“How the heck can I unsee this?” tweeted right-winger Shefali Vaidya on Friday, “Sharing it to spread the misery. Why should I suffer alone?” What Shefali, a prolific Twitter user, wanted to ‘unsee’ was a photo of research scholar and LGBTQI+ activist Kaushal Bodwal at a protest in Delhi. Kaushal, who identifies as queer, was wearing a bindi and a nosering in the picture, while participating in an anti-CAA protest in the capital back in December. And the photo and Shefali Vaidya’s queerphobic comment on it sent hundreds of trolls after Kaushal, with many insulting Kaushal for the way he looks.
“The trolling has been happening for a while,” says Kaushal, speaking to TNM, “That photo was taken at a protest sometime in December, and even before Shefali Vaidya tweeted it, people had been trolling me for it. In fact, the principal of the college where I did my graduation had shared a post by someone on Facebook calling me ‘buddhi pisachi’ – intellectual demon.”
The harassment on Twitter reached new lows after Shefali Vaidya’s tweet – which has now been removed by Twitter for violating their rules. “My dog had swallowed my car keys an hour back. I tried a lot of emetics but nothing worked. Out of options, I showed him this picture and he vomited instantly, puking out the car keys as well as the bike keys he had swallowed last year,” one person wrote – and the tweet has still not been removed at the time of writing this article.
Reacting to the vile comments, Kaushal says the trolling and abuses are society’s reaction to feeling threatened by his queerness – and indeed, queerness in general. But Kaushal adds he doesn’t agree with some of the trolling Shefali has been receiving in return, calling her ‘aunty’ etc. “We can’t fight transphobia with misogyny,” he says.
“Society looks at us in a certain way,” he says, “And when queer people participate in popular protests, we are being a part of society and challenging norms. Queer and trans people cannot fit into the brackets and norms of society and this threatens people. The way queer people carry ourselves threatens people.”
“They understand bodies in a certain way – they look at a beard and think this is male, or look at a bindi and say this is female. But when they see queer and trans people, there is a rupture happening in the understanding of a body, and this threatens them,” he explains.
The 24-year-old research scholar is amused by many of the comments his photo received. “Someone asked – iski baraat aayegi ya jayegi? Meaning, if I were to get married, would I be the bride or the groom. They are so concerned about my marriage!” he says.
And that’s because there are some peculiar features to how we look at the world, he says. “According to the society’s rules, you have to get married. You have to have children. You have to have a family that is related by blood. However, for many queer people, families are the number one enemy,” he says.
Kaushal is also amused at the rhetoric employed by right-wingers when it comes to rights of marginalised communities. “I’m from a Dalit background. Because I protested against CAA, many of the commenters said I don’t care about Dalits in Pakistan which is why I’m opposing CAA,” Kaushal laughs, “These are people who don’t care about Dalits being attacked and killed in India, and they’re telling me they’re worried about Dalits in Pakistan.”
One reply to Shefali Vaidya’s tweet – by Abhijit Iyer-Mitra – has also raised anger among LGBTQI+ people online. Abhijit trolled Kaushal for his appearance, calling him a ‘Yeti’, displaying transphobia and queerphobia despite being an out-gay man himself. Kaushal says this points to the caste-class privilege Abhijit holds, and how most LGBTQI+ issues don’t affect someone like Abhijit Iyer-Mitra.
“A majority of the problems of queerness are problems of caste and class struggle,” says Kaushal, “When queer people come out, the first thing that gets snatched away is the house. There is no money. It’s difficult to find a house. There is no employment,” he explains. But that’s not the case for someone like Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, he adds.