On an average, women politicians in India receive 113 abusive tweets every day – this includes threats, badgering messages, and sexist comments. This is nearly twice as much harassment as their counterparts in the UK and the US, an Amnesty International Study conducted earlier this year revealed.
There is no such study to back the online abuse and obscene harassment witnessed by women activists in the country.
But countless incidents, especially those in the wake of protests over the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act in the country, tells the tale of how women political activists in the country not only deal with state suppression but also orchestrated, obscene attack online.
Take the case of Jamia Millia Islamia student and women activist Ladeeda Farzana. Earlier this week, Alt News story revealed that Farzana’s face was juxtaposed with an explicit image of a semi-naked woman.
“A video of Shaheen Bagh lioness has been found,” several Twitter users who had Prime Minister Narendra Modi as their profile photo shared, falsely identifying Farzana as one ‘Sabina Bano.’
Stating that she will face the harassment legally, Farzana called for strict action against the “pathetic attack” to quell dissenting voices.
Why Sexualise Women Dissenters?
Calling social media the ‘Right Wing Boys Locker Room’, All India Progressive Women’s Association’s Secretary Kavita Krishnan says that by sexualising female activists, men not only aim to discredit women activists but also cater to the “most ugly, patriarchal sentiments” in society.
“They know that in a patriarchal value system, you can’t discredit a male activist by saying – ‘Oh, he had sex’ – trying to imply that having sex is a crime. You can do that to a woman. They are pandering to the most ugly, patriarchal sentiments in society, sentiments which are both patriarchal and pornographic,” says Krishnan, speaking to The Quint.
The President of Delhi chapter of AISA, a left-leaning student body, Kawalpreet Kaur blames the IT Cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Kaur herself is a victim of morphed photos. In 2017, a photo of Kaur holding a placard was morphed to say that she “hated” India. While a Pakistan-based Twitter handle was suspended for this, Kaur’s inbox has since then been flooded with rape threats and pornography.
In a statement to The Quint, Kaur, whose phone has been confiscated by Delhi Police in connection with anti-CAA investigation, said:
“Rather than being seen as a student activist, our identity is reduced to being a ‘woman’ and inbox is flooded with messages of rape, pornography and objectifying comments. I now consider it routine because it is politically planned by the BJP’s IT Cell.”Kawalpreet Kaur
‘Let’s Not Call This Trolling’
Like the attack against Jamia student Safoora Zargar. A three-month pregnant Zargar was imprisoned by the Delhi Police in April, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, in connection with anti-CAA protests.
Within days, several Facebook groups – including ‘We Support Narendra Modi’ with 30 lakh followers and ‘I Support Indian Army’ shared stills from a porn video, claiming it was Zargar. A reverse image search revealed that the image was actually of a woman called Selena Banks from the US. You can read more about it in our story here.
“The trolls have a whole machinery at place that legitimise them and promote them. The handles that degraded Safoora and her unborn child are followed by politicians of the ruling party. Politics is rooted in existing system of biases against women and it is used by BJP to carry targets against women activists oppose to them,” said Kaur.
Other activists, too, agree that these incidents must be recognised as “organised internet bullying”.
“Trolling implies that this is some sad fellow behind a keyboard. This is organised internet bullying of women activists. We need to recognise and call that out,” asserts Krishnan.
‘Complained, But To No Avail’
This is not a new phenomenon birthed in the wake of anti-CAA protests. The photos of women activists being morphed into porn clips are in practice for a while now.
In 2018, for example, journalist Rana Ayyub was a victim of deepfake porn after her face was morphed onto photos of a porn actor. The clip went viral soon after she campaigned for justice over the rape of an eight-year-old in Kathua. It has been two years and there has been no progress in the case.
“Tomorrow, it can be my photo that is morphed onto a clip or my female professor’s who is not afraid to put out her views. They have no other evidence against people like us that they want to circulate these disgusting clips. And cops, despite having all the evidence is only interested in arresting some harmless student activists,” a student activist from Jawaharlal Nehru University told The Quint.
The Delhi Commission for Women directed the cops to immediately arrest those handles that were attacking Zargar on social media platforms. However, there has been no update on the arrests in this case either.
Can’t Reduce The Spirit Of Women’s Activism
The women activists are angry, but they won’t back out. They want to question the men who are orchestrating it.
And they assert that this is not the time for women activists to stop dissenting. It’s more important for women now to voice their concerns more than ever before.
“The stronger your voice is, the stronger these bullies will come at you. They will make it sound like having sex is the biggest crime you have committed. But truth will come out, if not today then some day. Some day soon,” said the JNU student.
And they all agreed, who better to fight these battles than women themselves.
“They think our existence can be simply reduced to this. But I believe women are always activists even before they know the meaning; we fight battles within family, society, universities and in politics. Thus, instances of online trolling can’t put us down,” said Kaur.