May 19, 2018, Mountain House, California

On a windy Saturday afternoon, nearly 60 Indian-Americans who speak Tamil, came together to peacefully protest against “sexist and misogynist” comments made on social media by Mountain House resident, Thirumalai Sa alias Thirumalai Sadagopan. Just a few weeks ago, in April, popular Indian theatre and film actor S Ve Shekar (based in Chennai, India), re-shared this derogatory Facebook post, which then went viral, causing a stir in Tamil community forums and media. ScreenShots of S Ve Sekar’s post

A self-organized group of feminists called Bay Area Tamil Women (BATW) led a  silent protest on Saturday, May 19th, that culminated in front of Thirumalai Sa’s house. The group demanded an apology for the  derogatory comments he had made, casting aspersions on women journalists as being of “loose morals,” and willing to “sleep with powerful politicians or officials for the sake of a story.” This sexist tactic of slut shaming is not new.  Thirumalai Sa’s comments against women in media comes during the present time when the current Indian government has itself played a prominent role in labeling mainstream media organizations and journalists as “presstitutes,” a relatively new word fusing “press,” and “prostitute,” by way of questioning the  the integrity of journalists and alleging that media organizations are up for sale and that “truth-telling has a price-tag.” To bring this point home, the language used clearly targets women journalists in a pointed manner, encouraging a climate where they need to watch out or face public ridicule for being open and honest.

“Such irresponsible comments and opinion may seem trivial and a matter of free speech, but they set a bad precedent, and also have harmful consequences. They can easily discourage young girls and women from our community to become journalists or consider a career in journalism, which is an integral arm of a free and functioning democracy. We demand an apology and urge him to retract his harmful public statements,” said Shanti K from Fremont, one of the lead organizers of the BATW.

Ever since this controversy erupted in Tamil social media forums, , actor S Ve Shekar had a First Information Report (FIR) case filed against him, and he has since taken down the post that he had originally shared. Thirumalai Sa has deleted his pre-existing FB profile, but has so far refused to concede to the women’s demands for a public apology, and ordered police security ahead of Saturday’s protest.

The protest itself was a peaceful gathering that saw women and male allies holding placards and signs silently walking from the Mountain House High school campus to the offender’s house and back. The BATW has also put forth an online petition demanding Thirumalai Sa to apologize – this petition has garnered over 500 signatures. According to a statement issued by BATW, Thirumalai Sa has legal counsel and is alleged to have expressed anguish and threats to commit suicide in the face of the controversy and the ensuing protest, but the BATW remain firm in their demand for an apology.

I reached out to Thirumalai Sa for  a comment or response in order to incorporate his views or responses for this article, but did not hear back from him.

Preeti Mangala Shekar is a Bay area based radio producer and journalist. As a communications specialist, she has worked with the Global Fund for Women, and most recently with, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. She produces a show focused on South Asia for KPFA 94.1 FM.

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