TV presenter Mandira Bedi has been at the receiving end of trolling and moral policing after she performed the last rites of her husband, who recently passed away, and also attended the funeral in a jeans and T-shirt. People with a backward mindset find it difficult to accept that daughters and wives are gradually changing the tradition of men lighting funeral pyres — which is tied to notions of male inheritance and authority.
The fact that people attack women for wearing jeans and a tee in a grave event is one of the most misogynistic forms of moral policing. Such trolling and online harassment in the name of convention and religion, however, is not new in India.
If you are a woman, you might at the moment have a Facebook inbox full of inappropriate messages. If you fail to respond to these unwanted advances, you are met with more harassment.
The internet has trolls — no, not the ones in fairytales that sit under bridges. As per Internet slang, a troll is someone who upsets people on the internet by posting messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking responses that may be emotional. A troll posts abusive, insulting, inflammatory, extraneous, off-topic or digressive messages in an online community. Trolling a person and causing emotional damage is equivalent to cyberbullying, which can have devastating effects on a victim’s mental health.
The objective of cyberbullying and online shaming is simple — publicly humiliating or harassing a person for their choices.
Trolling is a problem which, if uprooted, would lead to a much healthier social media space. Getting cyberbullied can cause physical and psychological effects, including disrupted sleep, lowered self-esteem, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and even suicide in some cases.
There are various studies that document the kind of damage that trolling can cause a victim. In this article, Platocast spoke to a few netizens who have been victims of cyberbullying and harassment for either raising their voice or writing down their opinions on social media. These netizens have opened up about how the online harassment affected them psychologically, and how they individually fought.
Apurwa Shrivastava, a journalist from a Bengaluru-based media house, says that she has been at the receiving end of many abuses online for her opinion on women’s rights or criticism of religion in general.
“I had once written a critical piece about Lord Ram analysing his character from a feminist point of view. I honestly wrote this like I would write any other piece without even a minute idea of what was going to come my way. I remember that day I woke up from a very beautiful afternoon nap only to find that my Facebook profile had been bombarded by notifications,” Apurwa says.
“My post was widely shared online by IT cells. People didn’t stop at abuses, they sent me rape threats and death threats. One person even asked my price and consent for being sold off to his Sheikh who was “happy” that I wrote “against” Lord Ram and would let me wear a bikini,” she added.
The following are screenshots of the harassment Apurwa was faced with. The comment section of her post, as well as her inbox were shelled with filthy comments.
“This disgusting creature’s motive was to seek attention and with such a lot of engagement on her post, she has achieved her target,” one Anshul Kashyap wrote in Hindi.
“It’s all clear now. You’re so ugly and your brain clearly didn’t develop, consequently, retardation is the default status of your brain,” wrote one Satish Verma.
“Quite honestly, I feel very angry. Angry not because I want them to appreciate my thoughts., but because their attitude muzzles free and progressive dialogue in the country. The number of rape threats did scare me. They knew where I worked. Of course, I did not personally engage as much but the threats and abuses just wouldn’t stop coming. When the abusers went after my colleagues, I was had no option but to delete the post and issue a public apology for hurting the sentiments of people who were threatening to rape and kill me,” Apurwa says.
“These things do not affect me anymore. Sad as it is, I cannot erase the existence of internet trolls but the best I can do is not give them the attention they seek. That is not to say that I think every single person has the right to express their dissent and protest, without being afraid,” she adds.
Stella, a journalist from Delhi, had commented on a post by her schoolmate, whom she has not been in touch with for years. It was about rape and protests and how apparently people were silent because the recent survivor was raped in a mosque and how everyone had outraged when a girl was raped in a temple in Kathua.
“Someone in her friend list commented, picked up a fight and targeted me about my job. Then he tagged someone else the next day to read the thread and this guy “prayed to God” that I get raped and said that “girls like me should be slaughtered”,” Stella says.
Stella responded with “thank you for openly praying I get raped”, and in another comment, she wrote about how she has been sexually abused for years when she was a child and adult and been beaten up. She ended the comment with “I pray no one you know ever faces this”.
“As a journalist and a woman and a feminist, this is not new. I have been subjected to this quite a number of times. Of course it affects me momentarily but I realise soon enough that this is the reality and not just me but millions of women face this every day. I get angry, I tell everyone and then like always my outrage fizzles out,” says Stella.
“It is very important to speak up. I agree that the system is flawed and nothing will come out of this but it’s imperative to speak up. For centuries, the voices of women have been muffled. I would suggest everyone to protest, file a complaint, name and shame these people and also spread awareness. The time is up to ignore and move on. Every minor thing that is wrong must be protested against,” she adds.
Saibal Bhattacharyya, who is from the hospitality industry, had posted something on his social media profiles after the results of Bengal elections had just been announced: a painting of Ram with a “denied” stamp on it.
“Yes, Bengal had resisted the saffronisation and hindutva fundamentalism with its recent election. My post was a precise critique of exactly what followed,” Saibal says.
“Some random BJP IT Cell fake profile took screenshots of my profile and put it up in his social media stories with the link of my profile, with an open threat of rape and murder to my family and myself. Bengal exactly resisted this terrorism, Hindu terrorism in the name of Ram. These people threatening others on social media must think that Ram is really pleased when people are raped and murdered in his name; Hindu religion is in safe hands,” says Saibal.
Saibal says that the incident initially broke him down and he convinced himself to delete the post. Saibal was hesitant as he had never been to a police station before, and was not well intimated with cyber laws.
“No family deserves to go through rape threats because we resisted Hindu terrorism. There was a run-of-the-mill suggestion: “ignore”. Apparently, it happens and it is normal, and I have to be ready to deal with these if I am the way I am. These suggestions came from my friends, colleagues, teachers and mentors,” Saibal says.
“Somehow I refused to do so. I decided to confront my abuser: I tagged his profile, shared screenshots of what he did on my social media, and asked people to report the issue. And, most importantly, I filed a complaint with the Cyber Crime department online. Unfortunately, Facebook and Instagram algorithms were not convinced by the number of reports his account received and his profile is still up there, spreading hatred and xenophobia blatantly. All I hope for is that someday, AI in information technology is competent enough to protect people from cybercrime and cyber bullying. We haven’t reached that stage yet, and technology has to work out ways to stop this digital terrorism and reigious fundamentalism,” Saibal adds.
People tend to believe that it is easy to ignore these incidents. But how do we deal with such abuse? Is it important to speak up?
Here’s what Saibal has to say: “Yes, for the initial moments, you would think that it’s easy to ignore. Especially, if you, like me, are not well informed about the legalities of such a situation. Also, being queer/muslim/dalit worsens the situation.”
“However, find someone you trust to guide you. For instance, had I not had someone guide me through how to lodge a complaint online, and requesting for a copy of the same from the police station, I would have never been able to do this. You will feel powerless, and it is absolutely alright. We all do. But you must find someone to help you with the legalities and speaking up. Remember, your abuser is wrong, not you,” Saibal adds.
Let’s face the truth, we cannot possibly control whether we will become a troll’s target. We all have been, at some point or the other. There is sadism involved in trolling because these individuals often target those struggling with illnesses or with the loss of a loved one, those who are not sure of their identity or their looks, and those who have a past that haunts them. Trolls enjoy making people miserable. They may be obnoxious teens or seemingly “normal” adults who use internet anonymity to spread hatred.
We must call them out, but not stoop to the troll’s level of nastiness. We must remember that trolls are not people we can engage in a constructive debate with, and reasoning with them is no better than reasoning with a stone.
How each of us tackles a troll is different — we call them out, ignore them, block them. While we cannot do anything about becoming a troll’s target, we can choose whether or not to be their victim. The shame is theirs, not ours.