A Rajya Sabha MP from Shiv Sena, Maharashtra and a Deputy Leader and National Spokesperson of Shiv Sena, Priyanka Chaturvedi needs no introduction. A vociferous supporter of women empowerment, child rights, education and health issues, she is a regular on TV channels.
Dressed in a green saree, she is all set to strut out for a show at one of the popular channels. We sit for a candid conversation around women issues and her love for handloom. Question her on how physical barriers for women always existed and now even the digital space is not safe for women, she is quick to answer, “The issue that we women face as gender is the patriarchal society that we live in. When the constitution came about, Baba Sahab Ambedkar and the constituent assembly, envisioned equal rights for all unlike other democratic nations, we women didn’t have to fight for voting rights. It was his vision that we as a nation would progress together but unfortunately the dominance of the mind set where men tend to lead and tend to decide, that created barriers and now social media has given a free voice to many women but at the same time it has given free voice to those men who think they will decide how women should be thinking, wearing, talking, eating and her life choices so that is where the challenge is really faced. Social media is just a reflection of the society we live in so barriers will continue to exist, we need to thrash these barriers.”
She believes women, as a collective voice, as a gender are doing gross injustice by not speaking up in one voice, in a collective voice to shut down their voices who are trying to silence us, who are trying to slander us, so they keep getting more and more emboldened.
Chaturvedi feels solutions do exist, even if it means fighting against injustices in individual spaces. “One case can perhaps have repercussions and create a ripple effect where people start fearing usage of words, creating fake narratives. When I realized some boundaries were being crossed, I took the help of the justice system. I went to the cybercrime cell and reported such crimes. It’s important to report such crimes because I think that the threat to violence on social media platforms cannot be brushed away and it needs to be stopped. I would encourage other women to do that, instead of getting silenced, come forward and report such incidents.”
Social media has had a transformative impact on how people live, engage with one another, and work. However, it can be a double-edged sword as it constantly evolves owing to modern technological innovation. This cannot be truer for the world’s women: social media gives them political, financial, and social empowerment, even as they battle lack of access, language barriers, and safety concerns.
From a mother of two kids, to a columnist, to a politician and now to a member of the Rajya Sabha, social media has helped her grow and has brought about many positive changes. “It is about how you perceive life, either you concentrate on the negativity that prevails or you concentrate on the positive aspects. People used social media positively during the second wave of Covid19 and helped others and saved lives. Social media became a platform where people sought help and got it as well. So negative attributes of social media do exist which can be clearly addressed if we fight it collectively.”
As much as the internet has been lauded for democratising access to information and has provided a platform for the ordinary person to voice their views, it has exposed the faultlines and the gaps in the mechanisms to protect people — particularly women. Internet trolls who disrupt conversations by posting divisive, sexist, racist, and xenophobic content hijack social media interactions and tend to become abusive.
“Trolling is a part of how human lives are. Not everyone would agree, not everyone would disagree, not everyone would be gentlemanly about it or polite about their behaviour and many people think it is fine to comment and get away with saying whatever they feel like. However, there is a very thin line dividing trolling and abuse. The minute the families are involved and you are slandered, called all kinds of names, it takes an offensive nature.”
She feels that’s the time when women should put their foot down and demand for action. “Call for action could be to block those handles and report those handles. If there is something serious in nature then report to the police and I think the cybercrime cell has woken up to this particular issue now. I remember reaching out to them regarding my first issue, they were really surprised that someone would want to take up the issue of trolling in the real world because they believed it’s happening out there in the digital sphere.”
Chaturvedi thinks it is important to send a message, that there is a limit to tolerance and there is a limit to how you treat women and how you speak to people. “It’s not just about women here, it’s about how you engage on the platforms which are public in nature, which are supposed to be exchanging and creating discussions.”
When it comes to women, it’s important for them to assert themselves. “The most important part is, not to get bullied because bullying is the biggest tactic that they use. When trolls pick on a particular tweet or latch on some issue, there are definite patterns and women should understand that pattern. The pattern lasts for about 72 hours and that can be the worst kind of trolling that you might face. So, the best part is to go off Twitter for a bit, go off such media platforms for a bit and return back. Don’t ever be cowed down because you have something to contribute, you have something to say and even if it is wrong, everyone learns from their mistakes. I have also seen a woke culture these past years, everything you speak, you will find 10 different people referring to it, don’t be silenced. That’s my most important request to every single woman who gets cowed down by this kind of trolling. Never be silenced. No one should judge anyone on their life choices.”
Quiz her about her love for handlooms, “There are some crafts that we need to continue to promote and talk about, to raise in our everyday living because that links us to who we are and what culture we come from. I dress a lot in sarees. I promote a lot of handloom and artisans.”
Her one life dream is to open up a museum of all the handlooms across the states which will value and promote handlooms and encourage young women to embrace them.