After days of doing little to stop his fans from relentlessly abusing a woman journalist who expressed an opinion about one of his films, actor Vijay finally broke his silence to release a vague statement about "praising womanhood" and respecting women. It's unlikely that his public stand will stop the threats from pouring into The News Minute's Editor-in-Chief Dhanya Rajendran's social media notifications or change the scene for the hundreds of women who are trolled for even the mildest of opinions on social platforms.
However, it's a rare stand in an industry in which top-billed stars, especially men, are content to pander to a predominantly male fanbase, running into millions, to drive ticket sales. Some of these stars also often make cinema that glorifies masculinity and portrays women as tools for male pleasure.
And they rarely ever question the art form that thrives on a cocktail of misogyny — across India's Hindi and other regional language industries — which mostly portray women either as helpless damsels in need of protection or conniving shrews who deserve to be tamed.
"I am someone who respects women a lot. Everybody has the right to criticise anyone's film. It is my view that no woman should be spoken of in a demeaning way for any reason or any time. Everyone has to praise womanhood," Vijay said in a statement, translated into English by TNM.
He also added: "I request that nobody should share hurtful and wrong views about women on social media."
Rajendran's crime? After watching Shah Rukh Khan's When Harry Met Sejal on Friday, she said it was worse than Vijay's Sura, a movie that was released seven years ago, which she had only managed to sit through till interval.
There's an entrenched societal problem to address here. Why must it take a film star with considerable clout to put out a message that should inherently come to anyone with common decency? Why does it have to be said that "no woman should be spoken of in a demeaning way for any reason or any time"? Isn't that a given for all individuals, irrespective of gender? Sadly, going by the messages still pouring in for Rajendran, Vijay's comments have had little impact.
From the screenshots that the journalist has shared, it's no longer as benign a matter as "speaking against a woman in a demeaning way". What Rajendran has undergone for the last few days is harassment, intimidation and bullying, all valid charges that have legal recourse in our country, and cushioning it as "demeaning comments" only does further injustice to Rajendran and other women who have been the target of smear campaigns online, who have received rape and death threats.
And part of the larger problem is this misguided call to put women on a pedestal — the further alienation of an entire gender from reality — to placate the matter at hand. It's neither here, nor there. In this day and age, when the actor has a verified Twitter account that he extensively uses to promote his films, he should have said in no uncertain terms that he condemned the threats against Rajendran, as soon as they had began.
It's impossible to tell if such an action would have stemmed the ugliness, but it would have given Rajendran the ammunition to fight back against trolls who have neither any respect for women nor for their favourite star, given the invectives they unleashed in his name. It would also have set a precedent for other stars whose fans resort to similar forms of thuggery regularly on Twitter and Facebook.
Rajendran has filed an FIR at a Chennai police station. After over 60,000 tweets abusing her and anyone who came to her defence, the Chennai police are now trying to identified four people who tweeted at her using aliases, reported NDTV. An FIR has been filed under IPC sections 354 D (stalking), 506(1) (criminal intimidation), 507 (criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication), 509 (insulting the modesty of women), section 67 of IT Act (publishing obscene material), section 4 of TN Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, and section 6 of the Indecent Representation of Women Act., the TNM report said.
It's not uncommon for women on social media to face abuses. Journalist Rana Ayyub is a common target of trolls, and Rega Jha, the Editor-In-Chief of Buzzfeed India, in an evocative piece on the Vijay issue, also said she faced abuses from Salman Khan fans for criticising the actor's film.
Vijay's comment came better late than never. But it's not enough to change a toxic fan culture rooted in misogyny and hero worship.
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