Several crimes against women have been reported in Kerala in recent times, many of them leading to widespread outrage from the public. However, there continues to exist a counter-narrative that not only takes a lenient angle towards the accused but even justifies the crime, particularly on YouTube channels. In June, when 22-year-old Vismaya, a student of Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine, died following domestic violence and dowry harassment, a family vlog named Uppum Mulakum Lite took the stance that 'women should be taught to do housework properly before they're married off', laying the blame on Vismaya and her family.
The family has four children, of which three are girls. When several conversations around marriage and domestic violence were happening in the state, the family chose to put out a video stating that their 19-year-old daughter, who had just completed her class 12, would be married soon. The father announced that they'd been waiting for her to reach the minimum legal age to get her married. The channel, which has 91.4k subscribers, has also aired several episodes on how a girl should be trained to behave in her in-laws' house after marriage. And this, they chose to do by showcasing the 'lifestyle changes' they'd imposed on their daughter who was getting married.
"Women shouldn't be allowed to stay (single) for long. We will make Ponnu (the 19-year-old) into a Janu (Janu is a common name used in Malayalam movies for characters who are domestic workers). Because after marriage, nobody should say that her mother did not teach her all this (housework)," the mother says proudly in the video announcing her daughter's marriage. The mother herself was married at the age of 15. "From now on, Ponnu will be doing all the housework. Ponnu has changed a lot after her engagement. She wakes up early and starts work in the kitchen," both parents say.
They also warn their 16-year-old daughter that she will also be married off in three years. Following a lot of criticism, the 19-year-old and the family claimed that it was the former's choice not to study further and to get married instead. Though they are well within their rights to do so, the misogynistic, patriarchal language and insinuations made in their videos (which each have over a lakh views) are nothing short of victim blaming.
Gayathri Babu, a popular YouTuber who takes on misogyny and other sociopolitical issues in her channel Get Roast with Gaya3, says, "They don't realise how much toxicity they spread through these videos which have lakhs of views."
Speaking to TNM, Gayathri points out that many of these videos are made just to get views, without caring about the consequences.
"They select topics and thumbnails with the clear intention of getting views. The recent Behindwoods interview with former thief Maniyanpilla is one such example," Gayathri says.
The video has Maniyanpilla talking about his days as a thief. As part of the conversation, he reveals that he had once raped a woman at knife point when he broke into her home. Far from being horrified, the interviewer romanticises the encounter and even asks if Maniyanpilla tried to 'meet' the woman after that. The thumbnail and title for the video were also about the rape, passing it off as an 'erotic' encounter. It was changed only after several viewers objected.
"There are also those who think they're helping people with their regressive opinions and misinformation. They pass it on, thinking they're doing something good. But it only strengthens misogynistic and patriarchal ideas. Then there are those who are worried that such ideas may be extinguished entirely, so they do all that they can to sustain regressive values. They are against feminism, LGBTQIA rights and equality," she adds.
Although several stalking crimes have been reported in the state, with many young women being stabbed to death or set on fire for saying no to a man or ending a relationship, such incidents are glorified as 'love'. Ashkar techy, a channel with 1.07 million subscribers, had quite a few videos on 'theppu' (a problematic word that implies that someone walked out of a relationship because they were done using the other person) before some were taken down due to criticism from viewers.
In the last four years, at least 12 women have been killed by stalkers in the state, but such crimes continue to be reported as 'jilted lover' narratives, laying the blame on the women. In one of Ashkar's videos, he talks about a girl who promised to marry him and later broke up with him. His words are full of anger and he claims that she 'cheated' him by deciding to walk away. He also speaks about how he took 'revenge' against her.
"After a few months I will buy a dog or cat, I will name them after her. Only then people will know her name," the vlogger says in his video.
Though Ashkar may not be advocating violence or murder, such sentiments about women being 'cheats' are already popular and provide justification for men who refuse to understand consent.
Criticising Ashkar, Jaiby Joseph, a popular YouTuber, says, "This is also stalking, when his followers celebrate such kind of videos, they never think about the problem it causes to the girl. If she was a victim of forced marriage, then this video is another torture for her on top of it."
Earlier in July, the BBC had reported that Ashkar was allegedly part of a propaganda by a mysterious marketing agency to spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. The report said that Ashkar had posted a video against vaccination as part of the campaign by a marketing agency called Fazze, and later removed it when he was exposed. Such instances show how influential these YouTubers and vloggers are, and how easily they spread problematic and toxic content.
Needless to say, women are expected to shoulder the blame even when it is the man who errs in a relationship. YouTube channel Mindwaves Unni produces videos with titles like 'How to make your husband addicted to you', 'How to attract your husband physically', 'Men want these things from ladies but never ask for them', 'How to serve men' and so on.
"In the initial years of life, you will take care of yourself. Later, you don't take care of your beauty and the shape of your body. Don't neglect yourself, only then your husband will love you. When you and your husband realise that your beauty is gone, he will go in search of other relationships. If you don't preserve your beauty, he will go in search of people to whom he gets attracted," Unni says, as advice to 'desperate wives'.
In another video, he explains how a wife should behave with her husband after he has an extramarital affair. "When the husband returns, the wife should recreate the romantic life they had during their honeymoon...Don't talk about previous issues. He may get tired and go with someone else," he says.
Many of these channels also routinely indulge in moral policing, dictating how women should dress and shaming them when they don't toe the line. Mubis Paradise channel has videos with titles like 'Ee Ammacheede videos aarum kaanaruthu' (meaning, nobody should watch this old woman's videos). The content is abusive, with the anchor passing offensive comments on women who wear short dresses or bikinis. "What is this ammachi's problem? As she grows older, the length of her dress becomes shorter. Why can't she maintain some discipline as she gets older? YouTube has turned into a porn site. These women wear clothes just for namesake. YouTube should ban them. I am scared of what will happen if my son sees this on YouTube," she rants.
While it's necessary to call out the toxic content of such videos, particularly when they justify crimes and add to the social conditioning that leads to such crime, Gayathri points out that viewers too need to change. "The fuel for such problematic content is the audience. All these videos get lakhs of views, so the change should be from both sides," she says.