Safoora Zargar, a 27-year-old scholar from Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University, was arrested on April 11 in connection with the anti Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in Jaffrabad in north-east Delhi earlier this year. One of the student leaders at the forefront of the anti-CAA protests that erupted across the country late last year and which continued right till the pandemic forced us all indoors, Zargar was also the media coordinator of the Jamia Coordination Committee. Subsequently, she was also charged under non-bailable offences under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA.
On May 4, while the ‘bois locker room’ incident was making rounds on social media, there was a section of it engaging in targeted harassment and making sexist remarks towards the Jamia MPhil student. Kapil Mishra, known for his hate-speech rallies during the Delhi riots in February, quote-tweeted asking Congress leader Salman Nizami to not link his speech and Zargar’s pregnancy. What flooded the timeline, post his statement, were tweets by trolls targeting her for her marital and pregnancy status. The tweets brought sexist and vile trolls out in full force, with comments ranging from“she must have forgotten to use a condom” and “the father of the baby is unknown”. Though claims about her pregnancy being recently discovered in prison and her being unmarried were later busted, it’s vital to understand that Zargar’s pregnancy and marriage are not related to her imprisonment—and the act of tying her worth to her pregnancy is unjustified.
Women have always been routinely targeted by trolls on the internet for speaking out, and the harassment is only worse if they happen to be belonging to a minority community. The targeted attack on this student activist was a combination of both, Islamophobia and misogyny, and Zargar, who has been especially targeted for her Muslim identity, was also targeted by trolls here for her status as a woman as well.
Frankly, it needs to be asked why does it—why should it—matter even if the claims by the trolls turn out to be true. In a country where misogyny and toxic masculinity are rampant in kids as young as 14, where on the same day teen boys were exposed for their crude statements against young women, it shouldn’t be a surprise that spreading allegations about women’s personal lives and creating the impression that they should be ashamed about their choices are popular tools to undermine women’s agency over themselves. The statements made against Zargar are just another example of the normalisation of violence towards women, both online and in real life.
“This has a chilling effect and deters women from being active in public life. It demonstrates how difficult it is for women and particularly young, bold women from marginalised groups to participate in civic discourse,” said women’s rights activist and lawyer, Vrinda Grover, to Alt News. “It is a despicable and dastardly attempt to delegitimise her voice, the politics she espouses, and the movement that she is part of. Instead of engaging with the critical questions raised by Safoora on the unconstitutionality of CAA, she is sought to be silenced by questioning her morality.”
Zargar’s husband, who did not want to be named, said to The Indian Express, that he didn’t tell her about the trolling she has been receiving. “It’s not worth spending even a word and dignifying such remarks,” he said. “It’s not surprising to me that some people are making such comments on social media.” Taking note of the slander, the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), has sent a notice to the Delhi Police Cyber Cell to investigate and take action against these trolls.
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