By Nav Kaur Johal | OPINION |
I’ve been asked to write a brief blog on the farmer issue with particular reference to the abuse of prominent women and the signs of deep hatred and misogyny perpetrated by some right-wing Hindu nationalist supporters. I’m by no means a writer, I’ve never written anything in the past apart from the journaling I do on a regular basis. But I guess everyone can have a go as it’s a form of expressing your thoughts and opinions.
I’m going to start by sharing my own personal experience of deep misogyny, which comes from my upbringing. My parents were brought up in India, a country and culture where majority of women are not respected or valued by men. It’s predominantly a man’s world. The man is seen as a superhero with power, and that has been clearly evident during the farmers’ protest in the way that the Indian Government has reacted to prominent women who have spoken up to support the protest.
Even though my parents migrated to the UK from India in the late 1960’s, and have adapted somewhat, they came over with customs & cultures, and passed most of those generational beliefs and traditions onto me.
I wasn’t encouraged to be vocal or pushed to explore opportunities compared to my brothers. I was so confused as a child and grew up being reserved and shy. All my school reports mentioned how I didn’t interact and was very quiet. I know that those who know me now will find that hard to believe. My fear of speaking up continued and I began to avoid it more and more. I struggled with various issues such as bullying, racism, body image etc. I never had the courage or was brave enough to raise any of these issues with anyone. I painfully recall receiving many comments around my skin colour and wondering how I could make my skin lighter.
I genuinely believe that my upbringing held me back, not only in my career, but in fear of speaking up when things didn’t feel right. I found it a very male dominated environment, where women were known to stick to certain roles and men had considerably more freedom.
I’ve found that men I’ve met within my culture have often hidden their own insecurities by making fun or being overly critical of women, and when challenged they reacted aggressively and even more negatively. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been called a psycho, when actually it’s the fact that I am a strong woman speaking up for myself. It’s almost like they are saying “I’m a man and I have the power to behave like this.” It’s often been quite manipulative and includes gaslighting too. No doubt this and my upbringing has had an impact on my mental health.
So, it’s not been a surprise that in the last few weeks we have seen a number of prominent women like Rihanna, Jameela Jamil, Meena Harris, Greta Thunberg, Saira Khan and UK member of parliament Claudia Webbe, as well as many more women, who have spoken in support of the farmers’ protest, receiving extreme backlash and abusive comments, even had their effigies burnt in the streets of India.
Such attacks have not all been random social media trolls, instead many are the work of the notorious Indian BJP funded IT Cell. The same IT cell that has widely been used to spread political misinformation during state and national elections, as well as fake news and promotions of Indian Prime Minister Modi.
When I say extreme, they have included death and rape threats. Even in our so-called modern world, sexual violence is often shamefully considered a way to avenge any kind of insult or injury. The backlash has shown that the patriarchy and the traditions of India make it a country not for women. Abuse of women and rape crime in India is prolific with most going unpunished, and even the victim being prosecuted in some cases. Despite some very high profile and horrific rape cases in Delhi in recent times, the underlying respect for Women in India is a serious concern.
Furthermore, reports of female activists Nodeep Kaur and Disha Ravi, being arrested for supporting the farmers’ protest, with Nodeep being subjected to sexual assault whilst in jail, by policemen, comes as no surprise. I don’t know what’s most upsetting here, the fact that women are openly abused, or the fact that it comes as no surprise!
It’s not just prominent women around the world who have suffered verbal abuse, but women within our community – such as Joty Kay, an Indian entertainer based in the US. I saw a few days ago on her Instagram that she posted some of the comments she has received. Someone had called her a “skank whore”, saying “cover up a bit and why you dressed like a whore”. She gets these all the time and although she is numb to them, she is very vocal and calls them out. These comments are from men within our community. Yet Joty has been supporting the farmers’ protest from the start. I’m not sure why it’s okay for her to receive verbal abuse while the same people support Rihanna’s tweet, someone who often dances and wears clothes that might be considered provocative.
So why is it okay to applaud Rihanna but slander Joty? Why are the men in our communities still not okay with seeing South Asian Women in bikinis?
I’ve seen inappropriate comments a number of times. I was watching a live event the other day with two women (one was a lawyer and the other a model) and the discussion was on the farmers’ protests. A number of men made inappropriate sexual comments. Why do men do that and feel it’s okay? Does it go back to their upbringing, power/control relating to the deep-rooted misogyny? Let’s not even get started on the DMs women receive!
There is no doubt that the women who have come out and used their platform to show support for this protest have had a huge impact. It’s been a chain reaction; voices have been amplified through social media, which has created a strong solidarity and unity around the world, especially for successful women of colour, who have been specifically targeted.
The Indian Government’s reaction has exposed their prejudices, corruption, and cruelty to the world. The barricades, the use of water cannons, the beatings, arrests of activists and innocent protesters, shutting down the internet connection, cutting off the water supply and basically any other form of intimidating behaviour.
This highlights how deep-rooted misogyny is within Indian culture. Rather than condemn and distance itself from such vile gender, racial and hate abuse, the Indian government remained ignorant to it, and instead, started its own organised social media propaganda campaign, using sports stars and actors to tweet out pre-written and often similar messages for people around the world to stay out of the disgraceful internal affairs of India!
CHANGE IS COMING
I still think we have a long way to go where women need to be accepted for who they are. Whilst Sikhi is a religion that promotes equality within its teachings, I feel this part of the teaching got lost within my parent’s generation, hence why it’s taken women longer to come forward and speak up. If we look at the Gurdwara committees, there are still only a handful of women within them today, and I don’t think enough is done to encourage women to come forward in these male-dominated spaces.
There is no doubt that the farmers’ protest has exposed the deep-rooted Indian misogyny we knew already existed. I think this will make history and help to dissolve misogyny and patriarchy in India and within our communities in the UK, especially where more and more women are calling out this behaviour and have become the backbone of this revolution.
The change has been visible already, as in addition to protesting, women have taken on the entire responsibility of managing their farms and households back in Punjab while their men are protesting on the grounds in Delhi. These women are also ensuring there is a continuous supply of rations, blankets and other essentials needed at the protest sites. Without this logistical support from the women and their families, and the knowledge that their farms are being tended to, the men could not have camped on the borders of Delhi for more than a month. More and more women are arriving at the protest sites in Delhi on a daily basis.
Moreover, in the absence of men, women are managing about 100 protest sites in Punjab to keep up the momentum in the home state.
The dedicated participation of women in these protests has been an inspiration and shows that women’s activism and protest has become an empowering space in and of itself.
From Her Kings are Born – Guru Nanak Dev Ji
UK-based Nav is passionate about human rights, equality & activism. Her passion extends into supporting charity based projects where she has worked for children’s charities including an international NGO. She regularly supports local communities and volunteers at a pop up hostel which offers accommodation and welfare support for the homeless.
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