Miriam Chandy Menacherry
When I see you in the picture with the placard, I see a reflection of myself 20 years younger. Straight hair that refuses to be tied back, the defiant lips and the glowering eyes. The fire in your soul barely contained in your frail frame.
You lost your father at age 2 and I lost mine at age 32, and yet as a grown woman I feel more vulnerable knowing he is no more. My father was a businessman. He encouraged me to question and debate, and we often argued taking completely opposing sides. One could say he was right-of-centre and I was leaning left. We rarely agreed, but I learnt many things during the course of our debates.
Most of all, I learnt that my father, who was a well-qualified gentleman who had studied in IIT and IIM, could listen and engage with a young woman and respect her viewpoint even if it was completely different from his own. This is a quality I realized is a rarity in our society. When I became a journalist, I realized that this had nothing to do with my gender. My father, with a twinkle in his eye, accepted that even if most journalists tend to lean to the left, they represent the viewpoints of rural India, the marginalized and the tribals, who the right wing including industrialists like him tended to forget. Democracy could only be representative if it constantly negotiated the middle-ground between the Left and the Right. This was a moment of truth for me.
Gurmehar Kaur, you said, “I am a student of Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone, every student of India is with me”.
I believe Gurmehar you stood amidst the crossfire of two differing ideologies. We each have our political leanings but the stand you took was an apolitical one, supported by the law of the land, against intimidation and violence. Expressing this is a right guaranteed under the Indian constitution. Yet, there were conspiracy theories floated to discredit what you stood for and to project you as a political prop. Dredging out a one-year-old video of yours to prove a point is a travesty of logic. You presented an extremely personal anecdote to make a statement against war and one quote was used out of context. It reveals a lot about the way people consume news and engage in partial debates with no space for nuance or sensitivity. It also reveals that politics has become so polarized that the middle ground is fast turning into quicksand.
It saddens me to see you retreat from Delhi to Jalandhar to recover. But recover you must, because India needs expressive young women who challenge entrenched systems of patriarchy.
This International Women’s Day, I have a few questions to all your detractors
To ABVP: There is a trail of violence that has been unleashed on campuses turning them into warzones. Matters that need to be debated as students are ending in skirmishes. Peaceful protests have been the Gandhian way to express dissent. It is ironical that ABVP, which is the student wing of the RSS that abhorred Gandhi and wanted to broker peace with the British, is now assuming the authority to brand people anti-national.
To the cricketer: How does it feel to force a 20-year-old student to retire hurt? Well, you played your part as the opening batsmen who sets the tone for the batting order of bullying? Do you take responsibility for the tweet that unleashed all the trolling that Gurmehar faced, including the rape threats? A responsible player knows the difference between a public stance and locker room jeering.
Geeta Phogat, you said, “If you speak against nation, people will obviously not like it. Irrespective of gender the person won’t be spared”.
To the women wrestlers who threw a punch at Gurmehar. Dangal made box office history because it resonated with your own true life story of sisters overcoming the odds in a man’s world in a sport like wrestling. The role your father played to rewrite societal rules and attitude was the central plot. You should appreciate what it takes for a young woman who lost her father at a young age to come out of her shell and take a strong stand. Yet you decided to play opponent.
Randheep Hooda called Gurmehar a “Political pawn”. To the actors, both junior and senior, you make millions out of portraying `sensitive’ roles on celluloid. How then in reality do you trivialise trolling, which in this case is a euphemism for verbal abuse, threats of violence and rape?
The political motivations of Gurmehar were questioned, yet it would seem that the motivation of an actor whose mother is a BJP politician in Haryana is far more obvious.
Amitabh Bachchan said, “If you are on social media be ready for trolls.”
The senior actor’s credentials are sterling. He carried awards for gender empowering films and is the voice of the `Beti Bachao beti padao campaign’ and yet when an intelligent, educated girl makes a statement against violence he says that she should also be willing to face verbal violence if she is on social media?
To the Ministers who resorted to name calling and branding a girl `a polluted mind’ without the courtesy of even watching the video in question, I would like to remind you Sirji, it is your public duty to ensure the safety and protection of every girl in our country. Instead you joined ranks with the bullies against a girl who is now in hiding for fear of being bodily harmed whilst you continue to be in the public spotlight.
Gurmehar, you are one amongst a long line of women who have been trolled and discredited in recent times. Swati Chaturvedi has exposed in her investigative book `I am a Troll’ the institutionalized system of bullying on social media by mercenaries hired by the political party in power. This is a digital army that attacks anyone with an opposite political narrative mercilessly.
As Swati Chaturvedi asks, “Why does Narendra Modi follow trolls on twitter?” Take heart from another journalist Neha Dixit who recently won the Chameli Devi Award for her investigative piece #BetiUtao based on investigations of how the Sangh Parivar flouted every national and international rule in trafficking 31 tribal girls. In her acknowledgement speech Dixit shared how she had been mercilessly trolled and legally harassed for exposing the story.
Gurmehar, I wrote this piece not as a journalist but because your profile for peace story strikes a chord with me, because of the haunting visual piece you made about your father. Far from manipulative, it was heart wrenching. It must weigh upon our collective conscience that we returned to you a mangled memory. Unfortunately, we are quickly turning into a society at war with the idea of peace.
The middle ground must be reclaimed and an army of women of warriors are discovering they can win this fight, once they have survived the attacks.
(Miriam Chandy Menacherry is a former journalist and award winning independent filmmaker. She is currently curating a Women’s film festival in Mumbai to present the narratives of women filmmakers in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.)