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Open Letter to Barkha Dutt from a Woman

Dear Barkha

I’m grateful that by your liberal rule-book, you don’t hold any notion of sexism in such a form of address. But I am not writing to praise you, but to bury your lies and expose your double standards.

In your open letter to Smriti Irani you poured out your heart’s anguish at how she’s never stood up for other women. I would like to point out certain biases and factual inaccuracies not to mention your overall hypocrisy in writing the letter without further much ado.

You start with :

Dear Smriti – though by your rule-book, that’s a supposedly inappropriate and sexist way to address you – a controversy so emblematic of the needless quarrels you have sometimes craved, sought and fought.

The paragraph gives a small insight of the bitter taste of your written bile one shall be subjected to on further reading. It is to my bemusement I note how one can so confidently label the so called  twitter ‘quarrels’ as  something Mrs. Irani craved. If this is intended to target the calling out of false news by the minister, then surely a person is entitled to clarifying their stand?

 Next you write:

As feminists, we must stand up against sexism – and each time you have been at its receiving end – we have. From Sharad Yadav’s swipe at you in Parliament to Congress acolyte Tehseen Poonawallah’s nudge-nudge wink-wink aside about “no HRD feelings” – most of us condemn it in absolute terms. I certainly do.

I do laud you for having stood up for Smriti Irani in certain cases like Sharad Yadav’s misogynistic statements in the parliament. However, by and large you have remained unperturbed – be it the ‘Aunty National’ headlines by your journalistic peers at Telegraph India or even your own mentioned Poonawalla comment (you have not openly condemned nor said a word to the concerned person leave alone doing a report).

You carry on by saying:

My disagreement is with the selective debate around you after your shift to textiles from textbooks. My problem is that while your supporters present you as having been the victim of bigotry that is reserved only for women, it’s the correct time to underscore that you have never stood up against the sexism that so many women are subjected to – on social media or off it. Not once.

I would like to understand what do you mean by “stood up against the sexism that so many women are subjected to – on social media or off it? By women do you refer to specific women, women journalists or public at large? In case you missed this news  when a tweet sent to Smriti Irani by a common tweeter under duress saved many lives.

Standing up for women

There are many more such cases we hardly get to hear from the Mainstream media which you are part of, because it is busier writing such open letters instead of focusing on real news.

So I ask again by “women” whom do you indicate? Specific journalistic groups?

You write in anguish:

Whatever my ideological differences with the decisions you took in the Education Ministry may be – and no matter how nasty or sneering you were with me during television interviews – it did not alter where I drew the line at the language and idiom permissible for use while debating your work.

You have not once elaborated what was the nastiness and sneer she demonstrated towards you. If speaking the truth, calling out false, news not kow-tow-ing to the once all-powerful media is what discomforts you, then it rather betrays your bias.

You cry:

You, on the other hand, seemed to revel in the discomfort and humiliation of women whose opinion did not coincide with your personal and political affiliations. You were unable to give them even a modicum of respect. I recall interviewing you recently at a dhaba in Amethi  ……  ….. So I get that it was your moment to perform – that comes with the turf. What was surprising is how malicious, even personal, you became.

If this is the video you speak of, Ms. Irani was visible courteous, polite and devoid of over familiarity which should be the case when giving an interview. On the other hand it was a reply on you questioning her as to why she keeps recalling she has been demonised by the media. She actually jovially responds that she isn’t talking about you and making a broader point about journalism which is quite fairly resonated by masses at present. In fact her point of grievance was about you and your colleagues demonising Narendra Modi – a fact which is carried forward till this day by your colleagues like Ravish Kumar at NDTV.

She brought out facts about subjective journalism and journalists acting as political brokers ( another fact; hope Radia Tapes rings a bell). If questioning why Kerala Dalit girls being raped doesn’t get covered by journalists is slandering then this is a new definition.

What is malicious is your entire para of actually getting personal with her and twisting entirely what Ms. Irani said. You had in fact got into the same argument with Ms. Irani not supporting women where she again countered you and you said it was an interview about her, not you. So it reeks of malicious intent to further bring this up now. Rest I leave others to judge the truth watching the interview themselves.


“My regret is I am giving an interview to you and your channel,” you declared, perhaps already doing a quick calculation on the hash tag that your troll army might trend – #SmritiSlapsBarkha – and proceeded to make sweeping pejorative generalisations about me and my colleagues. I think I disappointed you by not getting entangled in the argument.

You try to portray that some troll army trended #SmritiSlapsBarkha. Unfortunately for your assertions, there was no such trend and upon searching I found hardly two people had used this and if this constitutes a “troll army”, I thank you for a new definition.

The “trend”

You proceed to the Act 3 of your showmanship of a letter:

The reference to me in your Facebook post described me as one of those who “scream murder and whip themselves up into a feminist frenzy at the drop of a hat”. To which I would only say – I don’t apologise one bit for my feminist frenzy.

In the Facebook post referred to above, no where has the Minister referred to you or alluded to you. Why do you think people are obsessed with you? Hallucinating is not a healthy phenomenon you know.

Your supporters and you have also fallen back on feminism, especially when it has been politically convenient or when you have been exposed to misogynistic bile. But at other times you (and your social media army) have presented women like us who refuse to “zip it”  and stand up against filth, profanities and obscenities as fake victims who need to get a thicker hide. Singer Abhijeet recently targeted a senior journalist online by declaring: “Besharam budhia – you sk Pakis I fk..You lick, I kick..” Should she “zip it” or ask for him to be criminally charged with abuse?

Now there are many things wrong(to put it mildly) in this para (an entire separate letter could be written on this).

Firstly, you keep saying “Smriti Irani’s Twitter army”. Twitter is a free and open platform – a notion you and your Lutyens’ friends have a hard time grasping since time immemorial. If people choose to stand up for her, it reflects public mood. Then again, since the inception of Twitter, you and your journalistic ilk have often balked at the notion of public or as one says the ‘unwashed masses’ having gained a voice. I’m not for once saying abuse of women on Twitter does not take place but it is an occurrence across the spectrum. Women from the so called “right wing” have not only been sent death and rape threats regularly by other party “paid” army but from journalists of eminent newspapers.

In fact I remember a columnist called Rajyasree had made fun of Smriti Irani’s cloths size when she faced peeping camera’s in a clothes store trial room. I must spite my memory for having failed to notice your condemnation. There was the case Rupa Subramanya – someone you love having a twitter fight with –  getting nasty abuses and even requesting you to condemn but you remained silent.  Even when your fellow journalist Bhupendra Chaubey did an utterly sexism filled interview of actress Sunny Leone, we heard not a whimper from you. Why that, you yourself slandered and lied about a female Twitter account Shilpi Tewari, claiming that she had posted fake JNU videos. The tests results are out, Shilpi has been vindicated but no apology from you.

You make it seem that it is Smriti Irani’s personal life mission to target you and she unleashes her so called trolls on you and your friends – a notion for which ‘bizarre’ is too mild a word.

You also invoke an unrelated case of Abhijeet Bhattacharya’s abusing a female journalist. It is definitely condemnable but how may I ask is Smriti Irani responsible for this? Had you questioned the I&B minister – then Arun Jaitley- on why he had not condemned, it would have still made some sense.

Moreover, the lady journalist in question(Swati Chaturvedi) herself is a repeat offender at abusing other people (though this does not in any way justify her getting abused). I again baulk at my diminishing memory of having failed to note how you admonished or condemned her.

Lastly you end with:

But I didn’t “zip it” then – and nor will I “zip it” now, Dear Smriti, when I say: We will still stand up for your rights as a woman; it’s pretty clear though, that you will never speak up for us. As a strong woman who could have been a trailblazer for equality, you, sadly, more than let down the side.

This clearly paints a picture of victim-hood and some kind of perceived fascism which Ms. Irani has let loose upon yourself as you describe. The “zip it” quote is actually from Smriti Irani’s Facebook post where she speaks of her own trials and tribulations. Nowhere is she silencing you. When you say “stand up for Us” –  Whom do you mean as “Us”? Journalists? Why may I ask you deserve some special distinction? Are you indicating all those who support her and speak of free will on Twitter against you should be punished in some way? Are you pleading a case for bringing back a law like 66A? Once again for someone like you who’s a self proclaimed proponent of Free Speech, I find it amusing.

Nevertheless rest assured no one is silencing you as you adequately displayed through this letter and being a woman myself I feel, you don’t need somebody else to stand up for you. You yourself are sufficient. As Kobi Guru Rabindranath Tagore said “Jodi tor daak shuney keu naa Ashey tobe ekla cholo re”.

What should have been a letter directed to political persons across all spectrum standing up against women abuse ended up being all about you and yourself. As if you are the sole embodiment and torchbearer of the female kind. You certainly don’t speak for me or other women I know.

I agree with one line of your para very much I must say – “Why could you not accord other women, whether you personally liked them or not, the same space for anger and hurt?This is exactly what I feel sums up your bile filled letter to Ms. Irani.

P.S- I hope you don’t come after me for this letter as you did with Blogger Chaitanya Kunte.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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