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Women must change the fundamental dialogue of Indian patriarchy...

The language of our protest must transcend the echo chambers of social media

brunch Updated: Sep 18, 2017 15:09 IST
Sajni Mukherji
The language of our protest must go beyond posting glamorous #AintNoCinderella pictures on Facebook or Twitter
The language of our protest must go beyond posting glamorous #AintNoCinderella pictures on Facebook or Twitter(Illustration: Parth Garg)

Just back from a brief laughter-filled holiday with two caring women who are both young enough to be my daughters, I realise in a burst of gratitude that I am lucky to have many daughters: biological, nieces, daughters of friends, former students, younger colleagues, neighbours, and so forth. This epistle is for all of you out there. In the idiom you love to use: you know who you are.

The language of our protest must go beyond posting glamorous #AintNoCinderella pics on Facebook and Twitter

I am two years older than the midnight’s children made famous by Nehru’s great speech and Salman Rushdie, but like them, I have taken some beliefs and expectations for granted all my life. I now find my world shaken in a fundamental way. Most recently, the ghastly murder of Gauri Lankesh has made the sense of unease unbearable. Addicted as I have become to some types of social media in my old age, I put a not entirely flippant post on my page some weeks ago: “So much ambient noise with cries of lynching, demands for a free and fearless media, demonetisation woes, student unrest, GST noises, Chinese sound, Pakistan sound, farmer suicides, harassment sounds, victim-shaming sounds. How on earth could Nitish bhaiya hear his ‘antaratma ki awaaz’? I need the hearing aid he is using.”

So if I could connect to the voice of my innermost soul, what would I want it to say to my daughters? 

Help yourself

There are some vital battles out there waiting to be fought. And we have to fight them with such skills as we can muster. I would wish for some knowledge of karate, judo, aikido in all daughters everywhere. Swift getaways wherever the odds are against you is another. Learning to drive, moving briskly and effectively on a bicycle, using the bicycle itself as a weapon in dire straits are others that suggest themselves.

I think however, that one skill we can and must cultivate because it comes easiest to our sex, is the development of a language that instantly communicates with a large number of people. It must be a language for equality, a language for asserting independence. 

It would automatically reject labels of ma, behen, beti in the discourse on sexual violence: these words are insults. They are meant to keep us out of the mainstream, they attempt to whitewash gross sins. While one powerful person asked us not to be out at night, the father of Vikas Barala called Ms Kundu ‘meri beti’ and assured anyone who was listening that she would get justice. In cynical old age, I cannot believe in the sincerity of either.

The medium and the message

The language of our protest must go beyond posting glamorous #AintNoCinderella pictures on Facebook or Twitter. It must be a language that transcends the echo chambers of social media. I have some 700 ‘friends’ in one such space and only rarely have I been contradicted or trolled. I am instantly assured of so many hundred ‘likes’ as soon as I put something up, even if it’s a full stop. Our language will have a vast outreach among people who don’t know us at all. It will use guerrilla tactics where necessary and will be translated swiftly into as many languages as possible. 

Our history books tell us of messages that travelled across vast stretches of the land through symbols such as a flower or the humble chapatti during the first Indian war of independence. Or in descriptions of the French Revolution that secrets were kept in the knitting patterns of women rebels. 

It is this kind of almost universal language that we must aim for: via music for instance. One could change the lyrics of nursery rhymes and the lyrics of popular cinema songs to accommodate our message. Suppose we changed the popular, mere desh ki dharti to mere desh ki bhakti and filled the remaining lines with lines about lynching, gou rakshaks and sexual harassment. Even as I think about it, lines such as ‘Khun ki nadiyan bahate hain’ ‘hathon mein hatiyar ghumate hain’ ‘naphrat ka mahaul banate hain’ ‘auraton ki chher char karte hain’ suggest themselves. It would offer an alternative for deshbhakti in ‘insaniyat’ or simple humanity. It would involve reclaiming of the word ‘insaan’ from bhakts of the recently convicted Dera Baba. We could inveigle our words it into the story lines of Jatra. Traditional modes of dance are rich veins to be mined in the same way. I have seen an admirable initiative on social media where the content of speech bubbles on the pages of Amar Chitra Katha has been subverted, retaining the original graphics, to excellent effect.

These are just some suggestions. I am sure you can think of others. Grim days loom ahead. I dream of daughters from all walks of life coming together to create the idiom to confront this challenge with creativity and good cheer. Let’s be mothers, daughters and sisters in a whole new way.

Author Bio: The author is a contributor to various publications and is a former professor of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata

From HT Brunch, September 17, 2017

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