CHENNAI: If you are a woman with strong opinions on gender and politics, you’re most likely to be bullied. While bullying can range from casual name-calling or trolling, for women more often than not, the definition of ‘bullying’ is rape threats, referring to them as ‘prostitutes’, or other abusive tags referring to their sexuality.
“I don’t feel as offended by the name-calling as I do of the fact that most of these abusers are men and they feel that we don’t deserve an opinion simply because we are women,” said Sithanthi Alfred, 52, an avid Twitter user. Speaking about her first experience of online abuse, she said, “The first time, it was just pure shock. I couldn’t believe that somebody would use such language and such words at somebody they don’t even know but just disagreed with. Now I’ve gotten used to it,” she told City Express.
Most women who are targeted are those who hold an opinion on gender issues or politics, specifically those who are popular in their fields of work. Therefore, women who are actively engaged in politics and social issues say that they are flooded with abuses on a daily basis. Kavita Krishnan, a well-known activist and general secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, has, on repeated occasions, been in the spotlight for being a victim of abuse on social media.
When Modi launched his ‘Selfie with Daughter’ campaign, Krishnan and Bollywood actress Shruthi Seth were openly threatened with rape and death due to their criticisms of the campaign. Krishnan even had comments such as ‘how she did not deserve to live’ or ‘how she should be raped to teach a lesson’.
“Some would message me in my inbox with the filthiest of threats and abuses and I immediately report it to Facebook and Twitter, but I always get the same response — ‘this does not go against our norms’,” said Krishnan. On many occasions women have complained that Facebook and Twitter do not fully comprehend or accept that death threats and rape threats are reason enough to take action. “Initially, I would keep reporting such instances, then I just lost interest. I can’t keep spending my time going after court cases or these social media administrators. So I either reply to them or share their comments publicly as I feel it is the best way to get a reaction,” added Krishnan.
When she publicly shamed a comment writer the same way, the man ended up apologising to her after a few days, the AIPWA general secretary told City Express. However, such a response is a rarity.
“Why we slowly start to lose interest in reporting these comments are because they all come from the same person. Therefore, many of these abusers and trolls are organised, especially if they are political statements, then they come from an organised group,” said another avid Twitter user. While police cases or FB bans might not bring about a change, Krishnan says that political parties should at least raise their voices against cyber bullying and harassment.
“These abusers are eager to defend their parties and end up abusing us women, but the least political parties can do is condemn these comments instead of sitting numb and not taking responsibility of their supporters’ comments,” she added.