‘Nationalism’ Over Women’s Safety? Barkha Dutt’s Story Says a Lot 

Once Barkha Dutt’s harassers were arrested, somehow her safety took a  backseat to one of the men being Muslim.

3 min read
Four men were arrested by Delhi Police’s cyber crime cell for harassing journalist Barkha Dutt online.

Four men were arrested on Wednesday by the Delhi Police’s cyber crime cell for harassing – sexually and otherwise – journalist Barkha Dutt online. This followed Dutt's official complaint – back in February – based on threats received over the phone, lurid messages, WhatsApp calls, and obscene photographs from strangers. The online attacks were a result of Dutt's comment – seeking to help out Kashmiris – post the Pulwama attack.

Anyway, back to what’s in hand : The law proved its mettle, took the perpetrators to task - Quite a win, right? You would think so.

But the narrative changed online in the blink of an eye. What transpired post the news of the arrests is a digression so fraught with communal arguments that it managed to distract – from the primary headline –with whitewashed brilliance. The deflection, with tragic force, was in the fine print that – in an ideal world – should not matter. 3 of the men arrested were Hindus, and one a Muslim.

Bam! The reactions poured in pronto.

What's the deal? Well, while reporting her harassers, a month back, this is what Dutt had mentioned:

The tweet put out by Barkha Dutt while calling out her harassers. 
The tweet put out by Barkha Dutt while calling out her harassers. 
(Photo: Twitter/Altered by The Quint) 

Now, the conclusions  drawn proved to be quite telling.

The religious identity of the Muslim man, Shabbir Pinjari, was culled out with swift precision in order to “prove (Dutt) wrong”. ‘Nationalism’, used by Dutt in one of her tweets while calling out a harasser, was reduced to a fierce Hindu-Muslim divide. The associations and reductions were a dime a dozen, and, soon enough, Dutt was on the receiving hate of online hate again. Her safety took a  backseat to one of her harassers being Muslim.

Shabbir wasn't a Hindu man. In his case, a Hindu wasn't responsible for the obscenities. How could Dutt, then, have blamed ‘nationalists’ for the misdeed? She had been EXPOSED.

It is interesting to note here that the three other men are not Muslims.

But that’s okay? Let's digress from the fact that Barkha Dutt’s harassers have been arrested, that the law has taken due cognizance of a woman’s precarious position in an ecosystem that refuses her dissent, and that sexual harassment is being addressed. Let's focus, instead, on the religious identity of Shabbir Pinjari, because... ‘nationalism’, as defined by the current narrative, has been redeemed?

Would you prioritise communal scores over a citizen’s safety and well-being?  The fight, Barkha’s and ours, is against toxic misogyny disguising itself as ‘love for the country’, not against specific religious affiliations.

Public outrage has, once again, set the most ungainly precedent: A woman’s personal space and her freedom of expression in the country can take the backseat.

Redemption based on one’s religious identity is what matters. Identity, based on man-made constructs and structured around a decimation and and not a celebration of differences, needs to be prioritised before we talk about perpetrators being held accountable by the law  for threatening  a woman’s autonomy.

Collective memory is a first come first serve service. Imagine feeding it with the wrong buzz.

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