Online reactions to video exposing misogyny worrying

A conversation about a person's freedom to wear what she wants to quickly degenerated into something bordering on cyberbullying  

Screengrab of video posted on Youtube.

Even if you are moderately active on social media, it is likely you came across the video of the Indian middle-aged woman, Soma Chakrabarty, who was confronted by a group of girls over what is acceptable attire for women in India. The story resonated so deeply with many online, where it first surfaced, that the viral video of the confrontation wound up on mainline news channels.

So, this is how the entire incident unfolded: Soma allegedly asked men at a Gurugram restaurant to misbehave with a younger woman, Shivani Gupta, because she was wearing a short dress. Shivani’s allegation is that Soma spoke of rape in that context.

Shivani and her friends followed Soma to a nearby mall and shoved a phone camera into the latter’s face. She went on to share the video of the confrontation on social media. Then, things spiralled out of control.

Soma's comments are deeply problematic and reveal how women can internalise misogyny. However, the series of events that followed were even more unsettling.

But firstly, let’s face the fact that even in 2019 women are still being shamed publicly for their choice of clothing. Yet, people on social media, who came out to support Shivani didn't just attack Soma’s distressing views. By the time the video had been shared thousands of times, garnered lakhs of views and been posted multiple times across platforms, Soma had been called “ugly”, “fat” and even “sexually frustrated”.

In fact, there was evidence of this in the video itself, where another middle-aged woman joins Shivani and her friends in openly threatening Soma unless she apologised for her comments. “Munh se baat kar rahein hain, main hoti to haath se baat karti. (They are being verbal. I would have gotten physical).” And then this: “Is she forcing you to wear a bikini? No, she has a body to flaunt, you don’t have a body to flaunt." Shivani also promised to make her life “a living hell” by making the video go viral if she didn’t apologise. This is exactly what seems to have happened.

Soma’s pictures were taken from her social media profile without her consent and are now even being used to generate memes around her. She was doxed to such an extent that she had to delete her Facebook profile. Her family was dragged into the social media trial as well. Her husband's Facebook profile was shared and some even went on to abuse and threaten him. The woman’s son was also not spared.

While Shivani and her friends should be applauded for confronting Soma, minus all the threatening that went on, the social media reaction definitely missed the bigger picture.

A conversation that should have been about a person's freedom to wear what she wants to quickly degenerated into something that bordered on cyberbullying. Some of the people who chose to comment in support of Shivani became a part of the problem rather than the solution. Addressing her with sexist remarks like “moti (fat) aunty” and “frustrated” only goes on to reaffirm that we live a truly misogynistic society.

To body shame and make personalised attacks against another woman is an extreme reaction. Those who have come out to comment about Soma’s appearance have used the same weapons, perfected by the same system that is geared against women, to take her down.

If we want to be honest, then we will have to accept that many people in our social circles share Soma’s views. Our politicians have been guilty of victim-blaming too. It is easy to make a target out of one woman and force her to delete her profile and then claim a moral victory. But perhaps, what we should be really doing is having more thoughtful conversations and helping shape the narratives around women's rights in this country in all walks of life.

According to Shivani’s Instagram page, Soma has now apologised. Shivani has also condemned the trolling and threats against Soma. But the way the episode unfolded spotlights many worrying trends.  

It's easy to react on social media. It's tempting. I did react to Shivani’s video on Facebook putting very little thought into it. But now, as I introspect, I can’t stop wondering whether my words had real-time implications that may have affected someone’s life. Come to think of it, that's what we should all be doing both online and offline.

Soma should have understood that her words would have serious implications. And we, who can quickly morph into social media vigilantes, also need to do the same before we post that next comment.

(Srishti Kukreja is an independent journalist/vlogger who likes to write on social issues)

The views expressed above are the authors' own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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