On June 28, actress Shruti Seth responded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s #Selfiewithdaughter campaign by calling him #selfieobssessed. Mother to 11-month-old Alina, Seth said the tweet stemmed from her exasperation with the state of affairs in the country.
But following her tweet, she was subjected to disparaging remarks about her upbringing, the religion of her husband, filmmaker Danish Aslam, and was even accused of prostitution.
While Seth subsequently deleted her tweets after the backlash, she wrote an open letter — A Little Note to India — on July 3. “I write this to an entire nation because no one individual can be held responsible for bringing about change in the mindset of a billion odd people. Change can only happen if there is awareness at an individual level,” reads the opening paragraph.
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The letter talks about the traumatic experience she had to face after her tweets. “Men and women alike said the most vile things about me, stripping me of all my dignity as someone’s daughter, wife and mother and most importantly a woman. Men who were busy hash-tagging their selfies with their daughters one minute called me slanderous names the next,” the letter reads.
Seth, who had questioned the campaign, meant to check female infanticide, continued to do so in the letter. “What is the point of taking selfies with your girls when you’re also responsible for creating the most toxic environment for them to grow up in? How will taking a photograph nullify the misogyny and patriarchy that is so deeply entrenched in our society?” said the actor, who has featured in films such as Fanaa and Raajneeti.
She ended her letter with a note to the PM: “If you truly wish to empower women I urge you to condemn this kind of hatred being spread in your name. Regretfully, I deleted my initial tweet because of the backlash. But I stand by what I said and I’ll reiterate it here: ‘Selfies don’t bring about change, reform does. So please try and be bigger than a photograph. Come on!’.”
Both Seth and her husband are active users of the micro-blogging platform. She said Aslam is often subjected to bigotry. “He’s asked to shut up because he’s Muslim and is told to go live in Pakistan or Syria,” she said. According to Seth, there should be a certain amount of self-censorship online. “If there are tweets threatening physical harm, there has to be some form of disciplining,” said the Mumbai-born actress, who graduated in economics from St Xavier’s College.
While the last one week has been disturbing for Seth, people also came out in droves to lend support. Asking women not to take abuse lying down, she said, “If you truly want to empower everyone, make India a land of equal opportunities, irrespective of caste, race, gender and even sexual orientation. Make the laws stringent and punish those who perpetuate crimes against women.”
Responding to some people on Twitter, who accused her of trying to resurrect her career by using the PM’s name, she said, “Going by what people were saying, I should be receiving my ticket to politics any time now. I will also hold the PM liable if I don’t get plum acting offers now.”