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It is mere words, tiny ones, that have become a unifying chorus for women everywhere: #MeToo. Not unlike the Arab Spring that had dictators ducking for cover, albeit briefly, the collective impact of #MeToo threatens to shatter the world of sexual miscreants. The power of the shared experience — through your harrowing story I see my own — has been profoundly cathartic. In India, where there is a huge stigma around disclosing abuse, women have stepped up to tell unflattering truths about the predators they’ve encountered because the staggering numbers have taken away the pain of disclosure.
Whether #MeToo fixes anything isn’t the point. It’s not like democracy came to the Middle East after the Arab Spring either. The world isn’t going to magically do a U-turn overnight. It’s a start. Social media lends itself so well to engineered narcissism, everybody always appears to be having a great time. Judging by most updates, all is well with our lives. But post #MeToo for once, regular folks, the ones who only posted stunning holiday pictures or beauty app selfies, have participated with angry fervour. In the last week, Facebook has been less about personal triumphs and about bigger issues that confront everyone. Like the other hashtag trending in Delhi these days, #Righttobreathe about the crisis of air in this doomed city.
It was started by a bunch of well-meaning and well-heeled ladies which, of course, went against the movement. Far easier to dismiss them as airheads looking for purpose rather than appreciate that they were at least trying to draw attention to a serious problem.
#Righttobreathe began with a message to attach a graphic of a green diya to the Facebook profile picture. The symbolism was met with cynical laughter. Snarky jokes were shared about the uselessness of modern protests, of candlelight vigils and such calls to change. However, closer to Diwali the movement gained momentum. Prominent citizens like Kapil Dev endorsed it. They posted videos by doctors from Fortis and Medanta with terrifying details on what exactly smoke from crackers does to human lungs. It’s another matter that three days after Diwali the air is scarily poisonous. However, #Righttobreathe successfully made the point that the air is terrible, thanks to diesel fumes and crop burning; don’t contribute with crackers to make it worse.
For some reason, the frivolity of a graphic green diva on a Facebook DP as an agent of change deeply offends some citizens. The common criticism of online activism and hashtags that trend is that people are only concerned with looking virtuous on social media and are unwilling to do the work that real change demands. But real patriotism isn’t necessarily just about being attacked by teargas after walking the streets with placards. The internet, which has immeasurably enriched all our lives, need not be looked down upon because that too, can speak truth to action. Of course, online spaces are not fully representative of all Indians. Just like how all voices in the physical world are not equal. But it’s encouraging people to voice their frustrations honestly, and even deliberate their future in a city that is blackening our insides. One can only hope that will lead to something.