27-year-old Jamia Milia Islamia student and journalist Safoora Zargar has been in Tihar Jail for over three weeks. Accused under UAPA for allegedly inciting anti-CAA protests and communal violence at Jaffrabad in North-east Delhi, Zargar was arrested on 10th April when she was in the first trimester of her pregnancy. While the judgement on her alleged involvement in the anti-CAA protests is still under scrutiny, Zargar has already been scandalized by online harassment on the basis of rumours. She is being targeted and trolled on the basis of her pregnancy and marital status. Many regressive, sexist and sexually offensive trolls have been on round on social media that have questioned Zargar’s dignity and vilified her pregnancy. Some trolls claimed that Zargar has been using pregnancy as a ploy to escape the legal actions. While others demanded to know about her marital status to prove that her pregnancy isn’t illegitimate. In response to the harassment, many people and student activists have come forward to support Zargar. Aishe Ghosh, the President of JNU Student Union, called for an online protest against the slandering of Zargar.
SheThePeople reached out to Aishe for a conversation. Here are excerpts from that:
What’s your view on Safoora Zargar’s online harassment?
The online sexual harassment that Safoora is continuously facing is disturbing not only for activists but for women generally who have an opinion and speak or write about it on social media. We have seen in recent past how the right-wing trolls and people associated with ruling parties have been continuously maligning and demonizing women with false information and accusations. It is difficult for just one woman to fight against such a systemic structure of trolls. Is Safoora married or not, where she studies, why she studies are her personal matter and have nothing to do with the general mass. Moreover, she is studying in a well-known institute that takes admission according to proper qualification. Just abusing women that they don’t have a mind and are not qualified, shows the root mentality of our society about how they think women should be treated. The social media has only brought everything out. Before, this used to happen at homes, within closed doors. Now through social media, the men who used to demean their wives, sisters, mothers, show the same hatred towards women beyond their reach, from other countries and villages.
Being a Muslim woman has become a crime at this point of time in India. Already if you are a woman you are demeaned and if you are a Muslim you will face the tags of jihadi and what not. Safoora is being demeaned with statements like she did not want azaadi but abaadi. The reason behind all this is the patriarchal mindsets engraved in our society. Of course, women have started speaking up more and reporting the harassments but the mentality of the society has remained the same. Until and unless we change the mentality there wouldn’t be any structural changes. For this, we need to educate men on how they should be behaving publicly and privately. Boy’s locker room is nothing new, it is the reality of our society. Many women don’t have the privilege to speak up about what is happening to them day in and day out. And this is frightening. I hope these things don’t get bottled up inside women and as a result, many don’t come out to speak.
Why do you think Safoora is being targeted? And why do you support her?
Safoora is being targeted because first of all, she is a woman, more of all she is a Muslim woman and overall because she dared to protest being a simple student from a central university. She thought that CAA would transform the basic structure of the country. She wanted to defend our country and its constitution, and that has become a big “mistake” in our country. If we say that the country should not be divided on the basis of religion, we are labelled as jihadi, Islamist which is problematic. And Safoora is our contemporary. She is an M.Phil scholar and we can relate to her easily. She is very clear that if we want to fight for the country we have to uphold the constitution.
Gender becomes important because women are attacked more than men though they speak about the same issues.
Right-wingers fear that more women like Safoora are coming out to defend the democratic and secular fabric of our country. It is important for many women like us to support Safoora because her voice is making the right-wing people bend down and so they are trying to vilify her. Whenever we have seen women being demonized in our country, there have been other women coming out in support. If women like us cannot support Safoora then who will? We can’t expect society as a whole to support her. It is important for us who are student representatives and have been a part of the protests to defend the democratic fabric of our country to come out in support of Safoora.
Tell us about the online protest call against Safoora’s online harassment. What responses you received and what you planning to do in future about this?
Lately, I have been facing a lot of online harassment and the protest call against Safoora’s harassment also became a part of it. Kapil Mishra retweeted my tweet saying that my bandage was magical. My inbox was flooded with filthy messages like what is my rate per hour, whether I went with Safoora to have biryani at Shaheen Bagh and many more. I have tried being outspoken about the trolls and happenings. But, at times I feel that social media is no more about expressing your ideas because whatever you post becomes a laughing stock and are trolled. It becomes difficult to reach out with your ideas. But we should not stop voicing our opinions. Rather, we should continuously complain and pressurize police in the cyber cell to take actions on such online harassments and especially against the people who are in power and are involved in this crime. Recently, a person from my town trolled me for my body structure saying that my body structure is not one that can be injured during rape. I did file a complaint and the person is under custody.
After all the online protest we had, the Delhi Commission of Women has issued a notice already to the cyber cell of Delhi Police to take action against the online harassment of Safoora. We will see what conclusion the Delhi Police arrives at. But until the perpetrators are punished, we will continue to protest and raise our voices. We are also connecting and gathering support from more student unions across campus.
Do you think that women who protest and raise their voice are targeted and criticised based on their gender rather than the issue they are protesting against?
I think it is a mix of both. In the present moment, if you are speaking about the minority community, you will be trolled immediately. In the recent posts of mine, whenever I have spoken about Safoora, my posts have been shared by IT cell and other RSS and random meme groups. But when I talk about my own activities in the University, I am not trolled to that extent. And if you are a woman, you will be randomly trolled with rape threats. Gender becomes important because women are attacked more than men though they speak about the same issues. The way women have been maligned with false things is really disturbing. Recently Safoora’s videos were circulated on porn sites, but everyone knows that those were fake. The trollers try to demean you to the level that the last person doesn’t believe you. And it is not possible for you to go and convince every citizen that what the people sitting in power are mocking is wrong. Trolls coming from people in the position of power make it more difficult for women to fight against accusations even when they know what the truth is. There is a need to take actions against such people. If they are not taught how to behave on social media and how they should conduct themselves, we cannot expect a change on the ground level.
Collage Picture Credit: NewsKarnataka + Asla Kayallakath/Twitter