Outspoken actress Swara Bhasker, who has made a name for herself in Bollywood with strong roles in some offbeat films, says she loves to take hateful trolls head on as it very important “to expose the hatred and the low level of humanity of so many of these trolls” that are often paid for by vested interests.
In an interview, Swara Bhasker said, “The path to stand up for whatever is right will always be harder”, and she always kept reminding herself that “this is a good fight”.
“I do take on trolls head on,” she asserted courageously.
She defended Bollywood artistes for not often speaking up on issues, because no one wants to “become vulnerable to such crazy hounding in the kind of climate of India where it seems there is no accountability for any kind of a heinous crime.”
“If we don’t have respect for artistes then we don’t have respect for the freedom of expression. We don’t have respect for dissenting opinion,” said Swara Bhasker, whose parents come from academic and services background.
Excerpts from her candid interview:
Q. For better or for worse, you have become a voice that is heard on the social media. Does that put a responsibility on you?
A. Well yes, I suppose I never saw myself as raising my voice or speaking out on social media as part of the responsibility. An artiste and as a thinking person, you engage with the world around you and then the thing with social media is that sometimes things that you see on it are so extreme and they are so horrifying that you forced into the reaction.
Q. And then comes the backlash?
Yes, if you speak honestly, perhaps because there are not enough people speaking honestly… And then you know of course there is sort of a public profile because of my film work. Because of that, people start paying more attention to you and yes it puts more responsibility on you.
Q. Why has there not been more intense response from Bollywood to the Kathua outrage?
A. I think as far as this particular case is concerned, the whole outrage that has happened where everyone — whether it’s the people from Bollywood, even citizens and common people and people who are not actors, the outrage is really genuine and widespread, as it should be because the crime is so horrifying and so heinous. It says something so scary about our society, especially as you know, what the attitude of the government is in both these cases (Kathua and Unnao).
Q. How important is it for celebrities to speak up and why do we see so little of the film fraternity voice their protest apart from the token tweets?
A. Very honestly, people say celebrities should speak up and voice their opinion when such incidents happen and someone said that they need to be responsible. But look at them when they speak! Look at this placard campaign we initiated.
So many of my friends and colleagues from the film industry participated in it and it was a success. It really brought attention to the issue…and look at the kind of hate that has come to all of us.
Q. Hatred from whom, where?
A. Especially from the organised trolls of the Sangh Parivar and BJP itself, the kind of vicious trolling and frankly irrelevant, stupid hateful messages that have been coming. And then you actually ask yourself why Bollywood actors should put themselves out there and become targets of such hateful, horrible paid trolls.
Q. Does this thought deter you from your campaigns on the social media?
A. Actually, now I am more engaging with activism in Bollywood and activism as a Bollywood personality, and now I realise why so many stars remain silent on so many issues. Because why would you want to put yourself out there?
Bollywood personalities are so vulnerable because everyone knows our faces. Most of them know our dresses, shoes, bags, homes, whereabouts… so we become vulnerable to such crazy hounding in the kind of climate of India where it seems there is no accountability for any kind of a heinous crime.
Q. So you think Bollywood has no reason to take up social causes?
A. Frankly, I really don’t think the onus should be on Bollywood anymore because this is not a society that deserves that artistes speak up because you don’t have respect for artistes, and if we don’t have respect for artistes then we don’t have respect for the freedom of expression.
We don’t have respect for dissenting opinion. Why is India not responsive to issues of citizen rights, social responsibility or freedom of expression of the people as in the US?
Q. How do you deal with all the hatred and trolls?
A. Yeah, it is tiring to see the kind of hatred and violence but not only hatred but also at the ignorance and illiteracy that is so much on social media. I know some of them are paid for, but I don’t know what kind of comfort these paid trolls provide.
What kind of society have we become that people take money to write these horrible things about the gang rape of an eight-year old girl? I try to brace against this hatred. I am trying to get used to it. I try to tell myself that I am fighting a good fight.
Whenever a society goes through a terrible phase, as ours is going through, then the path to stand up for whatever is right will always be harder then to stand up with the dominating narrative. I keep on reminding myself that this is a good fight. I do take on trolls head on.
Q. Most trolls just want attention?
A. People ask me, why do you reply to trolls, they are nobody, let them be. It isn’t that. The point is that they maybe nobody, but there maybe ten people who are reading their tweets and get influenced by their bullsh*t.
I think it is very important to expose the hatred and the low level of humanity of so many of these trolls. And some of them are public figures who have verification ticks on them. So it is important to call them out because silence in the times like this is termed as complicity.