Following this year’s Eid festivities, there were a string of outrageous virtual incidents which once again reiterated the constant perils and threats women face in the online space. On May 13 an Indian YouTube Channel named ‘Liberal Doge‘ started a live stream which was shamelessly promoted in the name of Eid, only to go ahead and degrade women who were celebrating the festival.
The live show proceeded to display photos and videos of various Pakistani women, among whom minors were also present, without their consent. This was done along with a lewd commentary that held back nothing in terms of objectifying, sexualising and passing comments, barely concealing the inclinations to molest these women. This stream was brazenly titled with an invitation for viewers to join them in stalking these women with “eyes filled with lust“.
After netizens began calling out the livestream, there were several rebuttals from those involved and those supporting the makers, that it was done in the interest of “discussing” and “appreciating” how women looked on Eid. The man behind the YouTube channel was eventually traced and identified as Ritesh Jha.
What followed on Twitter was an escalating episode of blatant disrespect and disregard for civility and decency. Congress Social Media National Coordinator Hasiba Amin filed a complaint with the Delhi Police’s Cyber Cell when her opinion expressing her indignation at the live stream, was met with numerous handles on Twitter conducting a bid and “selling her” along with a parting comment of “Enjoy brother“. Her call to action was met with prompt deletion, deactivation and renaming of several of these accounts by the users.
This reveals a dangerous trend that has been plaguing our virtual space where women face backlash in the form of threats, sexualization and slut shaming which is prompted by any kind of self expression. While a simple celebratory montage of dressing up for a festival became the target of leering eyes, a woman speaking up about the vileness of this act received hate in the form of objectification and disrespect. The fact that this was unprovoked and at the hands of virtual strangers makes it even more worrisome.
Unpacking layers of oppression behind the harassment
While the freedom of expression of these women was grossly violated, the perpetrators had the audacity to call on this same right to justify their acts. This brings into picture the religious and political angle to this hate spewing which adds fuel to the communal fire our nation perpetually seems to be on the brink of.
After days of probing by netizens and authorities, the background and history of Ritesh Jha consisting of his online and offline activities, was revealed to be one of intense Islamophobia, hate speech and misogyny. Several online forums have revealed his admission of having engaged in ‘revenge rape’, making illicit MMS videos, distributing them, and prompting others to do the same to Muslim women.
Thus, a history of strategic targetting of Muslim women along with rampant glorification of rape culture has been associated with the actions of this man and several other members involved in the livestream and the incident on Twitter. Going by the name of ‘Liberal Doge’, this user has engaged in rampant spreading of communal hate, and right wing extremism bordering on fanaticism, all the while basking in a false sense of self assuredness that this is the way to be an ‘Ideal Hindu’.
Wrapped in the garb of elevated religious supremacy, backed by a political majority that is not very discreet in its attempts to propagate the same belief, unashamed posting of such content and its largely non-critical reception has allowed the growth of similar virtual toxicity to unprecedented lengths. The hashtag #IAmWithLiberalDoge began trending on Twitter, Telegram and other platforms offering solidarity and financial support as rightful payback for all the “entertainment” they have provided through their salacious content, along with even pornographic materials on some channels.
The sheer number of shares and virtual popularity they gained is proof of how entrenched these problematic ideologies are. An account identified as Keshu which was linked to the livestream along with other members of his gang have also been accused by another Twitter user that their abuse and indecent comments via multiple accounts have been an issue since September 2019.
The boldness with which the accused members flung threats, dismissed online criticism and proceeded to garner support for their shameful acts reeks of privilege and its misuse at the levels of their class, gender, caste as well as confidence about the religious and political majority they are part of. This was evident in his response to activist Saket Gokhale who exposed a member of the team and was in turn warned with threats of physical harm.
The sense of security with which such openly misogynistic and sexist ideas are paraded on large social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube is testimony to the defeating tendency of harassment and assault being looked upon very casually in our country. It was also around this time last year, that the world woke up to the ‘Bois Locker Room’ incident which revealed the casual sexism and misogyny disguised as jokes and harmless conversations among young boys.
As is the case in several instances of harassment faced by women, the oppression here is layered where the primary maniacal displays of male dominance can be unpacked to reveal more deep rooted issues. In this case, Muslim women were at the receiving end of internalised misogyny coupled with beliefs of right wing supremacy and religious hysteria, making them the receivers of hate in which multiple oppressive forces converged.
Several Paskistani women have responded to this incident by making their accounts private and deleting their photos. This is however far from the solution because curbing the freedom of women to ensure their safety is a regressive tune that has been sung for decades, which would only systematically eliminate women from the mainstream. While this video has been blocked by YouTube and the police have registered complaints, online safety and breach of privacy remain a serious issue that needs to be tackled with immediacy at all its layered facets.
Featured Image Source: Embroidery by Shannon Downey via Vogue