Swara Bhasker Was Wrong… But that Doesn’t Mean Her Trolls are Right


Swara Bhasker Was Wrong… But that Doesn’t Mean Her Trolls are Right

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

If someone asked you to name a figure whom Swara Bhasker would get into trouble for criticising last week, you’d probably have picked someone like our Prime Minister. But when a complaint was filed against Bhasker earlier this week, the jibe was not aimed at someone you’d expect. The complaint was filed with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights by an NGO, on behalf of a four-year-old child artist whom Swara called “chutiya” and “kameena” while trying to be funny on the online chat show, Son of Abish.

Yes, that really happened. Bhasker used language that you’re likely to hear in the Bigg Boss house to describe a child. Perhaps, since the show was hosted by stand-up comedian Abish Mathew, Bhasker felt like she was under some pressure to be funny. Unfortunately, she crashed and burned so hard that even Mathew was singed in the wreckage; sheepishly nodding along and saying “Yeah, yeah” while Bhasker went on a rant about how children are “basically evil”. Who knew Swara Bhasker – the outspoken liberal public figure, prominent dissenter, and a thorn in the side of the right wing – would reveal her greatest nemesis was in fact just a four-year-old kid?

Bhasker is no stranger to being the target of public outrage. She’s been in the crosshairs of right-wing Twitter trolls for so long that she’s even added “Right-wing baiter” to her bio on the site. She’s been accused of being in the pockets of everybody from Pakistan’s ISI to the Indian National Congress, because she’s so good at ruffling conservative feathers, some people can’t believe that she would do it for free. Earlier this year, she announced, “If I’m not involved in a #twittercontroversy once a week, assume I’m dead!”

No obituaries have yet been written for Bhasker, because she’s been delivering the promised controversies with regularity. Her last release, Veere Di Wedding, featured a scene depicting her masturbating, which had people on Twitter accusing her of wanton vulgarity and besmirching Indian values and traditions. You know, the usual reaction you’d expect conservative Indians to have to the idea that a woman is capable of pleasuring herself.

Before that, when Padmaavat was in theatres, she wrote an open letter expressing disappointment with the way the practise of jauhar – where Rajput women self-immolated themselves en masse – was glorified in the film’s climax. Seeing as jauhar hasn’t been widely practised for decades, if not centuries, one wouldn’t think that Bhasker’s opinion was a controversial one. But since this is Bhasker we’re talking about, who irritates the upholders of our sanskar more than the fact that India is one of the largest exporters of beef in the world, she attracted the usual trolling. The fact that she said the jauhar sequence made her feel like she was reduced to “just a vagina” prompted familiar accusations of vulgarity.

No obituaries have yet been written for Bhasker, because she’s been delivering the promised controversies with regularity.

And it didn’t stop at that. Bhasker can’t even win the right-wingers over while praising their greatest hero. After the Lok Sabha election results were declared this year, she congratulated PM Modi on Twitter on his “spectacular victory”. If you thought the Twitter trolls would let even a compliment slide, you haven’t been paying attention. That’s right, she was trolled. Again. For toasting the PM Modi’s second term. Some people just can’t catch a break.

She might be one of the rare celebrities in the country whose haters and trolls follow her actions even more closely than her fans and supporters. (Abhishek Bachchan is another). So when the clip of her using cuss words for a child surfaced on the internet, the backlash was swift. The clip went viral, and #SwaraAunty began trending on Twitter, since she had mentioned that being called “aunty” by the kid had annoyed her. The more information that’s revealed about this situation, the more the four-year-old starts looking like the most mature person involved.

Normally, when Bhasker is in the eye of the storm like this, it’s for speaking out on some social issues. Controversial or not, she tends to have backers for her comments even as the trolls descend. But swearing at a kid is the talk-show equivalent of elaichi in biryani – nobody wants to go anywhere near that.

So, after two days of incessant, one-sided trolling, Bhasker has ended up cutting a sympathetic figure despite her indefensible comments. It’s ironic that those who accuse Bhasker of being vulgar seem to have no hang-ups about mouthing off about a person they’ve never even met for themselves. And since logic isn’t a prerequisite to making a Twitter account, there have been some who’ve used her comments on the show to undermine every progressive stance she’s taken in the past. One account, followed by PM Modi’s official handle, called her a hypocrite for calling for justice in the case of rape of a minor in Kathua, while Vivek Agnihotri (who is basically a right-wing Swara Bhasker himself) said that she was “doing her job” by insulting the kid, which makes me wonder what this film director thinks an actor’s job really is.

While Bhasker did make a huge slip-up on the chat show, this doesn’t mean that she’s an irredeemably amoral individual. After all, our elected leaders have said even worse things about entire communities than what she said about a single child. Hopefully Bhasker’s learned the importance of choosing her words carefully from this experience – because clearly there are those who can’t wait to twist everything she says.