Opinion
Meryl Streep spoke about xenophobia and the anti-migrant wave in the United States.
Screenshot/ Youtube

On Sunday, Hollywood's Academy Award winning actor Meryl Streep gave a moving speech at the Golden Globes. Streep was being honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award when she used the opportunity to express her views on American politics and its increasingly xenophobic and bullying nature. 

She began by apologising for her hoarse voice and joked that she'd lost her mind earlier this year. Streep then went on to talk about Hollywood and how "it's just a bunch of people from other places". Referring to her birthplace (New Jersey) and upbringing and that of many other actors like Viola Davis, Sarah Paulson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Natalie Portman, Ruth Negga, Ryan Gosling, and Dev Patel, Streep pointed out that if all of these people were to be driven away there would only be "football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts". 

Streep shared how heartbroken she was to see Donald Trump, the next President of the United States, mock a reporter with a disability, pointing out that when someone in a powerful place does such a thing, it filters down into society and gives permission for other people in society. Streep also asked the acting community to value the quality of empathy which is essential to their profession and ended on a powerful note, quoting her friend Carrie Fisher - "Take your broken heart, make it into art."

Meryl Streep's speech happened miles away from where we are in India but there are several things she said which are applicable to what's happening in the country today. 

The anti-migrant wave in several parts of the country, for instance.  

The Bengaluru molestation case has raised many questions and led to a lot of debate on social media. But apart from the discussions on women's safety and gender-based violence, there has also been a disconcertingly strident anti-migrant note to the conversation. 

Many have rightly pointed out that Bengaluru is not the only city where such incidents happen but others have gone on to allege that those indulging in such crimes are "outsiders" and not "real" Bengalureans. 

This tendency to blame migrants for sexual crimes is not new - we saw it in the Delhi ‘Nirbhaya’ case and in the Jisha case in Kerala, too. The statistics, however, show that an overwhelming percentage of rape is committed by family, relatives, neighbours and other acquaintances, one of the reasons why sexual violence is a hugely under-reported crime. 

Indian women are unsafe in their home and outside of it, they are at the receiving end of a patriarchal society that celebrates misogyny and indulges in victim blaming and shaming at every opportunity. And ironically, there is true unity in diversity in how we do it. 

Streep's assessment of bullying and the validation that it gets when it comes from people who are in positions of power, too, is very relevant to the current political climate in India when terms like "AAPtard", "sanghi", "presstitute" etc are used casually to shut down debate. 

Violent threats to quell dissent have become the new normal, the Jothimani episode being the most recent example. It isn't a tiny minority that indulges in such language or action - aggression and disrespect have become the qualities that determine who wins the debate. Sadly, this isn't limited to the online space where Pappu and Feku memes jostle for attention, it spills over into real life, with people from rival parties and ideologies murdering each other as it happens in Kerala. 

Streep's sensitive and insightful speech resonated with fellow Americans but it may have hit home in many parts of the world, including India, which are grappling with more walls even as technology may make us believe there are no barriers to communication any more. 

Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.