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OPINION | Women in Bollywood Spoke Up. Now They Are Being Character Assassinated

Jaya Bachchan, Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker and Urmila Matondkar (L-R)

Jaya Bachchan, Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker and Urmila Matondkar (L-R)

It's about time social media platforms decide whose free speech interests they want to safeguard because opinionated women are facing all types of harassments online.

The hashtag “Jaya Bachchan Shameless Lady" trended for two straight days on Twitter in India. Why? Because Bachchan, one of the most celebrated actresses of this country, took it upon herself to slam a series of accusations made against the entertainment industry without any facts behind them, even as the so-called leading men of Bollywood were busy promoting their films and brands on Twitter.

This isn’t the first time that a woman is subjected to crass commentary for speaking up. In fact, the abuse against women, especially from the entertainment industry, on social media has become far too common an experience.

The sheer quantity of attacks and vicious trolling that has been launched against Bachchan and other actresses like Taapsee Pannu, Richa Chadha, Vidya Balan, Swara Bhasker, Deepika Padukone, and Shruti Seth in recent times for saying what they believe in, is a proof why our country likes to celebrate and embrace the mainstream culture of toxic masculinity (also, on the big screen), where women are expected to endure in silence.


Women Who Spoke Their Minds

Without taking names or an attempt to degrade anyone, Jaya Bachchan, on Tuesday criticised those defaming the film industry over the alleged drug nexus in Bollywood. “Just because there are a few people, you cannot tarnish the image of the entire industry," Bachchan said, adding the industry brings international name and fame besides a base for political ambitions.

To put things into perspective, Bachchan simply took a stand for her workplace that gave recognition to her talent and where she contributed 50 years of her life, even as the government told the Lok Sabha that no “actionable inputs" were received on any nexus between people in the film industry and drug traffickers in the backdrop of allegations on the matter following Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. And yet, she was termed “a shameless lady," “traitor," “sh**" and whatnot. However, those who think (you know who you are) that these trolls could tame a fiercely independent woman like Bachchan, are highly mistaken as this was not the first time when she dared to go against the tide. From calling out moral policing on women’s clothes to the underrepresentation of female personnel in paramilitary police forces, Bachchan, a recipient of Best Parliamentarian Award, has been among a very few actor-turned-politicians who has used her platform to address important issues.

Meanwhile, Urmila Matondkar, who has several critically acclaimed performances to her credit, was called “a soft porn star" for backing Jaya Bachchan’s sentiment. The saddest part was that the remark came from Bollywood’s one of the top female actors, who thought it was okay to dismiss a fellow woman colleague’s vast body of work that includes classic films like Rangeela, Satya, Kaun, Ek Hasina Thi, Bhoot and Tehzeeb by branding her as “a soft porn star."

Being a woman who claims to have a heightened sense of awareness about the gendered barriers that women face in society, you (you know WHO) should actively support other women, and not dismiss their hard work, even if they are porn stars. In other words, dismissing women’s opinions because of where they come from and what they do and wear is the greatest disservice to feminism.

Women Who Had Unpopular Opinions

Off late, not a single day has gone by when Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker, Richa Chadha, Renuka Shahane, Zoya Akhtar, and Shruti Seth, among other opinionated female artistes of the film industry, are not subjected to merciless trolling and slut-shaming. Each one of them has been at the receiving end of a volley of hatred ever since they spoke up for Rhea Chakraborty, accused of abetting the suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. They just demanded a fair trial for Rhea where constant judgments would not be passed on her on national television. But there were personal attacks on each one of these women, there were sexually abusive and aggressive language. Then there were comments on their career undermining them as an artiste.

It’s disturbing when you recognise that this abuse is so constant and normalised that you don’t even notice it anymore.

Women Who Refused to Be Labelled

Versatile film star and National Film Award-winner Vidya Balan’s identity was reduced to “a big producer’s wife" after she decided to post “Justice for Rhea," along with the smash patriarchy slogan, on her Instagram profile. Kareena Kapoor Khan was called “a hypocrite" for wanting to smash the patriarchy with her “changed surname" without even realising that it’s a woman’s choice whether or not she wants to add her husband’s last name.

Twinkle Khanna wrote a strong column in support of Rhea, and trolls dubbed her “a trophy wife" and “a flop actress." Likewise, Shibani Dandekar faced trolling when she wrote a lengthy note on Instagram, defending Rhea. Not only was she reduced to just being “Farhan Akhtar’s girlfriend" but was also called “a gold digger." Sonam Kapoor was also subjected to a torrent of crass and sexist trolling for speaking up for Rhea.

Women Who Tried to Make a Difference

Deepika Padukone, who has been vocal about mental health for many years, was targetted and almost harassed online for spreading awareness about depression on social media following Sushant’s death. A quick glance at the comments section of her Instagram posts will show you how much unnecessary filth and hate she received for posting “Repeat after me: Depression is an illness." In a country where there’s already so much social stigma attached to mental illness, these trolls made it worse.

When this trolling phenomenon affects half the country’s most influential women, it’s difficult to classify it as a pet issue. It’s about time these social media platforms decide whose free speech interests they want to safeguard- the harassers, who want to propagate online abuse, bullying, lies, death, and rape threats or the victims, who are silenced and are driven offline.

Moreover, it’s not vocal women like Jaya Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker, Vidya Balan, Sonam Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Richa Chadha, Urmila Matondkar, Shruti Seth, Deepika Padukone, Zoya Akhtar, Konkona Sen, Renuka Shahane, Alankrita Shrivastava, Reema Kagti, Maanvi Gagroo, Atika Chohan and Mini Mathur who should be silenced. It’s the misogynistic and sexist trolls that need to stop silencing women. Period.

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