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I Lost Years To Horrific Cyberbullying, But Then Was Gaslighted That It Was ‘Normal’?!

Some messages mentioned that I’ve been a bad girl for rejecting people’s advances, and that I should be punished through the violation of my body, that should be recorded and put up on the internet to destroy my life.

Some messages mentioned that I’ve been a bad girl for rejecting people’s advances, and that I should be punished through the violation of my body, that should be recorded and put up on the internet to destroy my life.

We have all read news about crime against women. Someone’s getting catcalled, eve-teased, groped, molested, raped, murdered or is dead  by suicide. It’s become so common that we can now talk about these crimes without feeling a lump in our throat. Good for us! We’re headed towards the path of equanimity, maturity, and enlightenment.

‘Trivial’ things like a woman in a far off village getting molested should not bring us down. It’s not an ideal world. They should take better care of themselves. Their parents should keep a check on what they’re doing, who they meet, what they’re wearing and how they behave. If anything is left unchecked, it’s on them. Real men are biologically wired to take what they deem theirs. We should empathise with them and if attacked, cede control to them. Shouldn’t we?

Now, what if a woman has put herself in check? What if she’s an introvert who talks to very limited people, and minds her own business? She doesn’t go anywhere but to work. She chats with her close friends over Whatsapp, uses a bit of social media, reads books, makes paintings, and watches Netflix. She won’t be put through the torture that is ‘Crime against women’, right? I wish it were that simple!

For me, the internet is one of the best inventions of man. Yes, it’s better than biryani or planes or elevators. I’ll fight you to death if you argue with me. I can’t hate the internet, probably never will.

I’m used to telling stories in excruciating detail, so bear with me.

Growing up in a secured environment

I grew up in a small town under the protection of my parents, relatives, and friends. I was liberated enough to be able to go to school, coaching classes, food joints, and have fun with friends, without having to worry about my safety. I had many people to take care of me or fall back on.

If anything happened, there was a guarantee of consequences for the perpetrator. Despite the security, I had to face occasional ogling, letters from strangers stuck on my bike seat, being followed, stopped on the streets, bike being punctured, and seat being cut with a knife in the tuition parking lots. Somehow, I normalised it in my head and moved on. I moved to a new city, a city seemingly bigger and better.

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Moving to an alien city without any support

In the new city, I was pursuing higher education. I was excited. I wasn’t disappointed. The city gave more than I deserved. On the first day, I underwent ragging by strangers on the streets when I was out to buy books.

On a later day, they beat up my college classmate simply because they saw us interact. Such events are more common than we’d like to believe. The classmate then got desperate to know who beat him up. Irrespective of the number of times I told him that I didn’t know them, he chose to not believe me.

This incident was followed by many other scenarios. For instance, people followed my bike, ogled at me at the bus stop for four years straight. A few who faced rejection from me threatened to beat me up, and burn me alive. All this because I didn’t want to talk to them. Strange men flashed at me in secluded parking areas. Guys sang derogatory songs as I passed by them.

In retrospect, I could have done many things to prevent these incidents. But, I had no support system in the city. When I shared these with a few friends, I realised they were dealing with similar problems too.

Policies for workplace safety helped me

When I moved again to another city for work, I understood it was nothing like the previous one. People were more civilised. Men acted as gentlemen, they treated women with respect. I could be out, alone in the middle of the night, and nothing would happen. Sounds surreal, right?

It was surreal until I realised that the ways of the city were different, they were more subtle and less scary (for the lack of a better word).

People usually pinged the office communicator to say shady things. Or, they made uncomfortable remarks about my physical features on WhatsaApp. Initially, I stayed quiet. But, thankfully, corporates have policies to ensure workplace safety. I gathered the courage to reach out to the right people. I wasn’t disappointed.

I have made two workplace harassment complaints in my career. They were dealt with perfectly. When I saw younger colleagues go through similar issues, I encouraged them to stand up for themselves.

You can be the problem solver

Some people used my pictures to create profiles on hookup apps. In turn, I received messages on Facebook by people who were interested. That was also handled by asking people to report such profiles.

I like this system in modern society where you can be a problem owner and problem solver. You face a problem, you have/find a step based solution that you go through with and voila! Problem solved!

You don’t have to endure the pain and the uncertainty of whether you’ll ever be free from it. You don’t have to wonder if you’ll have to escape the city for good.

While I was living in my ideal world, I discovered my Facebook ‘other messages’. Women know what I’m talking about, and men can look it up if they don’t. I lost my sleep over the content of these texts.

But I lost sleep over cyber bullying

I was never a person who would lose sleep over anything stupid. But, I couldn’t comprehend how a human could talk to another human with that amount of intrusion. I was overwhelmed.

Initially, I wanted to raise a complaint against everyone I could track. They should know that such behavior is unacceptable.

But, when I shared the idea with my friends for support, they laughed at me. They said that such messages are very common. We have to ignore them, and live our life. Hesitantly, I agreed. I went on living my life, putting aside the idea of a thousand strangers, including some acquaintances, conveniently digitally molesting me.

In the days that followed, I received a screenshot from a fake account. It had some details about my life that not many people know. I am an extremely private person. So, someone really close to me was playing with my over thinking brain.

It did not end at that. My family and friends received similar messages too. The contents included the details of my travel, the hotels I stayed in, people in my life, so on and so forth. There were threats of publishing non-existent tapes, and photos.

Some messages mentioned that I’ve been a bad girl for rejecting people’s advances. They added that I should be punished through the violation of my body that should be recorded and put up on the internet to destroy my life.

Such cyber bullying went on for years. I gathered all the messages and decided to get to the bottom on this.

I reached out for help, but…

I knew that the perpetrator was someone who knew me well. I decided to cut ties with most people, thinking it would help. I wanted to feel safe. I reached out to the cyber police, and lodged a complaint at the local police station. I went to the station 5 times before realising that it’s a never ending cycle.

I hired a private investigator for a good sum of money. I was disappointed. I underwent counseling with a cyber-psychologist only to realise that the right to a dignified life is a myth.

I reached out to the relevant ministry, and women’s commission. I went to the collector’s office, contacted my friends in administrative positions. I didn’t get any help. I tried to find the IP address of the perpetrator. I succeeded, only to learn that the person was smart enough to use VPNs with IPs spread across the globe.

Moreover, I tried to reach one of the online platforms support directly through a friend who was an employee there. They refused to help. In my desperation, I attempted to get in touch with ethical hackers. I needed to know who was doing this to me, and why.

I went down a spiral of self-loathing

I started reflecting on my life, looking for reasons that could have led to this. I drowned in self loathing. I went into an unforgiving state of mind. I hated and blamed myself for any moment when I was not the ideal woman.

I stopped trusting everyone. I could see a potential hateful backstabber in them.

The entire episode rendered me anxious to the extent that I am not on any social media anymore. I fear talking to people, or sharing anything with them. I don’t seek validation, or want to dwell in the innocent public display of vanity. I just want to feel safe. And, I know this is too much to ask for.

I know there must be women (and men) who have faced worse situations. There may be teenage girls who sent their photos to boys who’re now blackmailing them for money or worse, to sleep with them. There may be girls who had their boyfriends share their photos/videos with their friends. And, now they’re being ogled at every time they walk into the class.

There may be many other women undergoing abuse in real life, beyond the internet. The stories of 13 Reasons Why and Dev D might be real for some. And, they might be dealing with it better than me. They are probably stronger than I am.

I don’t like being numb to abuse. I’m wired to resist it. But, I have tried my best to overcome my instincts. I know now that this is how things are. I’ll have to work around them, and keep moving.

“Honestly, don’t bother yourself!”

When I informed my uncle about the ordeal, he said, “Don’t bother yourself by thinking about such losers. They have nothing else to do in life other than trying to pull you down.” It was not just him, but everyone around me — my family, friends, colleagues, relatives. Everyone had a similar response. But, were they right?

Yes, they were. I cannot waste my life over a loser I don’t even know. It’s easier that way. It’s easier than living in the fear of every social media platform that was used to bully me, that alienated me from the world outside.

I wish they weren’t right. I wish it were okay to track down bullies, and punish them. Or, even forgive them to get the closure I needed. I wish this post was a success story where I wrote about my heroism. I didn’t get what I desired, and I don’t know how to make peace with it.

This is not a sob story

This is neither a sob story nor a piece of art written by a professional author. It was meant to be a personal write up in my diary like many others. But, after suggestions of some friends and well wishers, I am publishing this in hope of making people aware of the repercussions they may be causing through presumably harmless fun they have in the garb of easy anonymity.

This is also for women and girls who are going through a similar problem. I won’t give false hopes that you’ll always get the solution you want. Maybe you might find some comfort in such stories that helps with the pain you’re going through.

You’ll encounter victim blaming or insensitivity. Some smart people will go to the extent of teaching you how to make propaganda out of such an ordeal. But, hopefully, you’ll learn to live with it.

For anyone reading this, please try not to make speculations or inferences about people, places, websites or authorities that aren’t named. I understand they have their reasons and limitations. And, the intent here is not to defame anyone.

Image source: a still from the film Vazandar

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