How 'Funny' Memes Make Demigods Out Of Abusive Men

Social media is so far gone into the deep-end of likes and humour and memes that a person’s real identity no longer matters as long as s/he is content fodder.

Tanvi Akhauri
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The recent controversy surrounding Agrima Joshua’s standup clip that had gone viral on social media, prompting numerous trolls to, in no polite terms, demand her arrest, rape, and death, has opened up a can of worms. This entire ugly episode brought deeply misogynist social media influencers out to play in the sun for us to flag. One was YouTuber Shubham Mishra, who, in a 2-minute rant video, could be seen openly threatening to rape Joshua, in graphic details. Soon after his video went viral, he gained a multitude of new followers on Instagram. Memes and comedy pages were turning his filthy language into one-line punches, received by shares and re-shares across social media. Why is it that abusive men in India are crowned with fame?


Mishra was consequently arrested by the Vadodara Police in Gujarat under the necessary IPC sections on July 12. But his follower count on social media still stands at a whopping 33.5K - a testament to our society’s collective mentality that has become so irretrievably sick that it finds humour in misogyny and rape descriptions. Clearly, Mishra’s arrest doesn’t change things much, because he has left behind several others who have begun worshipping him as a demigod, determined to carry on his legacy.

Also Read: Shubham Mishra Has Been Arrested, But The Problem Of Offence-Taking Still Persists

We Gift-Wrap Fame for Abusive Men by Making Memes on Them

If I told you to close your eyes and recall a famous Indian meme, chances are, your brain would throw up Vikas Pathak’s face. Didn’t recognise the name, did you? Perhaps the alias he so proudly goes by will ring a bell - Hindustani Bhau. Yes, that indeed is him, the guy of the ‘pehli fursat mein nikal’ meme fame. Now, why did you know his face, not his real name? Because social media is so far gone into the deep-end of likes and humour and memes that a person’s real identity no longer matters as long as s/he is content fodder. We laughed so hard at the memes and GIFs Pathak was converted to that we practically gift-wrapped fame and handed it to him in return for the abuses he directed towards writer-poet Javed Akhtar in his original video.

While the discussion around taking action against harassment on the internet gains new ground after Mishra’s arrest, many meme creators have admitted their ignorance in making careless content. Pulkit Kochar wrote on Twitter, “As a meme maker, we often see what dialogue is trending and start making memes on it. The same happened with Hindustani Bhau… Only if we knew the context of the full video… Because of the memes, he got popular and started his own Youtube channel, giving birth to more Hindustani bhaus that are giving rape threats today. I feel ashamed that somewhere I was a part of his popularity.”

Also Read: Shaheen Bhatt Reveals She Received Rape Threats On Instagram, Says Will Take Legal Action


Mainstream Media and Rape Culture

But does the buck stop at Pathak? There are millions like him and Mishra - prowling on the roads, in a woman’s DMs, behind anonymous accounts - who threaten rape and death against women, and in the same breath audaciously lecture them on ladkiyon ki izzat.

An older poster boy of this entire culture is Kamaal R. Khan, who had a success chart similar to Pathak’s. Here is a guy who has had Twitter wars with Sonakshi Sinha, Lisa Haydon, and Siddharth Malhotra for his sexist, toxic, abusive comments - but he is still thriving. Why? Because we have allowed him to, we have immortalised him through memes.

A self-styled film critic, who publicly badmouths actors, films, women in the name of film reviews, Khan too, was invited to Bigg Boss. Two questions: Firstly, why do we as consumers still enjoy a show as voyeuristic and cheap as Bigg Boss, which makes money off staged catfights and controversies? Secondly, why is this show playing godfather to abusive men like Khan and Pathak by giving them more screen space than they deserve?

Some may argue that they are exercising their rights to freedom of content and freedom of speech by watching shows like Bigg Boss and misogynistic videos of CarryMinati. But don’t both those things come with some terms and conditions? And if, like always, we choose to skip past the lengthy T&Cs, then shouldn’t we at least allow our conscience to remind us of the responsibility we hold - as social media users, as citizens, as humans?

Also Read: India is No Country for Women on the Internet


Online Safety Does NOT Fall on a Woman’s Shoulders

There are many still justifying Mishra’s gruesome video, Pathak has over three million followers on Instagram, and KRK’s following runs over five million on Twitter. Where does that leave us women and our relentless pursuit of gender equality and safety online? You tell us - lock your profiles, keep them private, don’t share many pictures - but will making ourselves invisible on the internet help? And what of the harassers who catcall and grope us every day? How should we make ourselves invisible on the roads?

Clearly, the answer doesn’t lie in us tightening the locks on our social media profiles. Responsibility to curb the rape culture that is encouraged online lies on the shoulders of platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. As Soni Razdan, her daughter Shaheen Bhatt, and Sushant Rajput’s former girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty pointed out recently after receiving rape threats and abuse on their accounts, these social media corporates must revise their safety policy, exercise legal rights, and weed out offensive accounts.

Why should I hold myself back from posting a selfie that makes me feel good about myself? Shouldn’t the Badass Shubhams and Hindustani Bhaus lock their profiles for fear of their shameful, abusive content getting out and ideally defaming them? The only solution on our end to somewhat stem this rape culture, online at least, is, as Kochar mentioned, by not using “that person's face in any piece of content ever.” This particular directive should, in fact, be included in a meme rulebook, if ever one is made.

Tanvi Akhauri is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. Views expressed are the author’s own.

internet memes rape threat agrima joshua shubham mishra Hindustani Bhau KRK