A few days ago, actor Swara Bhasker wrote an open letter to Padmaavat director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Titled ‘At The End of Your Magnum Opus… I Felt Reduced to a Vagina – Only’, Swara says that she found the glorification of ‘jauhar’ in the film problematic.
She said in the letter that while she understood practices like jauhar and sati were part of our history, it is questionable to make a film in the present time glorifying these practices, or without commenting on them.
Swara also contested the patriarchal belief that death is better that a life of ‘dishonour’, which is what a sexual assault survivor is made to believe even now.
Swara's point – what feminists have been saying all along – is simple. A woman’s honour does not lie in her vagina. She has the right to live no matter what, even without her male ‘protectors’.
Does that seem problematic? It did to a lot of people, which is well and good. Not everyone has to agree with her.
But is the abuse – much of it sexually coloured - directed towards a woman who dared to express her opinion, and used the word ‘vagina’, also justified?
The backlash the actor received after she wrote the letter took her by surprise as well. The people who targeted Swara online took one word from her letter – vagina – and reduced her to just that.
There are hundreds of tweets ridiculing and abusing Swara. Some of them come from renowned names. Here are a few, to give you a lowdown of the arguments they make to abuse her.
1. Swara has reduced mighty queen Padmavati to a body part (no points for guessing, the vagina). And she used the word only to grab eyeballs.
This is nothing but trying to grab eyeballs with zero rationale and logic. @SwaraBhaskar has reduced a queen of brain and might to just a female body part. Does more harm to feminism than good.#JNUkaAsar. https://t.co/IjwUPlDSM3— Ashoke Pandit (@ashokepandit) January 28, 2018
To time for wannabe online activists’ below average writing being endorsed by Lutyens’ land. I don’t care about flippant usage of ‘vagina’ to gain eyeballs on shoddy writings.— Shubhrastha (@Shubhrastha) January 27, 2018
2. Those going ridiculing her to any reason other than the points she makes in her open letter.
Swara Bhaskar has released more open letters than movies.— Subhasis (@AuthorSubhasis) January 28, 2018
Has Swara Bhaskar tried watching God, Sex and Truth? She might feel reduced to just a historian after watching that.— Numbyaar (@NumbYaar) January 30, 2018
Some actress named Swara Bhaskar wrote an open letter to Bhansali and said she was reduced to a vagina after watching Padmavati.— जैदु लीकस (@ZaiduLeaks) January 28, 2018
Googled her name and found that she holds a masters in sociology from JNU.
That explained why she feels like a cunt.
Funny that an actress who can play an erotic dancer/ prostitute with such elan should feel like a vagina after watching a story of a pious queen . What standards are these ...tch tch— Suchitra Krishnamoorthi (@suchitrak) January 28, 2018
3. There were a number of people quoting the instances of women in ISIS captivity committing suicide or self-harm to protect themselves from their brutalities, including sexual assault.
Lots more stories of hell unleashed by “Mankind” ! this is NOT the 13 th century,she should’ve agreed to be a sex slave wonder why she burnt herself?(sarcasm)can a 21st century world help these women #swarabhaskar https://t.co/EgQPmZX6kY— Raveena Tandon (@TandonRaveena) January 29, 2018
Forget about Jauhar, Even today Women killing & set themselves on fire to avoid further rape at hands of ISIS. Situation matters. Yazidi Women are Padmavatis of 21st Century. Respect, Live with Honor, Courage are part of their life. But for Swara Bhaskar all what matter is Vagina— Anshul Saxena (@AskAnshul) January 28, 2018
Swara Bhaskar should go to Syria and teach value of life over honor to Kurdish girls and ISIS sex slaves. So easy to be judgmental about other's choices when you don't have any skin in the game.— Namrata (@_Namrataa) January 28, 2018
Story of Nadia Murad, an ISIS Sex slave. Cc @ReallySwara you are privileged enough to be able to read about the horror women go through. Don’t sell your womanhood to belittle the horror women go through. pic.twitter.com/bnFhWC8Sju— अंकित जैन (@indiantweeter) January 28, 2018
4. If being sex slaves of the barbaric Islamic army of Khilji is the option you find fit, empowering and honourable choice, the plight of captive Yazidi women by ISIS as sex slaves might open your pseudo-feminist eyes.— Rahul (@672rahul) January 27, 2018
4. Those who attempted to turn Swara’s point on its head, but may not have understood it in the first place.
Padmawati would have reduced to just a vagina if she didn’t choose death over rape. Swara Bhaskar being an ultimate foolish buffoon doesn’t understand a simple point. Sirf liberal ki acting karni hai— अंकित जैन (@indiantweeter) January 28, 2018
5. That jauhar was without a doubt, Padmavati’s choice.
What swara bhaskar does not understand is that rani Padmavati refused a life of humiliation and chose a death of dignity. That's also a choice women can make.— MJ (@jhameenakshi201) January 28, 2018
3. Women of Chittor chose death over rape by Khilji and his men.Nobody forced them to commit Jauhar.They did it out of free will as the situation demanded and they found it fit over being raped— Rahul (@672rahul) January 27, 2018
Swara Bhaskar might opt being raped as an option over death if the situation arises.
6. Those who said she merely expressed her opinion to get attention.
Kind of these can do anything to be in limelight. I don't see any other reason for the letter. It's very important for the bollywood fraternity.— Bhushan Sahni (@sahni_tanisha) January 28, 2018
She wanted some publicity.This is clearly a stunt .We should stop paying attention to her .If she really was concerned she would have done this in private and not on social media.— revanthmuntha (@rev_muntha) January 29, 2018
7. That Swara should understand what a ‘real vagina’ feels like, because she’s a ‘fake feminist’.
What women need to understand that it’s because of the fake feminists like @ReallySwara that the feminist movement gets jeopardised. You just can’t piss off people and win the most critical war of modern times - the gender empathy.— Vivek Agnihotri (@vivekagnihotri) January 30, 2018
#Padmaavat is anti-feminist film which glorifies sati. Sati tradition is equally worse than rape. One should not make film on such topics.— Dexter (@KhandagaleSh) January 28, 2018
Swara Bhaskar( feminist )
We can assume she is in last stage of cancer ( feminism cancer). https://t.co/XqFSs4dNIs
8. Those who argued a woman’s honour over all else for a woman.
Left: Rani Durgavati— Evil Lemurian (@DeplorablePagan) January 29, 2018
Chased away the Mughal army sent by Akbar. Stabbed herself to avoid capture when the Mughals returned and defeat became inevitable.
Right: Swara Bhaskar
Third grade actor who cries about feminism all the time
Be like Durgavati not Swara pic.twitter.com/KyFKZksMeW
Don’t judge their honourable decision to chose death over serving as sex slaves to Khilji based on your BDSM fantasy of being a sex slave.— Rahul (@672rahul) January 27, 2018
9. And of course, people who thought that Swara would ‘prefer’ being raped or being a sex slave, over dying.
Some Bollytard Swara Bhaskar prefers gangrape and sex slavery for rest of her life, than dying untouched in Jauhar— गीतिका (@ggiittiikkaa) January 29, 2018
Her choice...just like Jauhar was Rani Padmini's choice! Jo jaisa hota hai, usse wohi pasand ata hai
Best thing to do is Send Swara Bhaskar to ISIS as a Sex slave...— sunil kumar #HDL (@sunil04pat) January 30, 2018
Forget about the Rani, Liberated Swara Bhaskar herself is ready to be enslaved by a monster like Khilji forever pic.twitter.com/RGQmHEfun9— Rosy (@rose_k01) January 28, 2018
Swara did respond to some of these comments.
I’m sorry did u just suggest that i go get myself raped?????????? Like seriously? You typed out this tweet Vivek... ?????— Swara Bhasker (@ReallySwara) January 30, 2018
I’d say pretty low and sick even by your own abysmal standards of conduct & civility. https://t.co/d1LCCE9B5I
Funny that people cannot get over the fact that a woman said Vagina! Funny that in a 2440 word article making fairly comprehensible arguments they only remember the word Vagina!!! So... Vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina...............vagina vagina VAGINA!!!!! https://t.co/pVh7rskZHL— Swara Bhasker (@ReallySwara) January 28, 2018
There are a number of problems with the vitriol being directed at her. For starters, most of them are not rebuttals to her argument, but her usage of the word ‘vagina’. And while you are free to disagree with her, the amount of fixation and subsequent backlash regarding the word is baffling.
The comparisons with women immolating or harming themselves to escape rape and sexual violence at the hands of terrorists also do more harm than good. Self-harm or suicide is not a code of conduct that every sexual assault survivor needs to life by. Glorifying women who would prefer death over being sexually violated only takes away from their struggle, and makes it a spectacle – a form of response to being ‘dishonoured’ that is ideal in the eyes of society.
And can 'jauhar' really be considered a 'choice' in a patriarchal world where rape is considered to be worse than death? Did Padmavati, if she existed in the first place, operate under free will when 'free will' is subject to misogynistic social conditioning? We will never know.
And let’s make one thing very clear: NO WOMAN, none, ever asks to be raped or sexually violated. Swara Bhasker is not an exception. While she said in her letter that she would do everything to “sneak out of that fiery pit– even if that meant being enslaved to a monster like Khilji forever”, it did not mean she would ‘prefer’ being a sex slave. It simply meant that she would not let being a victim of sexual violence define her, and that she chooses the right to live above all else.
That being said, no one is under compulsion to agree with what she said. And there are ways to respectfully disagree too. For instance:
It is just a depiction of history. Swara, you are just over reacting. Several films are made on history every year, that doesn't mean the director is endorsing it.— Sagar Vora (@paneerholic) January 27, 2018
All guns blazing to find progressive feminist interpretation in medieval stories. But, when it comes to present day depiction of stalkers as heroes (which actually emboldens and justifies actions of many guys), you look the other way. Ask yourself what is more problematic?— Pratyasha Rath (@pratyasharath) January 28, 2018
There were many who defended Swara against the hate and abuse as well.
Those threatening, trolling, and sexually harassing Swara Bhasker are proving her point better than she did: 2018 India is a hell for women.— Rega Jha (@RegaJha) January 31, 2018
Please don't believe the incendiary quotes being attributed to her. This is a campaign of malign, as happens to any woman who speaks out.
Plain disgusting (and yet not surprising) to see peers from the film industry slut-shaming, issuing veiled rape threats, and abusing @ReallySwara for having an opinion on a film. True picture of where we stand with our misogyny and free-speech. https://t.co/2SHCu6oyjo— वरुण (@varungrover) January 31, 2018
Isn't it fascinating when a man explains a #vagina to a woman and tells a woman what it feels like to be a raped woman? (@ReallySwara I have seen worse. I remember a man on Twitter explaining labour pain to a #woman who is a mother.) #WednesdayWisdom pic.twitter.com/VItcY0K3zq— Anna MM Vetticad (@annavetticad) January 31, 2018
Horrified at @suchitrak slut-shaming award-winning actress @ReallySwara basis her roles. Yes Suchitra, "when arguments fail, attack the person; if female, hint that she's a prostitute" is old misogynist-troll SOP. pic.twitter.com/iqZemconY8— Prasanto K Roy (@prasanto) January 29, 2018
I DON'T agree with @ReallySwara entirety but people opposing her open letter are raising such idiotic, cocksure, entitled points, that I feel like having an opinion in this country is the biggest mistake.— Rajat Tripathi (@RajjoUnchained) January 29, 2018