Shefali Vaidya has faced harassment for daring to go against the ‘liberal’ consensus in India. Here she writes on why instead of taking it lying down, she chose to speak up.
‘If you like Modi so much, why don’t you go, sleep with Modi’? The first time someone asked me this question was in 2013 when I had just started writing on Facebook about my political beliefs. I was engaged in a fierce debate about Narendra Modi with a few people when this question landed in my comment box.
Thirteen words that changed my world view forever!
I was shocked not so much by the viciousness and venom of the question, but by the identity of the person who asked it. He was a mild-looking 65-year-old man with a flowing white beard. Almost Tagore-like in his looks, he was a self-professed Marxist who claimed to publish a dubious rag called ‘Civil Society’! Apparently, his idea of civil society allowed him to throw sexual slurs at a woman he did not even know personally.
It was my first brush with the intolerance of the ‘liberals’! Since then, I have been abused, threatened and ridiculed by people who call themselves ‘liberals’ thousands of times. There are parody pages dedicated to me. Fake profiles are created in my name, and my photographs are morphed and circulated as Facebook and Twitter memes.
All in the name of liberalism, feminism and freedom of expression.
Once I had written about the ‘feminist’ ploy of generalisation, of demonising all Indian men each time there is an incident of crime against women in India. I was told by someone who called herself a ‘feminist’ to ‘go back into the kitchen and stay there’. “Women like you don’t deserve the right to speak”, she announced rather grandly. This was not the first time I had faced ridicule from self-professed feminists. A supposedly liberal writer had once condescendingly called me a ‘mediocre housewife turned columnist’ when he couldn’t argue cogently about something that I had written.
Apparently, irony as a concept is unfamiliar to some Facebook feminists!
I refuse to label myself as a ‘feminist,’ only because, at least in India these days, the term is being thrown about very casually. It has come to mean a rabid, blinding hatred of men. But that does not mean I condone gender discrimination.
I am appalled when I see rape threats and sexual slurs being bandied about by some people to silence the voice of women, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they choose to be on. As a woman who has been viciously attacked both in virtual as well as real life for daring to speak up, I can never be on the side of sexism and gender discrimination.
As a child raised by a freedom-fighter and a strong mother, I was always encouraged to speak up, to voice my opinions, to say what I think is right, rather than parrot a narrative that is 'au courant'. I grew up with a deep love for India ingrained in me. I had heard many stories about that tumultuous decade in my father’s life when he was an armed revolutionary fighting for Goa’s freedom from the Portuguese.
At 21, my father was declared the ‘Most Wanted Rebel’ by the Portuguese regime for daring to lead a successful raid on a Portuguese armoury. I had seen the scars on my grand-uncle’s back, mementoes of the time when he was arrested, beaten and tortured by the Portuguese police because they wanted him to reveal information about my father. I had heard first hand, stories about how my father and his colleagues were chased for over eight hours by a Portuguese armoured van mounted with an automatic gun and how they walked 30 km on foot on an empty stomach through the night in a daring escape.
I inherited my love for India and my respect for the armed forces from my father. It was only when I joined the mass communication department of Pune University, to pursue my master's degree, that I realised that ‘patriotism’ was a bad word in the ‘liberal’ dictionary. Whenever I spoke in class about India and nationalism, there were voices dismissing it as rubbish sentimentalism.
Humanities students were not supposed to be such ‘bigoted chest-thumping rabid hyper-nationalists’, they said. When we were shown Anand Patwardhan’s movie Ram ke Naam in class, we were supposed to display the requisite feelings of revulsion and horror at the conduct of ‘Hindu nationalists’. When some of us felt that the movie was a poorly researched, very biased, one-sided narrative, we were not allowed to voice that thought.
In the brave new world of journalism, patriotism was passé!
After graduating from the University, I started my career in entertainment television, moved on to editing websites, writing freelance for newspapers on varied subjects like culture, travel, education and leisure. I steered clear of politics, for what I saw, sickened me. The convenient one-sided narrative that was being peddled by mainstream media as the only ‘truth’ led me to question the credibility of mainstream media.
And then, something wonderful happened. The remarkable phenomenon called 'social media'. For the first time, people like me had found a medium to voice our opinions, without any filters, censorship or editorial interference. The average Indian citizen was no longer a passive consumer of news as defined by mainstream media, but she could be an active contributor.
I started writing political blogs from my Facebook page. The first post that went viral was written in January 2013, when Rahul Gandhi was elevated to the vice president of the Congress party. Suddenly, my opinion had gone mainstream without needing the crutches of conventional media, and there were a lot of people out there who agreed with my point of view.
Since then, it has been quite a journey. It has been incredibly rewarding to have complete strangers reach out to tell me that they too are sick of mainstream media demonising the concepts of nationalism, patriotism and love for India. I have had readers approach me in places as far flung as Darjeeling, Sikkim, Kinnaur or Kanchi to tell me that I am voicing their opinion. Luckily, I have an extremely supportive husband and extended family that has helped me remain strong in the face of abuse and personal threats.
I think it was Martin Luther King Jr. who had said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’.
I am glad I chose to live!