by Shruti Seth
A little note to India,
I write this to an entire nation because no one individual can be held responsible for bringing about change in the mindset of a billion odd people. Change can only happen if there is awareness at an individual level.
On the morning of June 28, I made the grave mistake of expressing my views on an initiative called #SelfieWithDaughter which had been blessed by our PM. Most people found it to be a sweet gesture and a means to create awareness about female infanticide. I, sadly, didn’t find the idea very palatable. Keep in mind that I have an 11-month daughter of my own. But I expect more from the man who’s supposed to usher in a new era of change, not just tenuous surface-level initiatives.
I then made a graver mistake of posting this opinion on Twitter. So not only did I dare to think, I also dared to place my thoughts in the public domain.
And then, at the risk of sounding overly-Shakespearean, the floodgates of hell opened. I was subjected to a tsunami of hate tweets. 48 hours of non stop trolling. The tweets were targeted at me, my family, my ‘Muslim’ husband, my eleven-month-old daughter and, of course, my non-existent, dwindling, no-good career as an actor.
I had made an unsavoury comment about our Prime Minister by calling him – *gasp* – #SelfieObsessed and asking him to choose reform over gimmickry. Was I wrong? Was I too harsh? Apparently, for those who support him and the ruling government, unquestioningly so. I, as a member of the tax-paying electorate of India, did not have the right to comment on his policy. I had dared to challenge his authority. I had abused the highest office of the country (which is the President, by the way).
And so I deserved to be punished. And punished In a manner commensurate with the vitriol that the anonymity & access of Twitter so easily provide.
Men and women alike said the most vile things about me, stripping me of all my dignity as someone’s daughter, wife and mother and most importantly a woman. Men who were busy hash-tagging their selfies with their daughters one minute called me slanderous names the next. Asked me if I knew who my real father was. Questioned if I had been sexually abused as a child and hence was opposed to the idea of a selfie with my father. And these are the relatively polite ones. Well done, gentlemen. Your daughters must be so proud.
Women, who are meant to empower each other, asked me if I was a prostitute and if I was planning on doing the same with my daughter. Whether I was trying to gain some fame and resurrect my failed career by using the prime minister’s name. I shudder to think of the deep respect your sons will have for the opposite sex.
So here’s the thing. What is the point of taking selfies with your girls when you’re also responsible for creating the most toxic environment for them to grow up in? How will taking a photograph nullify the misogyny and patriarchy that is so deeply entrenched in our society? Why bother to increase the number of girls being born when you choose to treat them with such indignity and disrespect?
All those who trolled me incessantly for forty eight hours, did you for once stop and think that I, too, am someone’s daughter? Did you ever ask yourselves how you’d feel if it were your daughter at the receiving end of all that hate? I’m guessing the answer is a big, resounding “No”. Because, you know, you were too busy pouting for the camera and getting ‘likes’ and ‘RT’s to your #SelfieWithDaughter. As for our esteemed PM, I have this to say to him:
If you truly wish to empower women, I urge you to condemn this kind of hatred being spread in your name.
Regretfully, I deleted my initial tweet because of the backlash. But I stand by what I said and I’ll reiterate it here: “Selfies don’t bring about change, reform does. So please try and be bigger than a photograph. Come on!”
And as for my initial reservation about the initiative being nothing more than eyewash, I am deeply saddened to see that, in the end, I was proved right.
(The article first appeared here.)