Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker welcomes the arrests of two people who, through a video, issued rape threats to stand-up comedian from Mumbai Agrima Joshua. But she sees it as an exception. “In India, free speech is curbed and hate speech accepted,” Swara tells Lachmi Deb Roy in this interview:
We have seen arrests in the Agrima Joshua case. But others are putting out similar videos. Why has it become so easy to issue rape threats in public?
Yes, it is good that two people have been arrested—Shubham Mishra by Vadodara police, and Umesh Dada by Mumbai police. But many other videos have surfaced and there is now a Shubham Mishra fanpage on Instagram. As a culture, we excuse violence against women as an acceptable manifestation of emotions. People just don’t see how profoundly wrong verbal rape threats are! It’s a reflection of how deep misogyny runs in our collective consciousness. Even these arrests are the result of public outrage. Even so, there are so many more people who are more angry with Agrima’s supposedly offensive joke than with Shubham’s clearly criminal remarks.
There can be genuine differences of opinion. Why must it be expressed via such violent misogyny?
It’s dirt-cheap sensationalism and easy eyeballs. We have created an audience that readily consumes any rubbish for a few seconds of laughter, or just the thrill of watching and hearing someone behave in a debased manner.... We have lost all discretion as a public. Our public discourse is ill-informed, populist, non-factual, and often downright illogical. We don’t read, we get info from Whatsapp forwards that we don’t fact-check, we applaud our leaders when they spew filth, we vote for bigots, we marvel at news anchors who rant and lie, we demand mob justice with no care for due process of the law…these misogynistic rape threats are simply a symptom of a much deeper malaise.
Do you think there should be boundaries for speech in a free country?
Yes. There should be, but then there is no free speech in India. Humorists and common citizens are harassed and intimidated over jokes and Facebook posts while outright goons are given a free hand to abuse and vandalise. Which is why the actions of the Vadodara police and Mumbai police are laudable. In India, free speech of the citizenry is curbed, but hate speech by goons and politicians is accepted.