The way to Bibi Bachao might not be through Selfie Banao, but there is really nothing wrong with #SelfieWithDaughter initiative. It’s feel-good, it’s easy-to-do and it sends out a message just as all those #LoveWins rainbow profiles on Facebook do.
Sunil Jaglan, the panchayat head of Bibipur village in Haryana deserves all the credit for coming up with the Selfie With Daughters initiative. He tells the Economic Times he came up with it because he was appalled by Haryana’s horrifying sex ratio of 841 females to 1000 males at birth. And he was shocked when the nurses at the Bibipur hospital refused to accept sweets when his daughter was born in 2012. “They said I’ve had a girl and I should start saving my money now,” Jaglan tells ET.
Good for Jaglan for not just shaking his head and going home. Good for Jaglan for starting a campaign on his public Facebook account asking people to WhatsApp him their selfies with their daughters and offering them a prize for the best one. And good for Narendra Modi for name-checking Jaglan and adding his prime ministerial social media clout to his campaign.
Let’s not carp about how this is one more instance of the value of women being measured by their relationships – as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers – rather than as human beings. That is indeed true when anti-rape or domestic violence campaigns harp on “our mothers and sisters” to shame perpetrators as if the single woman is fair game. But this is different. This is a campaign that is really sending a message to parents. They are the ones who control whether a girl child lives or dies.
But just because it’s a laudable idea and it’s gotten the prime ministerial stamp of approval, it does not necessarily mean that everyone has to jump on the bandwagon singing hosannas of praise for the PM neither does it mean that noone can question if it’s anymore effective than the Deepika Padukone video for women’s empowerment.
Actress Shruti Seth tweeted “A selfie is not a device to bring about change Mr. PM. Try reform.” And added the hashtag #selfieobsessedPM for good measure. Activist Kavita Krishnan went a step further by calling Modi a #LameDuckPM and saying “He has a record of stalking daughters.”
Was Seth crossing some line? Not really. Any campaign is open to criticism about whether or not it’s effective or just a gimmick. And not everyone needs to admire the PM’s social media hyperactivity. She does not deserve to be called a “failed movie star” and “nautanki” for making that point any more than Smriti Irani deserves to have her actress background thrown in her face when someone wants to diss her performance as a minister.
Was Krishnan being impolite? Sure. But a PM who is so active on social media surely knows that it’s a double-edged sword. It gives him unprecedented and unmediated access to the public but it’s a two-way street.
#LameDuckPM really makes no sense, since we don’t have term limits in India but Snoopgate was a real story that happened and Krishnan has her own spin on what she thinks happened there just as Modi’s supporters have their own take on it. Just because a court has ruled one way or the other, or an investigator has come to one conclusion or the other, does not change anyone’s rights to have their own opinion. There are still plenty of people in the US who think Al Gore actually won the US presidential election though the Supreme Court gave it to George W. Bush. And many Americans remain convinced Barack Obama is not really a US citizen even as he completes two terms.
Likewise it is Nishrin Jafri’s right to be convinced that Narendra Modi did not lift a finger to save her father Ehsan Jafri during the Gujarat riots, when her father desperately dialed the chief minister for help as the rampaging mob surrounded his house. It does not matter if courts and inquiries have found no evidence to indict Modi. Ehsan Jafri was hacked to death and Nishrin Jafri and her mother remain unshaken in their belief in Modi’s culpability. When Nishrin tweeted out a picture of herself with her father in response to the PM’s appeal saying, “This one will haunt him for ever”, it was biting commentary.
Again that picture was technically not a selfie, but just because Narendra Modi led his party to a resounding victory, does not mean Nishrin Jafri must also fall into lockstep and let bygones be bygones.
Kavita Krishnan, of course, got trolled up and down for daring to bring up the infamous Snoopgate again. Krishnan, no shrinking violet on Twitter, surely was not surprised at the volleys. But she might have been taken aback that Alok Nath decided that “this once she’s crossed the line and limit” and demanded “Jail the b****” – tweets that he later deleted.
That’s what is fascinating about this whole campaign — supposedly about respecting women. It’s really all about respecting the well-behaved, respectful woman who toes the line and does not rock the boat. And it is the likes of Alok Nath who get to decide what is the line and what is limit. And the Kavita Krishnans of the world have to adhere to the Lakshmanrekha that is defined for them. Otherwise “jail the b****”.
Some demand that Narendra Modi should speak up and call the trolls to heel. But that’s not really part of his job description. He does not have to discipline random trolls. Those who feel can complain to Twitter.
But the larger issue still stands. When someone trolls Seth saying she is “do kaudi ki nautanki” (two-cent drama queen) and how dare she ask the PMO to go beyond a selfie, they undermine the spirit of #SelfieWith Daughter itself. Please note it is not #SelfieWithWell-BehavedDaughter. Threatening outspoken women on social media with abuse, violence, sexual threats is commonplace. But trolling them in the name of a campaign that wants us to respect women is bitterly ironic. Forget selfie, perhaps a little self-reflection is in order.