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The Civil and Uncivil: What the Online Trolling of Swara Bhasker and Tina Dabi Teaches Us

Actress Swara Bhasker and IAS officer Tina Dabi were trolled on social media | Image credit: PTI/PTI

Actress Swara Bhasker and IAS officer Tina Dabi were trolled on social media | Image credit: PTI/PTI

On one hand, actress Swara Bhasker was abused and slut-shamed for an old video of a wardrobe malfunction. On the other, IAS officer Tina Dabi received casteist slurs after being appointed honorary adviser for BRICS.

Rakhi Bose
  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: July 21, 2020, 3:38 PM IST
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Civility is perhaps the least one can expect from civil servants. But in India, sexism seems to trump common sense.

The past two days have been vile for women across professions. On one hand, actress Swara Bhasker was abused and slut-shamed to the world's end for an old and unflattering video of a wardrobe malfunction. On the other, IAS officer Tina Dabi received casteist slurs after being appointed an honorary adviser for BRICS Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) Young Leaders.

Though highly accomplished in their own fields, neither of them are strangers to online abuse and threats on Indian social media. Bhasker has been faced and vociferously fought right-wing trolls on the internet for nearly four years now. Her support for former student leader Kanhaiya Kumar during the Lok Sabha elections 2019 and vocal criticism of fascism and bigotry as well as the government coupled with her no-nonsense attitude toward sexism have made her an easy target for trolls. The fact that she does not shy away from owning her own skin on and off-screen ignites sexist trolls into a frenzy but also provides them with further fuel.

But what about Tina Dabi? The 2015 batch IAS topper did not appear in racy scenes on screen. Neither has she lent her explicit support to a political faction. In fact, Dabi was recently dubbed a "corona warrior" for the "Bhilwada model" of containment which the officer implemented to contain the spread of coronavirus in one of India's first hotspots in Rajasthan's Bhilwara district. Unimpressed right-wing and casteist trolls, however, don't fail to find faults, especially with women.

Dabi's Dalit identity was instantly attributed to her success. Trolls claimed that she was the daughter of IAS officers and thus received an unfair advantage. Others used Dabi's success to besmirch caste-based reservation. The last straw seems to have been her 2016 wedding to IAS officer Athar Aamir-ul Shafi Khan from her batch and second in rank after her. The criticism of her personal decision to marry her long-time beau was such that the Hindu Mahasabha even wrote a letter to Dabi's parents, warning them of love jihad and imploring them to stop the wedding.

What was disturbing about the latest case of trolling was the fact that many who were themselves civil servants indulged in cheap sexism on Twitter.

The first tweet was made by a Twitter user who claims to be a Deputy Commissioner of the Indian Revenue Services. The second was also made a civil servant Sanjay Dixit. The crass language used in both ought to get both of their accounts banned. But expecting Twitter to do the right thing and hold online abusers of women accountable is a ship that sailed long ago.

Incidentally (and unsurprisingly) not many male civil servants have come out in support of their colleague Dabi who has been on the reiving end of inane casteism despite achieving an important accolade.

But in a country where male civil servants are lauded for rampant displays of sexism against an actress while a woman IAS officer is trolled for her choice of husband and her caste, what is a safe space for women? And which of the women are safe?

This is not just a case of online abuse. Last week, a civil court in Araria, Bihar, sentenced a rape survivor to prison for contempt of court. She had allegedly raised her voice while recording her statement in front of the magistrate and demanded that an activist be present with her while she records her statement. Such arbitrary verdicts reek of misogyny and reflect not only the state of gender equality in India but the psyche of lawmakers and those in charge of upholding and implementing them.

Politicians and lawmakers need to start taking matters like "Women's safety" seriously and not just a poll SOPS. But what about the servants of the government that are entrusted with ensuring public safety? Perhaps the civil servants need to remember that civility is part of their job profile which is aimed at serving the public which includes women like Swara Bhasker and Tina Dabi.

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