’s and society’s problems through literature and wholesome tv shows, and enjoys tea, books and calling people out on their problematic behaviours. She can be found on Instagram and Facebook.