As India celebrates the 75th year of its independence, we must pay heed to the fact that there are women still fighting for freedom and justice. The women, in the country, are not just fighting a battle with themselves but also with the societal norms which have created certain standards of normalcy. With the growth of social media, things have become harder. Under the banner of free speech and expression, women of the country are being vilified for something as little as expressing themselves. Paying attention to certain indicators that define women, such as economic and political empowerment, justice, safety and dignity, India has made a leap forward from where it began in 1947. However, the question here is if this is enough. Be it education, gender equality or women empowerment, in the last 75 years of Indian history, we have seen a degree of social progress across these issues but even after this massive leap, there are women who feel threatened, on a regular basis, for letting themselves out.
Take the example of a recent incident in Kolkata, where a professor of English at St Xavier’s University was forced to quit her position over Instagram photos. She alleged that the university charged her with posting “objectionable” and “inappropriate” photos of herself on Instagram, as per a Livewire report. The university further said that her photos had “besmirched” the reputation of the institute. Not just this but the professor alleged that the process by which she was forced to quit the institute amounts to sexual harassment and deliberate character assassination. She said that a piece of paper with thumbnails of her photos wearing a swimsuit was passed around among participants during a meeting with the V-C (and six others).
The woman had to go through all of this because she uploaded pictures, wearing a bikini, on her private Instagram handle. However, these pictures were accessed by an 18-year-old student without consent. A parent later filed a complaint, troubled over the prospect of his son seeing his professor “in scanty clothes exhibiting her body.”
The culture of shaming and misogyny within the education space is what comes as a shock. Not just this, but this incident highlights everything that is wrong with Indian parenting. It is very rare that Indian parents teach their sons the lessons of accountability. The entire ruckus was created because the father of an adult, college-going student felt like his child was being spoiled by the professor.
This does not stop here. Female actors have had to bear the burden of the system too. Recently, actress Sushmita Sen was brutally trolled after she opened up about her relationship. The actress was deemed as a ‘gold-digger’ and much more. All her achievements seemed to be forgotten since she announced her relationship with Lalit Modi – a 58-year-old businessman and founder of the Indian Premier League (IPL). The announcement opened the floodgates to crass and misogynistic jokes.
Just for clarity. Not married – just dating each other. That too it will happen one day. 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/Rx6ze6lrhE
— Lalit Kumar Modi (@LalitKModi) July 14, 2022
The trolls highlighted their age gap, criticised Mr Modi for his appearance. However, the actress had to go through much worse as she received the nastiest of the comments.
Her critics included Bangladeshi author-activist Taslima Nasrin, who wondered why she was now spending time with “a very unattractive person” – “because the man is very rich? So was she sold to money?”
Many came in support of the actress but the trolls seemed unstoppable.
Same was the case when recently Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt was trolled for her film ‘Darlings’ even before it was released. Netizens started ‘boycotting’ the actress for ‘promoting’ domestic violence against men in the film. The online outrage came in wake of some scenes in the film where Bhatt’s character was seen torturing her on-screen husband Vijay Varma. She was even compared with Hollywood actress Amber Heard. One Twitter user mentioned how Patriarchy is coming back like a “cancer and metastasizing in court judgements.” The person wrote “Meanwhile Alia Bhatt produces and acts in #Darlings endorsing Assault on Domestic Violence on Husbands while the nation stays mum. This whole Victimhood is a charade.”
— iAtulp (@IM_atulp) August 3, 2022
Alia Bhatt not only acted in #Darlings, she produced it.
— Priya Sharma (@PriyaScifi) August 2, 2022
However, when the movie was released, it turned out to be completely opposite of what people on social media had assumed. It is not about the assumptions, but about the brutality that people resort to in trolling women. There is no mercy which is shown.
To become a better nation, especially for women, the society needs to confront these challenges and focus towards the greater emancipation of women in India. Although there is no shortcut to embrace equality and gender justice, there is no alternative either. Seventy five years of Independence and women still cannot choose what to put up on social media or who to be in a relationship with — the fight of freedom and equality continues even after all these years of being free.