Why ‘Propaganda’ Against Safoora Is A Step Back for Women’s Rights

Misogynistic campaign against Safoora reiterates that gender equality in our country is a distant dream.

3 min read

Under the garb of arresting those responsible for the Delhi communal violence, the State has been hounding anti-CAA activists. Falsely implicating them, they are being detained under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA. Safoora Zargar, a 27-year-old MPhil student of Jamia Millia Islamia is one of the victims. Amidst the campaigns to highlight the state's undemocratic move, it was mentioned that Safoora is in the second trimester of her pregnancy. I am sure that the supporters may not have anticipated how this would backfire.

Rumours & Propaganda

What started with tweets by right-wing trolls was soon systematically taken over by the propaganda mills churning out nauseating theories about Safoora. A tweet quoted a webpage about Safoora which carried no information about her marital status and chose to conclude that her pregnancy was out of wedlock.

This claim, on the basis of a mere webpage with the unfilled column (as opposed to a filled column with the word ‘single’) makes absolutely no sense, and yet it worked well for right-wing trolls to unleash their propaganda.

To debunk the rumour, her wedding photos were circulated, but unfortunately, the right-wing troll lobby is much more powerful, with a well-coordinated system of several institutions of mass information. Safoora’s pregnancy became a matter of national debate. Her arrest on false charges was not a matter of national shame. In fact, surprisingly or not, it has hardly even been discussed.


Not Just Islamophobia, But Also An Attack on Women

This time, however, it is not just Islamophobia that is being propagated. The attack is also on women. A woman who dared to speak up has been reduced to an object. Her intimate life has been subjected to public surveillance and mockery. Safoora is married – but what if she was not?

In a society where women have been increasingly coming out to demand a right over their body and life, it is not just Safoora who is being publicly humiliated and demonised.

A forum in a university’s social media group revealed a disturbing reality. Some teachers shared these false statements about Safoora, and when they were called out, one of them responded that if we as teachers are ‘teaching’ that pregnancy out of wedlock ‘does not seem shameful’, then we all should be shamed as well. This statement reveals everything that is wrong with society.

A Regressive Regime Also Oppresses Women

Pregnancy out of wedlock is NOT shameful. What is shameful is our hypocrisy. What is morally corrupting is that on one hand, we talk about women’s empowerment, and on the other hand, we continue to exert control over a woman’s body and sexuality. The society does not ‘accept’ pre-marital sex but maintains a double standard as it mocks at men for being a virgin and women for not being one.

The vilifying campaign against Safoora reiterates that women continue to be treated as objects of male desire and control. It exposes a society which is not just Islamophobic – but deeply misogynistic.

There is a greater worry. This incident also tells us what happens when religion and politics mingle – it’s not only the religious minorities who will suffer. A regressive regime also oppresses women. This incident is not just a matter of concern for those who oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This is no longer about whether one supports CAA or not, it is about a woman's dignity. This is about Safoora and about our rights and dignity.

(Devika Mittal is pursuing a Ph.D in Sociology at Delhi School of Economics. She is the Convener (India) of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a joint Indo-Pak friendship initiative and a core committee member of Mission Bhartiyam. She tweets at @devikasmittal. This is a personal blog. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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