The 2002 Gujarat Riots Shaped Who I’d Become, Says Swara Bhasker

Swara Bhasker says that contrary to public opinion, she’s a ‘non-confrontational’, ‘diplomatic’ person in real.

4 min read

Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Production Assistant: Jaspreet Singh

“I think that people forget that I am a person outside Twitter. Like, I don't exist on Twitter only.”

Actor and activist Swara Bhasker is known to be vocal and blunt with her opinions. Her rise as a public activist over the last few years, speaking at anti-CAA-NRC protests and against the masked mob attack on JNU on 5 January 2019, are some instances that have brought into the limelight unlike ever before.

From working at relief camps post 2002 Gujarat riots and interning with the Aman Trust, to her first job as a copyeditor at the Economic and Political Weekly in Mumbai, we tried to piece together where Bhasker draws her worldview and confidence from.

‘I’m a Very Very Non-Confrontational Person’

In this long interview, Bhasker about us how contrary to public opinion her life outside Twitter, and how – contrary to public opinion – in her personal life, she is often referred to as a pushover by her family and friends.

"All my confrontations are only on Twitter and on social media. I'm a very, very non-confrontational person in my life, I know that is hard to believe," Bhasker tells us on this February winter afternoon at her residence in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus, where her mother is a professor.

She says the only people she fights with are her parents, brother, and her boyfriend. Regarding her friends, she says, “Maybe, I have had two fights with my best friends in my entire life.”

In her personal life, Bhasker says she is extremely diplomatic. Speaking about how she communicates with people who are from the exact opposite ideology to what she believes in, she says she always tries to remain empathetic.

“I’m always working on myself to remain an empathetic person in life. Because I know it’s hard, on social media, to always have that. But I feel in real life interactions, it’s so important to be able to find the human being in yourself and in the other person.”

‘Image in Gujarat of Man Folding His Hands... Changed My Life’

“I must have been 17, just finishing school... 16, maybe. Me and a few friends thought we should do this (offer assistance at the relief camps in Gujarat after the 2002 riots). We thought it would be a good summer holiday plan! But luckily, a lot of people going there were very well known citizens. Harsh Mander was one of the people who organised it. It was under a banner called ‘Aman Ekta Manch’ (peace and unity platform) and I was very impassioned and moved by that whole thing.”
Swara Bhasker

During her time there, Bhasker says she visited several relief camps, houses that were burnt and spoke to several riot victims. Her experience as a teenager in the post riots climate on the ground in Gujarat, would be instrumental in shaping who she would become.

“That image in Gujarat of that guy folding his hands that was in every newspaper in the country. That image changed my life. I just saw that and I was like, I just saw that and I remember I was just bawling. I asked my parents why is it happening, what is this. I was old enough. I was studying. In History class, we were studying about the Partition, the Indian Freedom Movement. So, I knew about the big themes of communalism, Hindu-Muslim relations, violence, riots, and I had some sense of that. So, that made a very... I think that shaped the person that I have become.”

‘The Ideology in Power Should be Triggered’

We also specifically asked Swara about the thought that goes behind tweeting and how she tweets.

Do you often feel like the way you criticise an issue or the way you tweet about something or the way you put a video out about something, that is only contributing to further polarisation? Or, are you aware that maybe you should still try to maintain a certain kind of objectivity or try very hard to be neutral, not use certain terms that could trigger people from the other spectrum, of course?

Swara: The people that I am challenging, “so called”, or the ideology that I am challenging is the ideology in power. It should be triggered. They deserve to be triggered. How else is a normal citizen going to register their protest?  How do I reach out to the powers that...

Then you trigger to what end, then what eventually happens?

Swara: Shouldn’t the people in power realise that not everybody in the country thinks like them. That not everyone is offended by some silly scene in a web series. And, at some level, it’s to call out the—excuse my language, you can beep it out—but it’s to call out the bullshit. I mean, you are telling me that we are now in 2021 in a state where on the 30th of January, people celebrate Nathuram Godse. And I should be worried about triggering their feelings? Of course, their feelings deserve to be triggered. And I am being generous, here. There’s a lot more that they deserve, alright? Triggering them on the internet is the smallest of the problems, here.

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