A viral post on the '14-second stare' reaction to Kerala excise commissioner Rishiraj Singh's comment is what put Vanaja Vasudev on the high pedestal of fame. Rishiraj Singh had mentioned that staring "annoyingly" at a woman for 14 seconds can land a man in jail as per certain sections of law.
Vanaja was abused on Facebook for saying that she too likes to look at men and also received many obscene messages. Disgusted with the reaction, Vanaja went on to post on Facebook, chronicling her poverty-ridden childhood when her widowed mother struggled to come up with their school fee and starved so that her children could eat.
"I was so disgruntled by the messages that I couldn't help but react to them. I had three options – reply to the comments individually, complain to the cyber police or tell the world I'm not just a fake ID. I chose to do the latter and I went off to sleep. When I got up the next morning, I was stunned by the reactions," Vanaja said, while talking to Onmanorama in Kochi.
Vanaja's post on her struggling childhood years is what put Internet spotlight on her, but she refused to divulge more into it, saying that she was not trying to gain sympathy. Her mother still hasn't understood why her daughter is suddenly an Internet sensation, she says.
And this feisty Mavelikara lass exhibits a rare clarity of thought on how to tackle the menace of moral-policing. Perhaps, her new-found fame gives her the courage of conviction to pursue this.
"My FB followers went from a meager 18 to 61,000 in a matter of few days. I have realized that the world wants to hear me out and I'm going to use my Facebook page to talk to people before this 'honeymoon phase' wears out," she said.
"After this FB post went viral, many girls have contacted me saying that the post has inspired them to react against violators. All I want to tell them is that your body is your asset – nobody has the right to touch you without your permission. And that rule stands, no matter who the offender is," the young woman added.
Distorted version of feminism
"I also want the girls to be aware of their legal rights," she said.
Though vocal about woman's rights, Vanaja doesn't consider herself to be a feminist. She says she respects men and has a good number of male friends, who have been supporting her for long.
"Give me the right of my body and thoughts. And that's the freedom I want every woman to enjoy," Vanaja said.
A valiant tool
Vanaja's writings are all on her FB wall and she doesn't own a blog or website. Her Facebook posts stand testimonial to her command over Malayalam language and her ability to weave in humor and sarcasm quite effortlessly into her writing.
Vanaja confesses she has little imagination but draws inspirations from her own experiences and the world around.
She has also written about her experience during the first phase of menstruation cycle and her feelings of 'being caged' when she had to start using a brassiere.
Both these posts were also trolled, with many asking why a woman has to talk about such things.
Some even ridiculed her asking whether she was trying to become another Kamala Surayya (aka Madhavikutty), whose frank writings on woman and her sexual trysts had once shaken the patriarchal pillars of Kerala.
Taking on the moral police
An interesting factor that Vanaja noticed about the reactions to news articles on her viral posts is that most websites from Kerala got trolled. But articles that came in national dailies or other websites just had people registering their reactions.
"You will not believe the comments I had to read through. Keralites were describing my body parts in the most revolting manner because of an FB post! I am forced to ask – why such reactions from Keralites alone?
"There were people giving me classes on Bharatiya sanskar from the comforts of their living rooms. And I'm sure at least some of them would have gone to check out Sunny Leone's latest pics after their excruciating teaching lectures," she said.
The curious case of Keralites
"By nature, Keralites are just way too curious. Even if their own daughter is back home after a divorce, they would lean over the fence and ask about the proposals of the neighbor's daughter," she said.
"During my growing years, sanitary napkins were not freely available and I used cotton clothes. I stayed indoors and moved around carefully. But today, the girls would walk up to any store and ask the salesman for a packet of napkins without any inhibitions.
"We (the girls) have moved on, but the society is still in that era," she says. "When are you gonna catch up with us?” She asked.
Beyond the confines of Facebook
Her struggling years prompted Vanaja to care for her fellow beings too. She works for 'Atma' – an NGO that helps tribal people in Attapadi.
And not many know that a library with with 1,041 books for the less-fortunate children was set up by her in Attapadi.
Vanaja, who works as an accountant at a private firm in Kochi, also holds classes for MBA students of Bharathiar University.
And what inspires her to take up issues that people frown upon?
"I need to name some of my friends who have been my pillars of support – Surabhi, Gokul, Adarsh, and Lal. But I think the biggest factor that prompted me to rise and hit out at the society is this moral policing. The more people are gonna try and attack me, the more I'm going to stand up and shout!"