Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s #SelfieWithDaughter met an ironic twist of fate. As part of his Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save your Daughter, Teach your Daughter) campaign, he announced a nationwide social media campaign for fathers and daughters to take selfies together and share them on Twitter. On the ninth edition of radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’, he expressed his views on the skewed gender ratio in several districts of India. He spoke about the sarpanch (leader) of Bibipur village in Haryana, who organised a ‘Selfie With Daughter’ contest on WhatsApp with the objective to increase the importance of daughters in the state, which is plagued by female foeticide and has one of the worst sex ratios in India.
While most Indians shared their photos, not all responded to the Prime Minister’s request in a similar way. Two women, who criticised the Prime Minister’s campaign, met with a wave of hate tweets from the PM’s loyal supporters on Twitter. The social media platform not only erupted with father-daughter photos from around the country but also highlighted the sexism that runs deep in the roots of the Indian society.
Kavita Krishnan, a women’s right activist and secretary for the All-India-Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), faced the first blunt after she called Modi a #LameDuckPM and said that he has a record of stalking daughters. Her reference to the infamous SnoopGate scandal sparked a row of irate replies. Prominent actors joined the bandwagon and called accused her of “crossing the line and limit.” In the second instance, Shruti Seth, Indian television and film actress and former VJ, tweeted that selfies won’t bring about any change; reform would.
While Krishnan’s response was sharper in comparison with Seth, in the both cases, the women faced a backlash from Twitter users. They were trolled, abused and threatened on a social media platform because they “crossed the invisible line” by sharing their opinion on Twitter. Krishnan was subject to hate tweets and Seth faced a tsunami of tweets targeted not only at her but her family, her husband, her 11-month-old daughter and her career.
In response, Krishnan wrote a mail to the Commissioner of Delhi Police and requested him to treat the snapshots of the comments on her tweets as an FIR. Sheth’s open letter—A Little Note to India—talks about the disturbing turn of events after posting her tweet. The letter reads, “Men and women alike said the most vile things about me, stripping me of all my dignity as someone’s daughter, wife and mother, and most importantly a woman. Men who were busy hashtagging their selfies with their daughters one minute called me slanderous names the next.” She ended the letter by addressing a note to the Modi: “If you truly wish to empower women, I urge you to condemn this kind of hatred being spread in your name. Regretfully, I deleted my initial tweet because of the backlash. But I stand by what I said and I’ll reiterate it here: ‘Selfies don’t bring about change, reform does. So please try and be bigger than a photograph. Come on!’ And as for my initial reservation about the initiative being nothing more than eyewash, I am deeply saddened to see that, in the end, I was proved right.”
There was nothing wrong in being a part of a campaign. However, the irony here is that sexism raised its ugly head in an initiative that was meant to respect women. Campaigns, whether initiated by the Prime Minister or not, will be subject to criticism. It cannot demand a universal acceptance. Responding to criticism by continuously trolling outspoken women undermines the foundation of the initiative. Abusing, sexual threats and violence on social media against women in the name of a campaign that was aimed to increase the importance of women only shows that if you voice an opinion that is not unanimously accepted by the public, you will have to face the wrath of online bullying. The case of Krishnan and Seth portrays the sad consequences of being a woman who expresses a rebellious opinion on a social media platform. On one hand, our society talks about empowering women, and on the other, we continue to raise a girl child in an environment poisoned by male dominance. If you build a society on patriarchy and misogyny, mere campaigns will do nothing except generate more ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and ‘selfies’.