HOW DO I WRITE an article that does not sound like a celebrity too much crying paparazzi, an article where I want to discuss issues that are political but have arisen out of experiences in my personal life? How do I write an article about the dangers that women writing on gender and caste have to be well-prepared for, without sounding like somebody who wants undue publicity about unpleasant things happening to her? How do I sound genuine and serious when I discuss something that might appear as trivia(l)?
Where do I begin after all?
Last week, a really crazed slime-ball decided to scrap me on orkut with the words: “Tell your lover to change his glasses.” My lover doesn’t wear glasses. In these circumstances, what exactly was this almost-stranger trying to say? For a long time, I didn’t have any clue. Treating that scrap at its scrap value, I deleted it and moved on. Then, subsequently, the cause of such a sarca(u)stic comment became apparent. Among the several photographs I had uploaded on my profile, there was also a snapshot of a statue of revolutionary Dr Ambedkar. And, in an inspired moment, I had captioned it: “the man i love the most.” I can’t see problems with that because I was merely putting to words some of my own feelings. My idol was now my lover, and viola, this scrap comes to me. How am I supposed to view this? Clearly, the scrapper wasn’t someone who had problems with my words alone. He had overstepped boundaries (which in themselves are hazy things). What was he trying to achieve with that comment apart from the obvious cheap thrill?
I would have really ignored this except for two other events. One, my blog stats at WordPress.com reveal that I am either being stalked, or that someone is seriously trying to dig up every piece of scandal/gossip about me. But since there’s no visible injury to my person so far, you can safely hazard a guess about what’s happened to my persona. I have, as a matter of fact, become a gossip item in a popular Tamil weekly. Among other things, I find myself being linked with, shall we say, a certain die-hard Ambedkarite. Next, someone on Facebook takes a fancy to send anonymous messages to greet me morning and night.. And, out of curiosity, when I ask that quirky soul as to who he is, pat comes the reply, Dr Ambedkar.
If one looks at this a little closely, there’s a clear pattern emerging. In the virtual world, as in my flesh and blood existence, I am obsessed with issues of caste and gender. I can understand that this scrap, these go-ogle look-ups, these anonymous messages are somehow intrinsically connected both to the fact that I am a woman, and that I happen to be involved with Dalit issues.
I know for sure that such jabs cannot affect my belief in Ambedkar’s ideology. But, let us assume for a second that I was not writing about caste and gender, but rather about issues that are more visibly linked to women’s sexuality: abortion, aids, or queer rights. Imagine for instance that I blogged about the escalation of lesbian suicides in India. Will it be construed that I am writing solely out of personal experience? Will I be taken for the token lesbian on this blog space? Will people stop at that, or will such folks stalk me all the way home, and once there, tell my father, who never browses the Internet, that his daughter takes only lovehers? I know, deep down to my bones, that this is scary. Not because these regressive people or their actions.opinions matter, but because I believe that this could be affecting my self-expression. This menace can harm me and my writing in ways that I might not be able to delineate, or even worse, be aware of myself.
Although one is aware that there are laws against defamation in place, how can these be put to use against anonymous trollers and orkut-scrap-posters and their like? Forget the case of independent writers, do we actually have any mechanism to punish ALL those who are abusive on the web because of the anonymity that it provides. We do come across one or two men getting arrested for posting derogatory comments about Sonia Gandhi on orkut. But are all the culprits getting punished. I have come across several occasions where Mayawati has been disparaged in casteist terms. I have personally used the “report abuse” sections of the site, but I am sure no action was taken. Some of the communities that I moderate on orkut, specially those which deal with the genocide of Tamil people in Sri Lanka, or the Dalits’ related communities, get so many filthy comments. Disabling the anonymous posts option is no solution, not only because creating fake accounts is easy, but also because people have no shame/fear about putting up casteist/racist opinions in the open.
The pressure to conform has to be compensated with the power to come to terms with (sometimes frivolous) criticism. But how am I to know if I am not being a good-girl feminist (writing only about social development and divisions)? How will I find out the extent to which my visibility/identity/non-anonymity on the Internet dictate my choice of words (or issues, for that matter)? If Facebook can actually ruin one’s love life, what exactly can the online world of blogs and social networking sites do to feminism(s)?
(Special thanks to my dear friend Anuradha Pujar for her feedback to an early draft of this article. Without her this article wouldn’t have been this article.)
Filed under: Culture, Identity and Destination, Law, Media, Women's Lives Tagged: | Abuse, anonymity, Caste, defamation, Dr.Ambedkar, expression, Facebook, gneder, individual, Orkut, personality, technology