Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sandra Bland case: Is the US so very different from India?

(Published in Sify.com, on July 27, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/sandra-bland-case-is-the-us-so-very-different-from-india-news-columns-ph1i0eccadhcg.html)

Since the dash cam video of Sandra Bland’s run-in with a policeman in Texas emerged online, it has sparked furious reactions, bemoaning the structures that haunt America – racism, abuse of power, sweeping powers for the security forces, and prejudice.

As the video shows, what began as an altercation over a minor traffic violation escalated into physical abuse, ending with the arrest and eventual custodial death of Bland. The dash cam video has several glitches, and, according to the Bland family’s lawyer, the jailhouse video from the day of her death has time jumps.

It is the first time in a long while that I have heard of a custodial death in America, and it made me think about how similar the story is to those we encounter so often back home, in India.

Racism, abuse of power, and authoritarian overreach are not unique to America, but it shocks the world even more when evidence of these structures surfaces in that country. It is, after all, ironic that ‘Black Lives Matter’ is trending when the most powerful man in America, and, by extension, the most powerful man in the world, is Black. Yet, there have been three distinct cases this summer alone, of people being targeted over their race, and two of these have been by the police – the Texas pool party, the Charleston shooting, and now the death of Sandra Bland.

For every one of these, one can find parallels in India. Every few months, communal riots break out in some part of the country, often aided or exacerbated by political interests. Even on an individual level, a lot of how one is treated depends on how one looks, what one wears, and what labels one carries.

False charges are slapped on suspects, and cases of custodial death don’t make it beyond the inside pages of newspapers. On a slow news day, journalists will seek out the despondent families of such victims, and a story will be made on police atrocities, only to be buried along with the victims.

The TADA, POTA, and AFSPA have given security forces the power to not just pick up anyone on suspicion, but get away with their ‘mistakes’, however grave they are.

You could get arrested over a Facebook post, if you’re not burned to death first.

For every religious nut in America who decries evolution as “lies straight from the pit of hell” or who announces a grand plan for getting rid of gays and lesbians by hustling them into electric-fenced pens and waiting for them to die out – because, clearly, homosexuality is inherited from one’s parents – there is a religious nut in India, who believes that Ravana’s Pushpak Vimaan was the blueprint for the aeroplane.

And, now, India is planning to follow the US template for spying on its citizens. In order to introduce a Bill in Parliament that proposes the creation of a national DNA bank, the Central government told the Supreme Court on Wednesday, July 21, that India’s citizens have no fundamental right to privacy.

For a while now, we have been holding up America as a classic example of a country that has thwarted all attacks on itself by ramping up its security. In the process, we forget how different its geography is from that of most others, and specifically India. It is not surrounded by hostile countries. It does not have many porous borders.

Second, it is being attacked, not by monsters it has created in other parts of the world, but by monsters it has created within itself – racial and religious hatred, gun violence, illusions of entitlement and gaping ignorance.

And, even as we single out gun violence and shake our heads at America, we tend to forget that very similar outbursts of violence are orchestrated back home.

It may not be easy to get hold of guns in India, but it is easy to get hold of mobs. It is easy to set people on fire, to attack them with acid, to chase them down in the streets, to have them locked up, to have them die under mysterious circumstances. It is easy to ban books that allegedly offend a particular community. It is easy to ban art of all kinds. It is easy to accuse activists of corruption and send them to jail.

‘It happens in America’ cannot be justification for this.

If our economic progress and global presence is to be accompanied by the sort of controls America exerts on its citizens, but without the recourse to law and justice it provides, India’s future is a dismal prospect.

The ‘Other’ Film Industry: Tamil Cinema is Rising Like a Phoenix

(Published in The Quint, on July 24, 2015, retrieved from http://www.thequint.com/opinion/2015/07/24/the-other-film-industry-tamil-cinema-is-rising-like-a-phoenix)

Time was when most of India understood Tamil cinema as the domain of dark-skinned, moustached heroes with ridiculous accents. It formed the prototype of the South Indian male.
However, now, it appears Shah Rukh Khan may be the only one who clings to the notion of Tamil cowboy heroes who use nonexistent words such as “rascalla”. But then, his portrayal of a Tamilian could rival that of comedian Mehmood in its outlandishness, so his opinion is best discounted.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Chennai Express)
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Chennai Express)
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Chennai Express)
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Chennai Express)
Bollywood, for some reason, has recently turned to Kollywood for inspiration. For a good while, both Tamil and Hindi cinema relied on the Malayalam film industry when directors needed solid storylines for remakes.
But, over the last few years, some of the biggest hits Bollywood has produced are remakes of Tamil originals. Ghajini broke several box-office records, only to be outdone by Singham, which even spawned a sequel. Thuppakki came to Bollywood as Holiday.

The Sudden Rise of the Tamilian Non-Mainstream

Even as commercial hits in Tamil are being lapped up by the likes of Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar, a new movement seems to have started in Kollywood itself.
Suddenly, low-budget, non-mainstream films with young, often unknown, actors, are being released to both critical acclaim and commercial success.
A scene from the 2014 movie Jigarthanda. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Jigarthanda)
A scene from the 2014 movie Jigarthanda. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Jigarthanda)
Aaranya Kaandam (2010), Jigarthanda (2014), and Kaakka Muttai (2015) have all won National Awards, and subsequently found backing for release in theatres. Aadukalam, the second film of director Vetrimaran, swept the National Awards a few years ago.

Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan: Two Sides of a Successful Story

This is not the first time that there has been a paradigm shift in Tamil cinema. In the Eighties, a young man with the Midas touch managed, for the first time, to combine brilliant story lines with the elements of commercial cinema, turning stars into actors, and appealing simultaneously to the masses and the critics.
Tamil director Mani Ratnam. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Mani Ratnam)
Tamil director Mani Ratnam. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Mani Ratnam)
Mani Ratnam directed films that were not just hits, but enduring pieces of art, often encapsulating the mood of a time, the reality of a place, the inner lives of families. Dubbed Hindi versions were successful, despite the inherent logical fallacies that were introduced by translation – for instance, the poignancy inRoja centres on a girl who is lost and alone in a land whose language she doesn’t know, and on the bonds she forms with the only two people who speak her language.
Tamil actor and director Kamal Haasan. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Kamal Haasan)
Tamil actor and director Kamal Haasan. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Kamal Haasan)
Sadly, Mani Ratnam was the lone spark in an industry that was producing tired films with hackneyed storylines. Kamal Haasan was making interesting films too, films that would one day be appreciated, but which were too far ahead of their time when they released to be successful at the box office.

Riding the Local Trend – Unafraid, Unabashed

The new trend in Tamil cinema, though, does not have to do with one or two men, but a crop of young directors who are willing to take risks with their stories, and producers who are willing to hedge their bets on unproven talent. It also has to do with a seemingly drastic change in the audience’s tastes. Yes, a Rajinikanth or Vijay or Ajith film will do well irrespective, at the box office, just as a Salman Khan film will. But good cinema and commercially successful cinema, and the audience for each, are not mutually exclusive.
Perhaps some of this is due to the increasing local flavour in Tamil films. Several films about violence in interior Tamil Nadu, such as Veyyil (2006),Paruthiveeran (2007), and Subramaniyapuram (2008), have been received well. In fact, they may have set off a trend which takes directors and writers closer to their own roots, looking for stories that are honest to their geography – not unauthorised adaptations of Chinese, Japanese, and Iranian films that the directors have spotted at film festivals.
A scene from the movie Paruthiveeran. (Photo Courtesy: Youtube)
A scene from the movie Paruthiveeran. (Photo Courtesy: Youtube)
Nor formulaic feature films that need to be bolstered by a star.

More Substance than Spectacle – the Dawn of a New Era?

A couple of years later, a comedy, Thamizh Padam (2010) spoofed the mores and clich├ęs of Tamil cinema over the last century, to the delight of audiences and the ire of the industry.
Since then, both directors and producers seem to have got bolder, as have the theatres, offering to the audience films like Jigarthanda and Soodhu Kavvum, which combine noir, action, and comedy.
Perhaps this is the beginning of an era which will see a series of offbeat films, more substance than spectacle.

Child Sexual Abuse awareness: Are the campaigns regulated?

(Published in Sify.com, on July 19, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/child-sexual-abuse-awareness-are-the-campaigns-regulated-news-columns-phtevXbabecbf.html)

Recently, a child sexual abuse awareness advertisement has gone viral. The company which produced it, Purani Dili Talkies, called it a ‘social experiment’. They invited a father and child to their studios, and carried out an ‘experiment’ to see whether a stranger could get the child, a kindergarten student, to take off his clothes. They announced that it had taken the stranger less than five minutes to convince the child to acquiesce.

What parades as an awareness campaign seems, to me at least, to be a callous experiment on an unsuspecting child.

We speak of the innocence of childhood, and how it can be dangerous. However, in proving this point, organisations may, in fact, have endangered and even scarred children.

A couple of years ago, another CSA awareness advertisement, titled ‘Dumb Charades’, became a social media hit. In it, a seemingly loving and involved couple play dumb charades with their child, who reveals through the course of the game that he is being abused by an uncle. Towards the end, he even partially removes his clothes.

Yes, the idea is a good one – it conveys that most abuse is carried out by people who are known to the family, or part of the family; it conveys that children find it difficult to speak about their trauma, because they are not sure that what is happening to them is wrong, and they are not sure that it is not their fault, and they are not sure that they will find a sympathetic audience in their parents.

However, the use of an actual child in such advertisements – and a child whose face is seen, and who becomes recognisable from the campaign – needs to be regulated.

One wonders whether the parents of these child actors, or – in the case of the ‘social experiment’, of the boy who submitted to it – are even aware of the entire script of these ads.

In a country where the laws regarding the use of children in films, advertisement, and other kinds of social media, are loose, at best, one also wonders whether such media do pass through a regulatory body before being unleashed online.

A search for ‘CSA awareness’ or ‘Child Sexual Abuse Awareness’ on YouTube lists several purported ad campaigns, which are almost pornographic.

One shows a girl drawing a picture, as a man slumped on the bed eyes her greedily. A woman, probably her mother, finishes cooking, and leaves home. The man walks up to the child, and starts talking about how beautiful her drawing is, and how beautiful she is. He caresses her in a predatory manner, and eventually carries her up the stairs. The camera stays on them throughout. He is actually touching a child.

Another one has a teenage maid being abused by her employer. He puts his arms around her waist as she is cooking, and then, in pretending to wipe away a stain on her kurta, rubs his hands against her breasts. Later, he sits on the bed, watching porn, while she is cleaning the room. There is a close-up shot of her cleavage. The actor playing the maid does not look like an adult, and seems to be rather embarrassed throughout.

Over the years, several mainstream movies in Tamil and Hindi have featured children in various states of undress.

What resources do these child actors have, for when they grow up and perhaps feel the trauma of having been used in an unsavoury manner, even if it is to convey a purported social message?

Some years ago, the Academy Award-nominated Danish film Jagten by director Thomas Vinterberg, provoked questions about the use of children in films with sensitive subjects. However, Vinterberg seems to have been careful not to expose the child to any speech or scenes that may be unsuitable for her age, and given the strict monitoring of child welfare in all the Scandinavian countries, one is fairly sure it was regulated.

While education about child sexual abuse is crucial, one wonders if there isn’t a way to do it without actually using children.

The Netherlands-based wing of the NGO Terre Des Hommes came up with the concept of creating a computer-generated child figure, whom they named Sweetie, in order to find online predators. In a campaign to stop webcam child sex tourism, the organisation developed a virtual child. Using this nonexistent child as bait, they tracked more than 1000 criminals who have cybersex with children, in less than two months.

Perhaps we should be looking at similar options – animation, or the use of computer graphics, rather than exposing children to the very dangers against which we are trying to send out a message.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gokulraj Murder: Why has the Dravida Movement Ignored Dalits?

Every time a Dalit is killed in Tamil Nadu, the birthplace of the purportedly anti-caste Dravida movement, his words ring true.
It has been over a fortnight since the cause of death of Dalit youth Gokulraj, originally and ridiculously deemed ‘suicide’, was altered to ‘murder’.
Over the last week, at least six people have been arrested, but the prime accused, Yuvaraj, is still absconding.
Gokulraj was allegedly killed because members of the outfit to which Yuvaraj belonged had found him talking to a Caste Hindu girl. The girl later said they were not lovers, and had met to pray at the Ardhanareeswarar Temple in Tiruchengode.

Anti-Dalit Crimes Aren’t Isolated Incidents

The discovery of Gokulraj’s body bears a striking similarity to the manner in which another Dalit youth’s corpse was recovered, two years ago. That young man was Ilavarasan, whose inter-caste marriage to Divya, a woman from the Vanniyar community, had caused caste riots in Dharmapuri district, in the course of which 250 Dalit homes were set on fire.
Picture of OBC leader Yuvaraj. (Photo courtesy: The News Minute)
Picture of OBC leader Yuvaraj. (Photo courtesy: The News Minute)
Both men were found on the railway tracks. Suicide notes were found on both. In Ilavarasan’s case, the Railways stated that no accidents had been reported on trains that had passed through Dharmapuri on July 4, 2013, the date of his death. The cause remains murky.
These two cases of national prominence are, unfortunately, only a small percentage of the atrocities against Dalits in Tamil Nadu. Just in the last two months, a disabled Dalit teenager has committed suicide after being raped, and two Dalit men have been murdered in Tuticorin district.
Suicides of Dalit school students who are bullied by their Caste Hindu counterparts are such commonplace occurrences that they are tucked away in the inside pages of newspapers.
Author Perumal Murugan. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Perumal Murugan)
Author Perumal Murugan. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Perumal Murugan)
Incidentally, the outfit accused of murdering Gokulraj – Dheeran Chinnamalai Peravai – is also reported to be the one which started an agitation against author Perumal Murugan over his book Maathorubagan, based in the region around the same Ardhanareeswarar temple outside which Gokulraj went missing.

Caste Chauvinism a Cover for Vote Bank Politics?

The ongoing oppression of Dalits in a state which prides itself on being progressive is disheartening. It has been nearly a century since the Dravida ‘self-respect’ movement began under the leadership of E V Ramaswamy Naicker.
Ironically, this movement began with an anti-caste agenda, claiming that its aim was to end Brahmin hegemony and ensure equality. Yet, the people of Tamil Nadu wear their caste labels with pride – most political parties in the state have not just a caste-bias, but a caste-basis. Their leaders are caste patrons, and they capitalise on their caste-pride and caste-centric election promises to create vote banks.
The flag of the Tamilnadu Kongu Ilaingar Peravai (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)
The flag of the Tamilnadu Kongu Ilaingar Peravai (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)
Since its inception, the Dravida movement has strayed, using linguistic chauvinism to gradually channel its resources towards caste-based reservation and therefore, vote bank politics. The idea of taking pride in one’s language had segued into the idea of taking pride in one’s roots. These roots are caste-oriented.
The Dravida movement singled out Brahmins as oppressors and promised reparations through reservation. They have only succeeded in replacing the original oppressor with other castes, while the Dalits continue to be subjugated.

Why the Dravida Claim of Caste Equality is an Empty Boast

The alienation of Dalits from this system of reformation is evidenced by the reservation chart. In 1951, the reservation figures were 25% for Backward Classes and 16% for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Now, the total percentage of reserved seats in Tamil Nadu is an unconstitutional 69%, with 50% reserved for various categories of Backward Classes, 18% for Scheduled Castes and 1 % for Scheduled Tribes.
There has been a scramble for demotion among the Caste Hindus, in order to benefit from reservation, but despite fighting for their castes to be shifted from ‘Forward Class’ to ‘Backward’ and ‘Most Backward’, they have retained their ideas of superiority-by-birth.
When the Dalits have been left behind, and are today denied their fundamental rights – to study, to work, to love, to live, to talk – how can the Dravida parties claim to have fostered caste equality? The idea that is central to their original philosophy collapses anew every time a Dalit asserts himself.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

What is dead may never die: Why no one believes Jon Snow is dead-dead

(Published in DailyO, on July 8, retrieved from http://www.dailyo.in/arts/jon-snow-dies-kit-harington-wimbledon-got-season-5-finale-white-walkers-atonement/story/1/4843.html)

Picture Courtesy: DailyO

Kit Harington has done everything in his power to convince us he is not coming back to Game of Thrones next season – he has reiterated the fact in every interview, he has claimed to have signed several movie projects, and, hell, he even cut his hair (how very permanent).

But all it took for the rumour mills to start churning again was a Wimbledon appearance with his mediaeval hairstyle back in place.

Reddit had never really given up on Jon Snow, but some people had disconsolately begun to move on. Some had gone so far as to transfer their affections to another dark-haired, brooding character with an endearing accent – Poldark, whose scything scene has made most people of compatible sexual orientation forgive Aiden Turner for, you know, playing Kili.

Last weekend, Harington parked himself on the Royal Box at the ongoing Wimbledon tournament, and if one could get past the sunglasses and the suit, one would have realised he was in his Lord Commander avatar.

So, maybe he’s been feeling a little out-of-the-limelight, and decided to mess with fans on a slow news day; maybe he wasn’t the best saver, and his most effective austerity measure has been to skimp on haircuts; maybe he’s been typecast, and is playing another character from the Middle Ages in some movie; or, maybe, Game of Thrones is actually allowing us all to be right, for once, and actually bringing him back.

The Old Gods and the New know there are enough good reasons he can’t be gone. Jon Snow has to be alive because:

1)     L + R = J
If you don’t know what this means already, you’re late to the party. You need to go back to Season 1 and listen very, very carefully. Remember that conversation between Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark about Jon’s mother? Remember how Ned bristled when Robert mentioned a “wench” Ned “bedded”? Remember the special love Benjen Stark seems to have for Jon Snow? Remember how Ned Stark promised Jon he would tell him about his mother the next time they met?

So, whatever Harington says about how one doesn’t get all the answers in real life, we know Jon has to find out who his mother was.

Because she could very well be Lyanna Stark.

Lyanna, the cause for Robert’s rebellion and his hatred of the Targaryens; Lyanna, the woman to whom Rhaegar Targaryen gave a bunch of flowers at a joust, riding past his own wife and children. Maybe Jon was born of the ensuing romance between Rhaegar and Lyanna, which culminated in her “abduction”.

So, why would Ned hide that Jon is Lyanna’s son? Because Robert wants to kill all the Targaryens, even Daenerys’ unborn child. You might also want to go back and look at Ned’s face in the episode in which Robert wants Daenerys-and-child murdered. Ned’s response is that he will not be party to the killing of an infant with Targaryen blood. Hmm.

This would make Jon the nephew of the Khaleesi, and he could sit on the iron throne of Westeros, while she and her dragons strut about in Essos.

2)    He can rule because he’s freed from the oath...right?
Well, you’d think he’s free, because you can’t really continue to be a Brother of the Night’s Watch after all your brothers-in-arms ganged up on you and literally stabbed you in the back, right? We know he was already kinda sorta torn when Stannis offered to legitimise his birth, and grant him freedom to avenge his family. Maybe he needed a reality check, so he would abandon the Wall for the throne. And maybe the only thing that will get him away from the Wall is his having to keep up the pretence of his death.

3)    Fire cannot kill a Dragon
So, if Jon is a Targaryen, and the Night’s Watch decides to cremate him so the White Walkers won’t recruit him, there’s a good chance he will do a Daenerys, and re-emerge from the flames, alive and unclothed and seething.  Of course, there’s also a chance he will remain dead but unburned, which would make him a great cadet for the White Walkers.

4)    Speaking of fire...
‘You know nothing, Jon Snow’, trilled the Red Priestess, after he rebuffed her sexual advances. Which made me think, for a moment, that the flame-haired Ygritte was probably a manifestation of Melisandre.

Why did Melisandre ride all the way back to Castle Black instead of going someplace where she wouldn’t have to deal with an awkward conversation about the Joan-of-Arc treatment she gave Princess Shireen?

Well, maybe it was a red herring (no pun intended), or maybe she was willing to brave Ser Davos Seaworth because she’d had one of her visions. The books apparently have a passage about her hearing the whispered name ‘Jon Snow’ through the crackling of fire, “a shadow half-seen behind a fluttering curtain. Now he was a man, now a wolf, now a man again.”

This would tie in nicely with the idea that fire must cast a shadow, and maybe poor Shireen was the human sacrifice that would empower Melisandre to resurrect Jon Snow.

5)    Nothing is on the show for no reason
We’ve seen the resurrection of Ser Beric Dondarrion by another Red Priest, Thoros of Myr. We’ve seen an encounter between the Brotherhood without Banners and Melisandre. She knows, then, that she can carry out the occasional friendly resurrection. And we know she knows. So, why not make Jon Snow her guinea pig? Clearly, she wants something from him, or she wouldn’t have tried to seduce him.

6)    Rewind to the ‘man-wolf-man’ thing
In the books, the last word on the dying Jon Snow’s lips is “Ghost” – his faithful direwolf, who has saved him so often from the jaws of death. There are plenty of hints in the books that Jon might be a warg, and skinchange into the wolf. The name “Ghost” is a rather broad hint too, eh? In the books, Bran has visions of Jon as a wolf; there is also an incident where Jon and Robb play a prank on the younger Starks – Robb lures Sansa, Arya, and Bran into the crypts, while Jon disguises as a ghost, scaring Sansa and annoying Arya.

7)    The original title for the final book was...
...A Time for Wolves, before it became A Dream of Spring. The original title could mean the Starks surge back to power. We can’t be sure how, since Arya’s blind and Sansa’s in the less-than-capable hands of Theon Greyjoy and Robb’s dead and Bran’s busy having visions and that-other-kid-Rickon is MIA. But, let us, for a moment, interpret it literally. Arya’s direwolf Nymeria is alive, right? And so are Ghost and Summer and Shaggydog? So, maybe Jon Snow becomes the one warg to bring them all, and, in the winter, bind them?

8)   Only Jon Snow has killed a wight with a sword
So, only he knows that Valyrian steel can kill the White Walkers, right? It would be something of a shame if everyone had to go south to hunt for dragonglass, when there are about ten good Valyrian steel blades in circulation. If Jon Snow is dead-dead, no one will ever know, unless Sam chances upon a fortuitous line in some book he finds in the Citadel.

9)    Speaking of Sam...
Surely the last meaningful conversation Jon Snow has with his best bud can’t be a Sex and the City style, morning-after dissection? If I remember right, and I usually do, their exchange goes something like:

Jon: They will make you keep off women if you’re a Maester too, you know.
Sam (giggle, sly face): They can try.
Jon (oh-my-god face): Sam...Sam!
Giggles, significant looks exchanged.
Jon: But...how?
Sam: Very, very carefully.

That’s a pretty pathetic collection of last-memorable-words. No, Jon Snow can’t go out like that.

10)                       Kit  Harington’s stalkers won’t keep us in the dark
Yeah, some fangirl spotted Harington-and-girlfriend in a Belfast cafe, and asked to take a picture with them. Harington told her he couldn’t take a picture, since no one was supposed to know he was at the site of shooting forGame of Thrones. She promptly broke the news on Reddit, and posted this photograph as proof.

Maybe he was shooting for the cremation scene, but why would he need to hide it?

And the incident also indicates that maybe, just maybe, he’s not the most discreet actor around. You know, since he trusts a random fan, who has broken in on his date to request a selfie, with privileged information.

So, perhaps Harington himself thinks Jon Snow is dead, because the makers would rather keep him in the dark than risk a Darth-Vader-is-Luke-Skywalker’s-Dad type leak.

We need to reflect on our women-centric abuse

(Published in Sify.com, on July 7, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/we-need-to-reflect-on-our-women-centric-abuse-news-columns-phhkNJiebcfab.html)

Picture Courtesy: Sify.com

Over the last week or so, Twitter has been all about the #SelfieWithDaughter hashtag-related targeting and shaming of actress Shruti Seth and activist Kavita Krishnan.

Of course, the irony of these two women being abused in the crudest, most misogynistic terms by people who were purportedly expressing their support for the selfie-with-daughter movement, and had therefore positioned themselves against female foeticide and infanticide, and were therefore for women’s rights, completely escaped the perpetrators.

However, there is a more insidious issue here, one to which all women who make their opinions heard are exposed. And, to be fair, all men who make their opinions heard are exposed to this too. And that is the culture of women-centric abuse.

When a woman offends the chronic commenters, who tend to also be chronic abusers, she is often told, as Shruti Seth was, that she is a prostitute, and deserves to be raped. In the case of Seth, she was also asked whether she knew who her father was, thereby insinuating that her mother was somehow ‘of bad character’. She was asked whether she had been sexually abused by her father. She says in her open letter that she was asked whether she intended to raise her daughter to be a prostitute.

Kavita Krishnan, while receiving similar abuse, along with death threats and kidnapping threats, was also termed a “bitch”, by none other than actor Alok Nath, who had recently posted a selfie with his own daughter and yet felt no qualms about using the word.

One can’t help but notice the frequency with which degrading terms such as “bitch” and “whore” are used against women who are simply stating an opinion.

When a man offends the chronic commenters-and-abusers, he is usually on the receiving end of women-centric abuse too, except they are targeted against his mother, sisters, wife, and daughters. He is accused of incest with them, and told that it would serve him right if they were raped.

As far as corrective action by the social networking sites is concerned, there is simply no point in trying. Neither Facebook nor Twitter will bother responding to a complaint for weeks after it is submitted, and it appears that – with the exception of photographs of female body parts – they tend to give people a lot of leeway on what qualifies as a violation of their “community standards”.

I know for a fact that Facebook does not ban pages which write abusive posts against women. I had reported an incident where a page called ‘Only For Guys’ had posted a photograph of me with ‘Bitch’ scrawled across it – apparently, I had offended them by writing about how women have a right not to be raped. Facebook sent me an email saying I ought to have reported only the photograph, and not the Page, and while they were willing to remove the photograph – which not only violated my copyright, but also termed me a ‘bitch’ – they would not remove the page, as it did not violate their “community standards”.

Twitter tends to reply that they “did not find the content objectionable”.

One recourse that is available to women is to go to the Cyber Crime Cell of the police, and file a complaint. Playback singer Chinmayi Sripada did register a case with the police in 2012 over continued harassment on Twitter, and arrests were made following investigation.

But the relative anonymity of the internet and the safety net provided by social networks with lax rules on abuse has led to an extremely disturbing trend – people who cannot think of arguments to challenge or disprove the views of columnists and Twitter personalities choose to hurl abuse at them instead, and mostly get away with it.

Whether the management of these social networks cares or not, there is an urgent need to reflect on the way we use language, and the sort of words we choose to demean women, specifically.

It is not merely a question of policing words by the website, because this can be done fairly easily. And people will find a way around it fairly easily – for instance, by using symbols to arrive at a visual approximation of the word.

It is a question of altering the way in which people think, and that is a lot more challenging.

People are not unaware of the connotations of words that are used to deliberately degrade women. But they perhaps don’t realise that it is their attitude that is fostering various kinds of sexual crimes against women. They themselves are committing sexual crimes against women, verbally if not physically.

There is very little point discussing the importance of the girl child, or planning awareness programmes in the rural reaches of India, when educated people, with access to the internet, feel impelled to address women by such terms as “bitch” and “slut”.
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