This article was first published as “The Curious Case of Shefali Vaidya” in the Opinion section of Gaysi Family on January 20, 2020.
A week ago I woke up reading a tweet thread by Ray, a transwoman and a trans-rights activist, who, in that tweet, was reporting Shefali Vaidya’s tweet and urging Twitter India to take strict action against Vaidya’s spiteful and hateful transphobic tweet.Tweet
I saw what Shefail Vaidya — who as per her Twitter bio is an “author, satirist, speaker, Indian, Hindu, Woman” — had tweeted, “How the heck can I unsee this? Sharing it to spread the misery. Why should I suffer alone?” with a sari-clad, wearing a bindi on his forehead, Kaushal Bodwal — who identifies as a queer person, is a student at Delhi School of Economics (DSE), an ex-JNU student and a member of Hasratein, a queer collective. It didn’t even take her 280 characters to invite an array of hateful comments against Kaushal.
She can’t “unsee” Kaushal. The privilege of a Hindu and heterosexual person was at display, along with disgust toward the people who identify themselves beyond the gender binary.
She couldn’t “unsee” Kaushal for three prime reasons, it seems. Kaushal is a Dalit scholar — a fact that this deeply casteist person can’t overlook. Kaushal is a queer activist, and appears, in this picture, expressing gender nonconformity. And Kaushal belongs to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the “anti-national” university.
I’ve met Kausal at JNU campus in 2018 when we’re discussing about the formation of a new LGBTQIA+ society or collective. He’s leading the discussion. I was absolutely spell bounded by the grace with which he donned a sari that day too. Shoulder-length hair and a bindi on his forehead, and a nose-ring, Kaushal was as poised as his responses are even after getting trolled.
It didn’t take me a while to understand why this tweet against him started trending. Now I can connect the dots: Kaushal made them — the upper-caste, heterosexual and patriarchal regime — uncomfortable by being a Dalit, queer and, on top of that, being from JNU, now DSE. That’s certainly a cocktail of anti-national traits that the right-wing machinery of hatred can’t handle at a time.
Choosing the Right Battles
Besides being trolled on Twitter for actually nothing Kaushal’s response was measured and calm. He said, “The trolls will feel threatened by my appearance, somewhere it haunts them.” Because trolls and right-wing ideologues cannot see beyond the binary. Nonbinary people and gender nonconforming individuals disturb them the most. It’s this “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” that they’ve started by passing the regressive Trans (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019.
The invisibilization of the trans* community that this Bill ensures and the vile intentions of the ruling party are not unknown to us. It’d be fair to assume that the contemporary India is a perfect place for people like Shefali Vaidya to proliferate and play instrumental role in spreading all kinds of exclusionary messages. People like these have a “blue tick” to exercise this freedom too. People like these and their fellowship “helps” in spreading such message to reach the masses. And people like these will never be “reported,” reasons even not known to me.
I scrolled through Vaidya’s twitter account, the uncalled for disgusting things she’s been saying about anyone speaking against the establishment was disturbing. But what more to expect from an Hindutva ideologue who’s posting fake news and not missing any opportunity to misinform people on social media. But what’s surprising and shocking to me was the tone and tenor of comments in that thread. It’s gut-wrenching for me to even read.
However, it’s heartening to see many influential names started reminding Shefali of the progressive NALSA judgment, how and what made her tweet transphobic and why it’s simply unacceptable.
When I called Kaushal to confirm his gender identity. (I asked this question because several tweets misappropriated him as a trans* person on Twitter. I just wanted to confirm this.) And as it turned out, Kaushal doesn’t identify being trans*, instead he’s queer. Kaushal said to me that “though I’m not a trans person but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to address these tweet being transphobic. I mean that’s not the battle I’d chose to fight. That I’m not a trans person and someone said so.”
Experiencing the Other Side
Interestingly, Vaidya was soon found defending herself when she’s on the other side of the story facing heat from the big names in the film industry and queer activists. Take a look:
It’s surprising to me that she found nothing “discriminatory” in her tweet. I don’t even know how to even articulate why Vaidya couldn’t figure her abhorrent tweet to be extremely discriminatory against the queer community. No wonder when people find themselves in vulnerable positions, not knowing that they’ve been targeting others all this while unknown of the mental trauma that such acts of hatred can cause, retaliate in this manner. She would be unable to “unsee” Kaushal, but I guess “Hum Dekhenge!”
Feature image credits: Delia Giandeini via Unsplash.