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When women dare to confront misogyny, they often face harassment of a worse order. This woman refused to shut up.
I am an Indian woman and I can speak 6 Indian languages. I was raised in the North-East of India, and I’ve lived and worked in various cities across India. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister and a professional but this is what I always get from most educated Indian men and women – oh, you’re a chinki.
It’s been a heavy week all over the world with the #MeToo campaign. I had my #MeToo meltdown moment of acknowledging the subtle harassment I’ve lived and coped for years. It became second nature for me to decode those who mentally undress me at whim and those who think I am this different-looking and easily available friendly North-Eastern chinki. I’ve been catcalled, whistled at, jeered at, laughed at, and made fun of my Chinki looks and sexuality many, many times. Along with that, some chowmein, momos and noodles jokes also come my way. That I speak good Hindi has taken many by surprise.
Earlier, I used to try enlightening people but I’ve stopped bothering after a point in time. It has just stopped affecting me in an emotional way now. Very early in life I knew I will have challenges everyday outside of home – first as a woman in India, second as a woman from North-East India. I was quite overwhelmed to read most of the #MeToo survival stories that it’s not even funny anymore. Back home, Mumbai Police issued a tweet, asking #MeToo survivors to come forward and file their complaints.
Not in a certain punning group, though and that’s how the trouble started.
So I was added to this punning group by an ex-colleague about a year ago because she thought I love words and great puns. This group is 37K strong and has all kinds. Plenty of pseudo punsters get away with anything in the name of punning. Now, try and imagine the scale of intelligence of 37k people. Not all are active all the time. But there are a few hundreds who keep skimming at all times during the day, some call them jobless.
Two distasteful misogynistic jokes did the rounds around Diwali where an online mob takes vicarious and voyeuristic pleasure to rip apart every available shred of decency and dignity. It was very disturbing to see what an intolerant and dark world this is – the sexist comments were vile and obnoxious. It was not even dark humor. This is my India in a small microcosm where the average Indian male stood with a very brittle sense of self due to the growing restraint on his physical assertion. The empowering boldness that comes with the comfort of distance behind the screen in social media can be so intrusive and personal at the same time. I switched off notifications for both.
It took a woman to call out this nonsense while the arm-chair cynics could decide if it was her business at all. All hell broke loose. The trolls singled her out and hunted her in packs in the comments section in different conversation threads, abused every literal part of her name for 3 days, from asking her to get a life, to have a sense of humour or quit the group while gleefully branding her a feminazi. She was not alone, there were a few who tried to fight the mob.
The courage displayed by this modest handful was remarkable and unbelievable but the menacing junta pushed back and continued with the crass jokes while that brought back disturbing memories for so many females of sexual harassment at the workplace, in the online space and a growing monster of a mentality that aided rape culture because one can joke and pun about abuse.
An arrogant and misogynistic troll jibed a puny escalator image as ass-calator of the butthurt feminazi. It was appalling to see his misplaced sense of entitlement at his perceived way of taming them. There were a couple of people trying to stop him. The joke was no longer funny but annoying. So this time I stepped in, gently but firmly asking the troll to take a break. I did a split-second analysis of the troll – on a Diwali evening, he is glued to his phone with prompt replies.
Mentally, I had the option to exit. What are the risks of not exiting? Getting trolled. Mentally harassed like the woman and the few supporters above. Ok, can I handle it? Yes, I can. I had a choice to get frustrated because this man knew he wanted to have gross fun at whosoever’s cost, I was probably protestor #Whatsoever. But my bigger and real solidarity was with the few brave folks who endured trauma to fight them because enough was enough.
Meanwhile, like all potential abusers, the troll had scanned my Facebook profile. By then, I had tried sensitizing him on #MeToo and that it’s not about a feminist movement but a traumatic time when people come forward with their stories of sexual abuse and harassment. He tried humiliating me about my work, mansplained me that I look quite serious and hence, the group is not for me and that I should leave him alone. Basically, this bully warned me not to mess with him. He tried to shame me and how.
The disturbing abuse would leave anyone visibly shaken and angry. This telling episode only shows, again and again, it is so easy to abuse any woman and if she is from North East India, one just had to use the chinky comment. The most hurtful abuses come especially if she is educated and has a mind of her own. The online narrative is not very different from what happens on the road. The troll actually believed he finished me. I stood there, calm and unaffected. He came back later and asked all in the ‘offended’ party to move on because it was all for fun. So I was abused and sexually harassed online for fun? Party over. This post was removed by the troll to destroy evidence of abuse.
A member of the group took a screenshot of his ‘chinki’ abuse and posted it in the parallel threads of the misogynistic jokes and scared him that he could be in jail for this racial slur. The Ministry of Home Affairs has asked all the states and union territories to book anyone who commits an act of atrocity (calling chinki is one of them) against people from the region under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. For the record, I do not know if anyone has been jailed for this. A few others urged me to approach the cyber cell and report this matter. The rest of the junta started asking us to stay at home and keep our feminist shit away. It’s feminist shit now.
Suddenly, the narrative changes with a feeble attempt at an apology to the group that projected him as the hero/victim and the collective feminazis as the trollers. The junta cheered him on that his apology was unnecessary but he was a great man to apologize for nothing but punning. He kept humoring himself that he apologized because some rookie lawyer threatened to shut the group and it was his duty to save the group. The exchange left many of us angry.
I confronted him in his half-hearted apology post that apologies don’t come with riders and conditions to make himself look good. He grudgingly sighed that he has apologized and therefore, we should move on. I corrected him that he apologized to the group because he believed co-punsters suffered, not to those ladies and gentlemen he had abused. I also reminded him that what he spoke about me amounts to online sexual harassment. The hate is mind-boggling.
Standing up to the hate and calling out the hate is not a pleasant experience for any woman. As a woman from North East India, you can imagine my paranoia and indignation.The troll thinks this entire matter is solved because he has said a cursory sorry asking me to forgive him. I don’t think so.
For the record, he has ‘requested’ me not to take his name in any public discussion because that will entail a counter suit for defamation and he has blocked me on Facebook. He has been pulling down all posts where he has abused so that there is no evidence of any abuse to begin with. He sent me a private message on FB messenger which reads – Kiranji, let’s end this hate. It is unopened and continues to stay in the ‘others’ folder. Abuse in full glory, peace offering in private. From Chinki to Bitch to Behn to Mohtarma to Aunty to Boobs/Tits to Madam to Kiranji. That was my story.
Now, after this long read. You will have questions for me – Why didn’t I ignore? Why did I comment to begin with? Why this and Why that. How am I feeling? I stepped in because I felt enough was enough. Just imagine 3 days of non-stop trolling of a woman and her few supporters by hundreds of misogynistic men. I could not be an indifferent passerby especially when the mob was definitely not punning but bullying. I do not have much faith in the law and order system that they will do anything substantial.
Prove me wrong, guys. I wish that next time, if a man cannot win an argument, he has no right to pass a racist or sexist remark in my own country. I wish no woman who objects a wrong be branded as feminazi. And worse still, be sexually harassed with personal and hurtful remarks. Why do we remain quiet when things go wrong? We have to take that first step now. I urge all of you, boys and girls, men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and family to SHARE my story and REPORT your stories that such jerks exist and they should not get away scot-free.
For humanity’s sake. For the hundreds of anonymous women who reel under online sexual abuse, who have to blur their identities, to even report such things. For the hundreds of boys and girls from the North-East of India who continue to go about life and work in the rest of India despite being called chinki, chowmein, momo and noodles. Enough is enough. It starts with a NO.
First published here.