“I measure the progress of the community by the degree of progress which women have achieved” – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
Dalit – Bahujan- Aadivaasi women in the Indian history had a reputation of “questioning” the authority. Be it Thangajam Manorama, be it Comrade Sruthi or Bhaarathi Madiga, each of them was killed while fighting for the rights and has great inspirations through Savitribhai Phule, Baby Kamle, Rajavva who brought revolution not only in the lives of Dalits but also in the lives of all “Women”. One such inspiration of the genre is Prof. Sujatha Surepally.
Prof. Sujatha Surepally is a well-renowned academician and Principal of the University College of Arts, Social Science and Commerce with The Satavahana University, Karimnagar. The most important qualification of Prof. Sujata is that she has been teaching “Sociology” for more than 10 years (13 years approximately). None of these qualifications alone might/would have landed up her in this gross situation where she has to fight with the “online” sexual harassment.
On December 25th, the most celebrated day for Dalits- “ManusmrithDahanDiwaas”, the Dalit students of Saatavahan University where Prof.Sujatha works as Principal held a democratic protest by burning the “Manu smrithi” inside the campus. The students were attacked by the Hindutva terrorists (the outsiders of the campus) and systematically targeted the vulnerable Dalit students. In this context, few Facebook pages (profiled by the Hindutva ideologies) have been circulating a defamatory and discriminating posters online on Prof. Sujatha Surepally who is a Dalit women. One of the pages that show a staunch Hindu ideology/ Philosophy (completely religious) on the facebook had been propagating a false propaganda that Prof. Sujatha Surepally had burnt the portray of Bharath Maata and is instigating “Naxal” ideology. Then there pops up comments from Masculine forces who vomits out toxic masculinity ingrained with rape culture. The comment box is filled with Men’s Rape culture and casteism. In this context, rape is normalized on Women and Dalitness. It is the juxtaposition of Casteist patriarchy.
Unlike many arm chaired academicians and intellectuals, Prof. Sujatha is always seen more of an activist on the field that makes a more impressive mark on the credibility of “statements”, “movements (political and social)” and “assertions”. She was successful in forming a systematic pressure over the “state machinery” that was irrefutably an impetus to the “arrest” of Bharat Reddy (who humiliated wo Dalit youth). The most important and noticeable move is that she has utilized “social media and networking” online sites for the mass mobilization apart from other media that led to the “counter bargaining power” for the Dalits.
|Change in the form of expression creates a change in the form of oppression and violence too|
With the advancement in the society through technology in the field communication, a space to express the ideas, thoughts with much liberty, a platform to share, an easy pavement for the dissemination of information has become possible. This does not mean that “such advancement had not excluded few sections”. Where the “powerless”, “agency-less” populations/ sections/voices of the society, especially Dalits, Adivaasis, Queer had to be at the mercy of the “media” (be it print media, non- print, visual, digital etc) controlled by the dominant sections who owned the resources, the social media to an extent had provided a platform to “express”, “share”, above all “voice out” to the larger audience. To this extent, one can be grateful to the social media. Saying this much, the social media and other online media exacted new laws for protection against discrimination, harassment and other forms of crimes. This is because with a free space/ platform to express has now a new form of oppression. The advancement could look modern (with respect to the technological advancement) only to make the users vigilant about the change in the “gestures”, “forms”, “nuances” of oppression, violence and domination.
|Identity attributing to vulnerability, discrimination and harassment|
Prof. Sujatha is mostly identified with “Dalit movements” and “Dalit- Bahujan” Organizations. Above all, she is a “Dalit woman” (she identifies herself so). Herself being a very dedicated and progressive activist who is very different from many other activists who suffer from the ideological fundamentalism, she is always ready to “battle” for the “rights” of the many oppressed sections her identity as “Dalit and woman” had pushed her into the situation of “vulnerability” and landed her in this vicious circle of “online sexual harassment”.
Today, where we are forced towards “Digital India”, it is inevitable that we step into the digital world, the cyber world for our sustenance and even routine. Social media is not only an instrument for mobilization but also a place for mobs of privileged sections to gather, hence exclusion. Identities, where our surnames (prefixes or suffixes) reveal the caste/community, names hint the religion, gender creates a “vulnerability” inducing violence.
Online sexual harassment has the paradoxical face of most normalized sexual violence that spreads hate speech and a stealthy abuse that traumatizes for life. The online sexual harassment is no less than the verbal abuse amounting to mental trauma. Prof. Sujatha Surepally is being targeted, harassed by the Facebook users. It is merely not online harassment but also sexual harassment. An intersectionality of two marginalized identities (Dalit and Woman) will leave no space for freedom, acceptance in this society. It qualifies to be sexual discrimination as the gravity of harassment varies based on gender as one can see she was compared to “Surpanaka”. Such discrimination based on sex would amount to sexual harassment irrespective of sexual overtures (an adopted definition from Hostile Environment at Workplace).
We must condemn the online sexual harassment for it is a violation of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution as stated in the case of “Kushboo v. Kannaiammal”. It is high time to condemn the acts of such goons be it any media. Such kind of uncouth acts entertains Section 499, 509,294(b) of the IPC, Section 67 of the IT Act.Though Indian Criminal Justice system lacks any serious statute towards addressing atrocities against Women and other vulnerable communities who face online sexual Violence which must be a serious concern.
Author – Sanjeev Gumpenapalli