Barkha Dutt, Rana Ayyub and Gurmehar Kaur- if there’s one life experience that connects them, it is online abuse but more importantly, if there’s one trait that defines them, it is resilience.
In February, the nation decided to speak. This time, it was to Gurmehar Kaur, a college student in Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, who started a campaign to end student violence in her campus. The result? Death and rape threats on Twitter.
A few weeks later, journalist Rana Ayyub exposed a hate message that was sent to her Twitter account by an Indian expat. In what can only be termed as poetic justice, her abuser lost his job in the UAE and was deported to India.
Perhaps Ayyub was lucky enough to seek justice. But many women with regular jobs, celebrities, politicians and public personalities haven’t seen their offenders face justice of any kind. For them, a personal readjustment becomes the norm. It is in this context that Hindustan Times’ new campaign, #Letstalkabouttrolls, becomes pertinent.
A series of videos and essays on the publication’s website and social media pages capture what it’s like to be bullied for having an opinion, for voicing it and for being unapologetic about it.
Kaur and Dutt, both targeted for questioning a populist, nationalist narrative, stated that women are name shamed, receive threats of sexual violence and find their personal lives dragged into the public.
In her powerful essay, Dutt questioned, “Falsehoods aside, why isn’t anyone discussing the marriages, divorces, and affairs of my male colleagues? Why the fixation with my private life? Because, the public scrutiny of women — and especially those of us who are proudly ambitious and fiercely independent — is very different from the standards used to measure men.”
Although Dutt’s questions attack the patriarchy embedded in online threats, she acknowledged that there isn’t space for a dialogue with bullies. “What we're really talking about is a tone of intimidation to stop journalists from doing their job,” she said in a newly released video.
Both women, witness to numerous murder threats, said this new hate that’s emerged on social media is one that belongs to an angry mob that’s bought into a nativist idea of India, a country in which minorities of religion and gender have been largely silenced.
However, retreating into a shell, deleting social media accounts, or adopting a staunch silent response isn’t the way to deal with bullies, Dutt said. And she’s right.
What we need are more divergent voices, a conversation, stringent scrutiny by social media platforms and finally, politicians who actively invest in spreading acceptance and tolerance.