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Have an issue with someone on social media? Threatening to rape her daughter is becoming a perfectly acceptable thing to say. Welcome to the Internet.
A man who had allegedly threatened Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi on twitter that he would rape her daughter, was arrested following an intervention by Union home minister Rajnath Singh. The man identified as Girish Maheshwari was arrested from Ahmedabad. He will be produced in court on Monday, 9th July.
Chaturvedi had to face a stream of abuses on Twitter after a fake quote was attributed to her on the recent gang rape of a seven year old in Madhya Pradesh. This incident comes just a week after Sushma Swaraj was threatened and abused on twitter for coming to the aid of an inter-faith couple. What these recent incidents make us question is the reason behind the rising trend of online trolling in India.
It is no secret that social media has developed as a space that gives every individual an opportunity to make their voice heard; put forward unpopular opinions or criticisms while sitting behind the safety of their computers but what happens when the same safety and cloak of anonymity is used to threaten and silence the voice of others? Does it still fall under freedom of expression?
Online trolling has been on the rise in India. In the last few years, it has increased to such an extent that it has become a part of our social media discourse. Political parties have employed these people for spreading their propaganda, throwing venomous attacks on the opposition or in general people whose opinions are not in accordance to their own beliefs. The BJP has been found to be particularly notorious in this regard. The use of trolls by the party to mobilize public opinion, especially prior to electoral campaigns, has been well documented.
In the last four years, India has transformed, shedding its’ prized values such as tolerance and modernism one by one. The drastic change in our social media discourse is just a reflection of the same. Nationalism has become the new shield for the trolls, hiding behind which they have started organising their attacks. From a student like Gurmehar Kaur to author Arundhati Roy; from dissenting students to critics of the system, none have been able to keep themselves safe from these attacks by the self proclaimed ‘Saviours of the nation’. ‘Anti-National’ has become the most popular catch-phrase.
Politicians and even members of the film fraternity have jumped on the bandwagon, giving their valuable opinions on the issue. Just like last year when Paresh Rawal, actor and BJP parliamentarian tweeted, “Instead of tying stone pelter on the army jeep tie Arundhati Roy”, reacting to a fake quote attributed to the author. The tweet was not only disrespectful but also offensive. The actor however refused to either apologize or delete the tweet citing the author’s controversial views on the Kashmir issue and his love for his nation and the army as reasons enough to justify his offensive remarks.
These examples bring out two important points. First is the lack of verification of the news by the people against which they react. Fake news has been on the rise and people have believed everything on the internet without verifying the source. The second point to note is that while men are criticised too, in most cases it is a woman who is the recipient of threats and abuses for voicing her opinion on social media because women are considered easy targets. Rape threats and slut shaming are the weapons used. Questioning a woman’s character is the way used to negate her right to express her opinion. From Barkha Dutt to Swara Bhaskar, no one is safe.
It is because in the patriarchal society that we live in, a woman is supposed to be seen and not heard. She is expected to stay confined in the domestic sphere of her home and not venture out even if it is through social media to express herself and her opinions. But women today no longer want to play by the traditional patriarchal rules. They are setting out, breaking free from their chains making their presence felt in every sphere that was once considered male dominated.
Women today are ready to make themselves be heard. In this context then, trolls are nothing but patriarchal forces that are trying to repress these voices and push them back into the darkness. Violent threats and abuse is nothing but an expression of the anxiety society is feeling at the face of modernity – with the abuse expressed in very modern ways.
Social media is just a reflection of our society at large and rising violence on the internet points at the change in people’s thinking towards the worse. Lack of accountability has given them the freedom to say things on social media that they would not dare utter in person and while a few of them are tracked and arrested, most of these trolls roam scot free on the internet preying on new targets.
And while it has been said that despite the chaos and threats, this rising trend hints at the democratization of discourse on the social media that has given everyone a voice to express their views on important matters, we should ask ourselves if using violence as a language of communication is at all acceptable. And if silencing others falls under one’s freedom of expression?
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B.A English Honours at Jadavpur University.
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