"I Stood Up Non-Politically Against Rape & Was Threatened With Gang Rape" — Spoken Word Poet Dhruv Shah

Team MissMalini , 03 Aug 2020
Spoken Word Poet Dhruv Shah
Spoken Word Poet Dhruv Shah

A couple of weeks ago, a clip from a standup performance by comedian, Agrima Joshua started doing the rounds on the internet with trolls attacking her for political references. This led to a slew of threats and abuses being hurled at her by trolls and so-called nationalists that put the young comedian under immense duress. Swara Bhasker posted about this highlighting the need to protect women and end rape culture once and for all. Women are not strangers to this online abuse at all. Any woman who has an online presence has been subject to harassment of varying degrees. So much so that MissMalini started the #IgnoreNoMoreOnline campaign to speak up and fight against this constant abuse and cybercrime. But what the public at large might ignore still is the fact that while women face the brunt of this kind of abuse, men too find themselves on the receiving end of these kinds of threats when they are vocal about their support of women. Allow us to explain…

In response to this culture of threatening artists and women with rape, TEDx speaker and spoken word poet, Dhruv Shah posted a poem against rape culture. Scarily, but unsurprisingly, these trolls went after him too, threatening him with gang rape and demanding that he take the video down. And so, we reached out to him to talk about toxic masculinity and why it is really essential to understand what it is before working towards dismantling it. It is clear that toxic masculinity is a problem that men and women need to tackle together.

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Bullying and intimidation are the mother tongue of the oppressor and it's time for a new language. Freedom of speech is THE MOST BASIC human right we deserve and it is petty to fight the fights we are fighting. How are we ever going to progress if our most basic rights are constantly denied and suppressed by criminals who roam the streets freely after making rape and death threats backed by mafias that run the city. IT'S 2020 AND I WANT TO FEEL FREE IN MY OWN HOME. Enough bullying. Enough intimidation. #SpeakUp #DontStop . . . . . . . . . #BoycottBullying #Rape #Nationalism #RapeCulture #Bullies #Intimidation #Criminals #India #Protection #Artists #Creators #HumanRights #Poetry #Comedy #SpokenWordPoetry #Poem #SpokenWord #SpokenWordPoem #Hate #HateSpeech #RapeThreats #Independence #Azadi #CounterCulture #FreedomOfSpeech #FreedomOfExpression #Freedom

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Here are some excerpts of our conversation:

Could you tell us about what has happened with you recently?

I recently released a spoken word poem standing up against rape culture and toxic masculinity masquerading as patriotism. It was my response to artists being threatened with rape from people who disagreed with their content. If we live in a truly democratic nation, we should be able to have differing opinions and speak our minds without being scared for our safety or our lives. While revealing pertinent issues, the poem made no political or religious references whatsoever. But still, the mere act of standing up against rape culture and toxic masculinity while met with thousands of reshares was also met with trolls who failed to grasp the message. I was added to an Instagram group with 13 men asking me to delete the video, threatening me with gang rape and making a porn film during this gang bang. This was a terrifying experience. We have no freedom of speech or expression as artists. I stood up non-politically against rape and was threatened with gang rape? This is what happens when bullies are empowered with the ticket of patriotism. There is nothing patriotic about toxic masculinity, but unfortunately, it is massy with lakhs of supporters.

What did you do after you got these threats?

After calling the perpetrators out and sharing this group chat, Swara Bhasker, Sayani Gupta, Malini Agarwal  and others amplified the threat which resulted in the trolls deleting their accounts, but it didn’t end there. For days I have been threatened and they’ve been demanding that I delete my post calling them out. Why is the burden of proof and mitigating innocent versus guilty on me when I am the one who received rape threats? This experience made me realise that if I am experiencing fear in an air-conditioned room in an urban city; I fear deeply for the women in rural, non-woke communities where harassment is rampant. We need faster response systems for online safety and better tackling of harassers because it cannot go on like this.

What is your content about and what motivates you to create more of it?

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I have a thin body and a small face. I'm not society's manliest guy around, (something I've been bullied for in the past). Even today, jokes are made all the time about males who don’t have stereotypically masculine traits or those who don't conform to society's norms about gender roles and body types. Apparently, using hand gestures or having a certain body posture is enough for society to call you a chakka (eunuch), panzi, etc. Women too, who have broad shoulders or 'non-dainty' bodies are labeled as 'manly'. Take a minute and observe the digital universe around you; how many large sized models do you see? Why are we not represented in reel as we are in real? Why does sitting with one leg over the other make a man less of a man? Why does having 'not ideal' ratios of body parts make a woman less of a woman? Have you ever imagined how much you would alter the course of the human spirit simply by choosing to be more inclusive, less shaming, and by authentic representation (creators)? Think of the scores of children you would revive for mourning parents if you simply chose to say "Hey, I'm [name]" instead of "Hey, you're ugly". -Body Shaming, Poem 2 of Many. Spread Love, Not Hate. Project #SpeakByDhruv . . . . . . . #bodyshaming #genderroles #spokenword #poetry #project #equality #feminism #conversations @unitednations #words #social #change #feelings @theellenshow #quotes @oprah #spokenwordpoetry #poems #poet #politics #world #gender #poetrycommunity #art #artistsoninstagram #speak #SpeakByDhruv

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My poems are often based on human rights issues such as equal rights, gender roles and body shaming and receive a generous response. Having experienced bullying, my poems often speak about my personal experiences with body shaming and gender roles. I realised my story was resonating with a lot of people. For example, a female who was soon to be married messaged me that her fiancé wasn’t masculine enough, but my poem on gender roles made her realise that not his masculinity but his heart is what was going to stay with them! Such responses struck a deep chord within me; my craft began finding a purpose and an audience. My scars began turning into my stars.

I’ve also interviewed celebrities like Rajkummar Rao, Boman Irani and others in drag style, and I don’t plan to stop speaking about these issues because I think we need to keep up the fight and not back down because otherwise, these trolls have won by silencing us.

What do you think toxic masculinity is? And how do you think we need to start the process of dismantling this very ingrained problem?

Simply put, toxic masculinity is men being bullies with the ticket of gender superiority. It also involves forcing men to conform to archetypal stereotypes of masculinity and condemning anyone who deviates from this. I have been a victim of being bullied for not being ‘masculine enough’ and today it is these same traits such as my creativity and my poetry that are celebrated in me as a performer. Can you imagine that the same person who was bullied for not being masculine is now being invited to interview celebrities as his female characters? This tells us something interesting about stereotypes—they limit us from accessing sides of our own selves that we suppress and push away because we don’t think they’ll find acceptance within society, but uneasy feelings actually hold a lot of treasures if we can learn to unravel them. And I’m glad that I did. I hope more men do too.

If you too want to join the campaign against cyberbullying, online harassment and cybercrime, follow @ignorenomoreonline on Instagram to arm yourself with the right information and learn about what you can do to help.

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