June 30th, 2018:
Union Minister for Ministry of External Affairs in India, Sushma Swaraj posted a poll on Twitter. Sushma is among a handful of female cabinet ministers in the PM Modi led cabinet and had been subject to online harassment. Her question was simple, ‘DO YOU APPROVE OF SUCH TWEETS?’
124,305 votes were cast, a vast majority said no, but sadly 53,451 said yes. They approved of the harassment.
But why was the union minister subject to vicious trolling?
Well, the drama began at an RPO office in Lucknow, where a woman named Tanvi Seth was supposed to be interviewed by Regional Passport Officer named Vikas Mishra.
The RPO in question noted two discrepancies in Tanvi’s application. Firstly the marriage document shown by her revealed that her name was Shadia Anas (a name mentioned in her nikahnama as she married a muslim man Mohammed Anas Siddiqui) and that her permanent address was different from the address mentioned in the application. Tanvi who is resident of Noida had applied for a passport from Lucknow. However during the interview, Vikas Mishra allegedly chided Tanvi for her inter-religious marriage. Tanvi then took to twitter to air her grievances and all hell broke loose after media channels picked up the story. The issue polarised the online community.
Subsequently the RPO was transferred and later Tanvi was issued a passport. This too however did not go down too well with many.
Soon they trained guns against the head of the external affairs minister: Sushma Swaraj. Sushma’s integrity was questioned. Her health issues were made fun of and not just that, her family was not spared too.
Soon MEA issued a clarification over this issue. MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “I will clarify these two points. On the marriage certificate, under the revised passport application rules, there is no requirement for submission of a marriage certificate at the time of application of passport. Therefore, the name in the marriage certificate is not relevant to the issue of passport. Second, on the address, Tanvi Seth had submitted her Adhaar Card and a joint bank account as a proof for her name and address which was the same as mentioned in the application form. Therefore, the issue of passport to Tanvi Seth was found in order based on the existing rules.”
However in the midst of all this drama , what has really caught the attention of many is the ‘shrill pitch’ silence of PM Modi and his cabinet. PM and several top leaders from the cabinet refused to comment on the issue. Till date only Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Ram Madhav and Ram Vilas Paswan have backed Sushma. PM and top BJP leaders have spoken in length of women empowerment and safety, however when their very own leader was in distress, they maintained a not so golden silence.
Many say it is unfair to drag in PM into this controversy as he had no role to play in it. But doesn’t the same logic apply to Sushma as well? As far as transferring Vikas Mishra was concerned, it was a decision by the Lucknow Passport Office, secondly the passport was only issued after necessary verification. Thirdly Sushma was not present in India when the episode took place.
Criticism is a part and parcel of public life and work space, however unfair and unjust criticism can only demotivate a person. We must learn to criticise in a constructive manner and not criticise only for the sake of criticism. Also let’s not forget the good work Sushma’s ministry has done in the past.
Secondly harassment of any kind, be it in workplace or public or private or on social media must be condemned. BJP must learn that silence by their leaders on such a vital issue, will only be in detrimental in the long run for the party.