Why Modi has failed Indian women by remaining silent on vicious, sexist trolling of Sushma Swaraj
New Delhi, July 3: By now it is pretty clear when Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks. Either it has to be an election rally, his monthly radio broadcast, Mann ki Baat, government functions and regular foreign tours, where PM Modi magnificently displays his "great" oratory skills, or it has to be a "good news". Otherwise, he goes into "maun (silent) mode" like his predecessor Manmohan Singh.
In a country where rape, mob lynching, economic slowdown, farmer suicide, joblessness and hike in fuel prices (to name a few problems) dominate the public discourse, thus the chance of hearing from the PM (who has proved himself to be choosy when it comes to speaking and otherwise also) is also few and far between.
In such a scenario, the distressed voters looking for some reassurance in a gloomy atmosphere are left high and dry. Modi's repeated failure to show solidarity with the nation reached a tipping point recently when one of his senior-most cabinet colleagues and one of the country's most powerful and well-respected women, Sushma Swaraj, was subjected to violent and sexist attack on social media.
Swaraj became the target of trolls, most of whom have established their fame in the virtual world because of their unquestionable, unflinching support for the BJP, after she came out in support of a Muslim-Hindu couple from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
The couple was allegedly denied passport and humiliated by an official because of their different religions. The officer at the centre of the controversy, Vikas Mishra, was also transferred at the behest of the external affairs ministry for his alleged unacceptable and biased attitude towards the couple.
This is not the first time that the 66-year-old senior BJP leader, who has established herself as one of the few reliable ministers in the Modi government, has been mistreated online.
Earlier, when the Union minister had issued medical visas for Pakistani patients for their treatment at Indian hospitals, her humanitarian gestures were called as "soft approach" towards the people of the "enemy nation".
This time, however, Swaraj had clearly broken all the established and infamous but unwritten rules of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), right-wing groups and their supporters by siding with a Muslim-Hindu couple (it's a clear case of love jihad for the right-wing groups) and punishing an upper caste Hindu male official (the core vote bank of the BJP).
Thus Swaraj came under fire from her own party's supporters. The BJP backers spewed venom against the minister putting all women across the country to shame. The trolls asked her husband and Supreme Court advocate Swaraj Kaushal to "beat her up" for "Muslim appeasement".
Some online critics (including women) of the Union minister wanted her to be assassinated as she "spoke" the language of Muslims (the enemies of Hindus according to the haters) because she is surviving with the help of an "Islamic kidney" (referring to the kidney transplant surgery she underwent in December 2016).
After she came back from her recent official tour to several European countries, Swaraj decided to "like" the loathing against her on Twitter.
I was out of India from 17th to 23rd June 2018. I do not know what happened in my absence. However, I am honoured with some tweets. I am sharing them with you. So I have liked them.— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) June 24, 2018
In spite of her civilised way of handling her haters, the hostility against Swaraj continued. Swaraj's shocked husband re-tweeted the message posted by one Mukesh Gupta (@MG_IITDelhi) which asked him to beat his wife "when she comes home" and "teach her not to do Muslim appeasement" as "Muslims never vote for the BJP".
Among all the hateful messages against the Union minister, the above mentioned one stands out because of its violent and patriarchal nature. The tweets against Swaraj generated shock, anger and anguish among all right-thinking people in the country.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti was "horrified" by the "vicious trolling" and asked, "If our own Minister of External Affairs is not spared, what hope is there for any other woman?"
Horrified by the vicious trolling @SushmaSwaraj ji has been subjected to . Absolutely outrageous! If our own Minister of External Affairs is not spared, what hope is there for any other woman?— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) July 1, 2018
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee "strongly condemned" the language used by the trolls against Swaraj and said people should never indulge in any form of verbal abuse.
Strongly condemn the language used on the social media against @sushmaswaraj Ji . She is a senior politician. We must respect each other and must never indulge in any form of verbal abuse— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) July 2, 2018
While wishing the Swaraj family "best" in times of trolling, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal tweeted to express his sadness as "politics has become so dirty" in the country.
Sir, pl don’t explain to these people. Everyone knows who is controlling them and from where it is coming. Its politics. But sad part is that politics has become sooooo dirty.— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) July 1, 2018
Our best wishes to ur family https://t.co/qmOZx587VY
Several Congress leaders too have come out in Swaraj's defence, but the BJP like Modi remained silent and cold to the whole controversy.
Except for Union home minister Rajnath Singh, who condemned the shameful attack against his female colleague after being nudged by reporters in the national capital on Monday, the ruling BJP is yet to issue a statement to denounce the public abuse of the Union external affairs minister on social media.
Singh told reporters, "Jo ho raha hai woh galat hai (whatever is happening is wrong)."
Rajnath Singh terms trolling of Sushma swaraj as wrong. Hear him speak. pic.twitter.com/UYP7bCYSrN— kamaljit sandhu (@kamaljitsandhu) July 2, 2018
The mild, one-liner by Singh on the whole incident, which has shocked the whole nation, especially women, as Swaraj represents the elite and powerful strata of society, is like a friendly pat on the back of trolls who only understand the language of violence and abuse.
Even on an individual capacity, none of the top BJP women leaders--Union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Union textile minister Smriti Irani and Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan--have expressed solidarity with Swaraj, who like a lone ninja warrior demolished the sustained, systematic and widespread attack against her, one tweet at a time.
Now, as Swaraj has been "thoughtfully" abandoned by the BJP leadership to avoid upsetting the bhakts (as the attack against the Union minister was carried out by the supporters and core vote bank of the saffron party), Modi's silence is speaking louder than words.
Strangely a poll conducted by Swaraj on Twitter showed that out of 124,305 lakhs voters, at least 43 per cent supports her trolling. This shows where Mahatma Gandhi's country of love, peace and co-existence is heading towards.
Friends : I have liked some tweets. This is happening for the last few days. Do you approve of such tweets ? Please RT— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) June 30, 2018
After blissfully ignoring the plight of thousands of women netizens who are openly threatened of rape, abuse and violence on a daily basis, the BJP maintained a similar stand of "maun vrat" (vow of silence) when one of its top women politicians was targeted by trolls.
The episode involving Swaraj and the BJP's unspoken support to abusers will have a cascading effect, further encouraging the goons of social media to target women (mostly commoners) without any fear.
The online world is just a reflection of our real world, which is far more frightening, violent and dark for women.
PM Modi's big slogan--Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the Girl Child, Teach the Girl Child)--is just one more peppy one-liner of the BJP sarkar (government) and stands in total contrast with the saffron party's policies when it comes to saving women from daily rape, abuse and violence.
On Monday, Swaraj tweeted to say that "in a democracy difference of opinion is but natural. Pls do criticise but not in foul language. Criticism in decent language is always more effective".
Unfortunately, the whole atmosphere in the country has become so "foul" that more and more women are finding themselves coming under attack. Alas, there is no help for women from anyone!