Your son and I are almost the same age; he is twenty-three, I am turning into one this month. We are both young, just starting out in our lives, and we were both raised more by the Internet than by our parents.
I read you got to know about Twitter recently. How you came to know of its existence is lamentable. That is why you must know about the Internet. Ask me; I’ll tell you it is a paradox: it welcomes, it alienates; it mends, it breaks. To your son and me, it brought the world in sleek, gleaming rectangular boxes. For the foremost time in human history, we were gifted another reality in which abundance was the norm. Everything, everyone was at the whim of our fingertips; we were fed we could have anything, whenever we wanted. I see your son got overwhelmed with such tremendous power. Because while I used the same Internet and Twitter to save lives during the devastating second wave of the COVID crisis, he chose to threaten a nine-month-old baby with rape when India lost a cricket match.
Your son has not been the first, will certainly not be the last. Death and rape threats in India are as ubiquitous as polluted air — they worry you, but you learn to live with them.
Yet, I cannot excuse you entirely. The reasons are several. You said your son “accidentally hit [the tweet] sent” because the phone slipped from his hands, and he is partially blind. Putting it bluntly, the circumstances of how he tweeted do not matter; it is the content of his thought that worries me. Us.
It is not an aberration that you cite your son’s rape threat as an “accident”. Women in this country are mere tools to be set as precedents and deterrents. When we differ, refuse to abide, become outspoken, men bombard our inboxes, fashioning their penises into one of their most preferred weapons of inflicting violence on us. Others include objects such as iron rods (sometimes hot, sometimes cold). For they believe, by penetrating our bodies, they will ‘teach us our lessons’.
In this case, however, your son acted on a more extreme patriarchal impulse: that even to wound men, the women in their lives offer the route. Will you probe him on when was the first time he observed someone perceive women like that? (I hope his answer does not mention you.)
You asserted your son “was not in his right mind at the time because he was angry that the Indian team lost”. Can you ask him, calmly, where he learnt he could threaten someone with rape each time he was angry? And, if he has ever access to the woman in question, will he? Because often, when I am angry, I sleep. (I am confused about who is teaching us these contrasting anger management techniques.)
Let me also be honest: unfortunately, this focussed attention and backlash directed at him — in its intensity and magnitude — is more because of the entities involved than the issue itself. Every woman I know, including myself, has endured this at some point. But by employing such words and justifications, you have attempted to make your son look mostly sterile of these violent ideas. In doing so, you have degraded women further.
You have pushed me to inspect the foundations of my own relationships with men. The love I harbour for them may be limitless and unfathomable but never unconditional. Most men remain insulated from the everyday experiences of women (and the LGBTQIIA+ folks), and dejectedly, I (now) get that. Thus, my companionships, in any capacity, do not arrive with a warranty of careless forever’s or no-matter-what-you-dos. When I can, in plain words, I lay the pain out for the men in my life. I do not conduct this toll-taking activity because I don’t trust them; it is my subscription to the understanding that good people are also capable of committing bad things. So, if it teaches them what is unacceptable and criminal, I do not mind sprinkling asterisks on those relationships.
But, by threatening a baby who remains faceless on the Internet, your son has proved what feminists keep reiterating: that it is never the face, the age, the signal, the dress, the legs, the skin, the drink, the actions, the look, the party, the late-night, the aloneness. It is never, ever the woman who slips (like the phone in your son’s hands). It has always been your son, someone’s son.
Virat and Anushka’s daughter will blossom into a fierce individual. But today, I implore you to take a hard look into the mirror. This is neither to tell you that I hate your son, nor do I wish him anything bad. It is only to equip you with some questions that you must ask your son, and more urgently, yourself. In the meantime, for their daughter and a million others, we hope to build a safer, more hopeful world.