Social media has become an integral part of our lives these days. There are various notions prevalent about whether one should use social media, and if at all it is to be used, then how. Some people view social media only as a tool to pass their time and beyond a certain limit, see any engagement as wastage of time. Many parents are wary of social media out of concern for their daughters who might be harassed by anti-social elements and hence warn them to stay away. At the same time, social media helps one to connect with many people whether we may know them personally or not and it is through such communication that exchange of thoughts takes place. I also joined social media thinking of exploring the possibility of whether this media can be used as a viable alternative option to traditional media. So I started communicating with people through media such as WhatsApp and Facebook. I have been using Facebook for the past six years now. While I think about social media as an alternative to traditional media, it also becomes imperative for me to discuss about safety and security of girls/women in detail. Of course, it is also related in the context of the recent Amar Khade incident.
First of all, we need to take into account that in our brahminical patriarchal society there are certain rules that girls are supposed to follow, as far as use of mobile phones is concerned. Many a times it is just out of necessity that a girl is allowed to use a mobile phone albeit with certain harsh restrictions. The reason being the caste based society considers the girl as the 'honour' of the family. So her parents fear that through mobile phone she may come in contact with someone and get emotionally involved, thus marrying the person out of her own volition and this can result in loss of 'honour' for the family. That's why parents try to limit the use of mobile phones as far as possible and hence check call records and other details on mobile phones. In such a situation, for many girls to be able to use and access social media freely itself becomes a daunting task. Defying traditional restrictions she tries to express herself through social media. But our brahminical patriarchal society looks at her as a form of readily available entertainment instead of looking at her as an individual human being. That's why, often, these girls have had to face sexual exploitation in the online world.
Misusing photos of the girls, using these photos to send vulgar messages and to tag girls in nude photos without their consent are some of the things which happen quite regularly on Facebook. Even on WhatsApp groups, jokes making fun of girls continue to circulate blatantly. But society trapped in the brahminical patriarchal mindset doesn't object to such indecent incidents. That is why such messages become viral through "likes" and "shares". As a neo Buddhist woman, when I look at these incidents I realize that in the social media it is the dalit adivasi women who have to face both caste based discrimination and patriarchy. Starting from the charge of 'child of reservations' I have to bear baseless stereotypes of 'girls are like this only'. The backlash experienced during the recent Samvidhan Morcha in Latur was dangerous when we were reminded as "you dalit adivasi women are doomed to be prostitutes.....and my father has not one but four mistresses....", all this is something which was said quite openly without any fear. When I observe these things, I realize that it is only the dalit and adivasi women who have to bear the brunt in this social order.
Basically being Ambedkarites, many of us girls use social media as an alternative media for spreading awareness and knowledge dissemination. The purpose is to stay up to date by staying in communication with professors, students, bureaucrats, intellectuals, writers and reading their articles, new research etc. The purpose is also to stay connected with people from small towns and have communication for exchange of thoughts. I must admit that this exercise has benefitted me a lot at a personal level. But while undertaking this journey one has to communicate with unknown people too and here one has to face many difficulties. Upon accepting the 'friend' request one gets immediately flooded with 'hi','hello' messages. Sometimes people do comment quite objectionably on women's sexuality. Just recently one of my Ambedkarite friends had to face a lot of trouble from one such self-proclaimed Ambedkarite man. Though she didn't know him personally she accepted his 'friend' request on Facebook thinking he shared similar ideology. But he tried to take advantage of the same.
For many of his friends, his behavior was quite shocking since this person used to talk quite vehemently on social issues and preach to people in a way. So when his act came into light, many thought his Facebook account may have been hacked. But later it was revealed he had similarly tried to harass other girls too. After observing this entire incident, I want to ask as to how are we going to deal with some of the self-claimed Ambedkarites if they end up harassing our Ambedkarite women? Many of my friends (women) have expressed their opinion that even earlier too this man had posted gender biased things and we didn't have much of a reaction from Ambedkarite youth then. Today many of them appear quite disturbed by this whole episode and I feel if they had taken a stand in the past at the right time, probably, we would not have seen this incident altogether.
I would like to highlight another important issue here, and that is credibility. Many tried to justify saying the account may have been hacked when this incident first came to light. When a couple of women complained against him, even then they said these are very small issues and tried to silence us by saying we have some bigger issues to handle. Some felt this was a useless discussion and some of them felt this was a personal fight. Now what are we supposed to assume here? Do you have less/low confidence on the women who come from dalit adivasi families from where you also come? Or do you feel a woman getting publicly humiliated sexually is an insignificant thing? How can you assume insult inflicted on women in public life so insignificant when these are the same women for whom Phule – Babasaheb fought their entire lives?
Finally, I only want to say that this whole incident must be understood in its entirety. We must learn the necessary lessons. Even girls do need to take necessary precaution while befriending boys. It is because our own thoughts may have changed, however the society at large remains in the same traditional mentality and this is what's being reflected in the social media.
Dalit, adivasi and other backward classes women have to fight on both the fronts i.e. caste and women's slavery while making efforts in building an egalitarian society. The strength of the morale does keep fluctuating while fighting at the two fronts simultaneously, which are family and society. It is only of late that women have managed to come out of patriarchal families and are able to think on their own. So we must ensure that we have dealings with them in cooperative and coordinated manner. For example, when these women take to the streets for their demands, we instead of criticising them as "what's the point in getting onto the streets" should have this at the back of mind that they have earned their right to come on the street too only after certain struggle and fight with their families and society. Their mistakes must be explained to them without belittling them, lest they may stop expressing themselves due to demoralization.
Babasaheb had said, "I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved." So the struggle of women in the society is everybody's struggle and each one of us will have to fight it, and this, you must remember.
This is the English version Bhagyesha's Marathi article, ब्राम्हणी पितृसत्ता आणि सोशल मीडिया published on Round Table India here. It was translated by Rahul Gaikwad.
Bhagyesha Kurane has a B.A. in political science from Fergusson College.