Trolling of Gurmehar Kaur reveals our utter disregard of a woman’s own mind
The online ordeal of Gurmehar Kaur brings to fore Indian society’s utter disregard for a woman’s own mind and her right to make her own choice.Updated: Feb 28, 2017, 15:24 IST
To be threatened with rape, ridiculed and trolled on social media for criticising a certain students’ organisation, hyper-nationalism and violence is troubling enough. But the online ordeal of Gurmehar Kaur has another aspect to it.
It brings to fore, yet again, Indian society’s utter disregard for a woman’s own mind and her right to make her own choice.
Kaur shot to limelight post her criticism of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) for the recent violence in Delhi University last week and what followed were vile threats in the name of nationalism.
Since Kaur, daughter of a soldier killed by militants in Kashmir, criticised the “brutal attack on innocent students by ABVP”, she was labelled by many as an “anti-national” who should be “ashamed” considering her father’s martyrdom.
Others, including minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju and actor Randeep Hooda, were patronising towards the young woman in their comments, implying she can’t think for herself.
While Rijiju asked who’s “polluting this young girl’s mind”, Hooda said that was being “used as a prop”. In a separate tweet, Hooda said, “What’s sad is that the poor girl is being used as political pawn…”
Both the comments have a striking resemblance—they sweep away the fact that Kaur, a 20-year-old student of English literature at the Lady Shri Ram College, is capable enough to reason out her own political ideology and take a stand.
Rijiju and Hooda, both infantilised Kaur, completely disregarding the fact that she has a mind of her own. She need not be “polluted” or “used” by anyone to arrive at a conclusion, form an opinion or a stand against the violence in her campus.
Kaur, of course, hit back on expected lines. To Hooda, she wrote back, “Political pawn? I can think. I don’t support violence perpetuated on students? Is that so wrong?”
“I am not anti-national. My mind is not polluted. I have a mind of my own. I am an adult and can think and take individual decisions,” Kaur told news agency ANI in response to Rijiju.
But Kaur’s is not an isolated case. In the social media sphere, where she has been targeted, any Indian woman who is politically vocal, especially those who are critical of the ruling dispensation, faces nasty abuses and threats every day.
Misogyny, tinged with online anonymity, lead to sexist attacks on and trolling of women articulate on Twitter or Facebook.
But Kaur’s case must also be put in the context of how both the establishment as well as societal conventions often do away with a woman’s right to make her own decisions and choices.
‘Threat to Women’s Right to Choice’
For instance, the very idea of BJP president Amit Shah’s promised “anti-Romeo squad” in Uttar Pradesh is basically vigilantes taking care of girls and women (overriding the police and security machinery) and “safeguard the honour and chastity of our girls” from “eve-teasers”.
“Anti-Romeo Squads will constitute yet one more threat to the right of women to make their own choices without fear of violent and unlawful retribution,” wrote Subhashini Ali, vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) on NDTV website.
Rewind to the Hindu right-wing’s campaign against something termed as “Love Jihad” in 2014 which alleged a conspiracy by Muslim men “tricking” Hindu women into marrying them—from which the Hindu woman must be protected.
The idea of ‘Love Jihad’ disregarded the fact that a Hindu woman can willingly fall in love with a Muslim man and overlooked a woman’s right to choose her partner.
To cite a most recent and thought-provoking example, the first line in the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)’s argument for denying a certificate to Lipstick Under My Burkha was “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life.”
It added further that there were in the film “sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society”.
Director Alankrita Shrivastava was quick to observe, with which many agreed, “Our films and governing bodies tell us that women can be object of desires but can’t have desires of their own. That needs to change.”
Of course, the trolling that Kaur faced is different from political campaigns in UP or issuance of film certificates. But it’s all linked together by and reflective of an inherent patriarchal mindset that’s uncomfortable with a woman expressing her freedom to choose and decide.
As a debate on Kaur raged online, historian Ramachandra Guha’s tweet drove home the point.
“Indian patriarchy,” he wrote, “had a shameful past; the comments of BJP MPs and Ministers on Gurmehar Kaur suggest it has an even more shameful present.”
(The views expressed are personal. The author tweets on @saha_abhi1990)