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Activist Shehla Rashid recently announced that she was deactivating her Twitter due to the toxicity of many on it. We need to understand that the hate we direct at some women, will one day have repercussions for all of us.
Among the many headlines in my daily news feed, a small update caught my eye: activist Shehla Rashid chooses to leave Twitter, unable to bear the brunt of constant negative attacks. As someone who has experienced this first hand, I do understand what it means to be targeted viciously and senselessly. After I wrote a piece on the Huffington Post expressing my personal views on women’s safety in India and my decision as the mother of a daughter, I received a multitude of comments, emails, and communications that called me a slut, someone who has been paid by Western media (Huffington post didn’t pay contributors at the time) and even that I should be lynched.
So much so, I had to disable comments on my personal webpage, change my email address, and learn a lesson to never read comments once an article is posted on any forum. It’s only recently that I have been slowly able to unlearn that and revert to reading and engaging with counterpoints on anything I write, something that I believed to be a core purpose for a writer.
As a true believer in freedom of expression, I do believe in defending the expression of all opinions whether they align with mine or not. I believe that is the only way to change – for otherwise, we are mostly preaching to the choir and talking to friends. But it does something to you when you read a comment that is not a counter opinion, not even really an expression and is really a personal attack where the attacker doesn’t know you personally. It’s an expression of misdirected anger taking advantage of the anonymity that the internet provides.
I have heard this again and again from fellow authors, bloggers, and have seen this on Twitter feeds of activists I follow. And unfortunately, there is a disproportionately high amount of such attacks that are directed by Indian men, to a woman, although women on women attacks don’t trail far behind. From death threats to vulgar comments to rape threats and character accusations. Even on the Shehla Rashid news article, most comments fell into the exact category which she said she was leaving Twitter in protest against. I have also seen this on Journalist Rana Ayyub’s feed. When someone protests against Salman Khan to Modi, or even when a prominent cricketer’s wife comments on behalf of her husband and her family’s privacy or a cricketer’s then-girlfriend is presumed to be responsible for his performance. Or a prominent celebrity author writes on Karwa Chauth. It can be seen everywhere. Even our celebrities resort to character assault and rape threats with pride with plausible (or implausible – who cares if you can shout loud) deniability.
You are a slut
Go do something better
Leave the country (especially if you are of a different faith)
Worry about your own life which is messed up (whether I know it to be or not)
Often when reading Rediff comments, I wonder if these folks have daughters, sisters, or mothers of their own…I wonder where so much anger comes from. I wonder if they realize, that having someone retreat in the face of brute force, is no victory for the argument. It’s really a defeat. Most importantly, I wonder, getting very scared at heart for my country, if they realize that in their thoughts somewhere lie the seeds that are being sowed to continually maintain an environment of violence and atrocity against women in the nation.
It is not that there are no comments of disagreement on the US publications I follow. But they are significantly less in proportion, and even more so if it’s a woman who is being engaged. Most are counter opinions, often stating facts. Yes – the facts might be incorrect/unverified/opinion really – but at least it provides a premise for civic engagement in dialogue and counter opinion. It doesn’t create an atmosphere so hostile, that folks are driven out or shut down.
India is a nation which shows tremendous democracy. We do it much better, much fairer, and much more persistently than a lot of others who have tremendous infrastructure and resources at their disposal. So why can’t we, especially the educated, upwardly mobile sections who are the ones with access to Twitter and online media, engage in civic discourse? Why don’t we teach ourselves and our sons (and daughters) to not throw out abuse, a character assault, a threat, especially at a woman (it’s not OK to do it to anyone, but apart from the higher occurrence, it also is especially bad when it’s done to a woman as it fosters and deepens the problem the nation is already grappling with) just because we disagree? We need to learn how to do that.
Calling female reporters ‘presstitutes’ is not helping our nation’s goals.
Manages supply chain teams in Intel Corp. Blogger, writer and poet. Founder and Director Her
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Today A Cricketer’s Wife Is Attacked, Tomorrow It Can Be You
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