Making of a Right-Wing Troll: Why an IIT Grad Sent Rape Threat to Kohli's Baby
Software engineer Ramnagesh Akubathini was emboldened and let down by the right-wing handles on Twitter.
Ramnagesh Akubathini was timid when he answered a question on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The IIT graduate, who was arrested on Wednesday, 10 November, from Hyderabad for tweeting a rape threat targeting the nine-month-old daughter of India's cricket team captain Virat Kohli, meekly told the Mumbai police that he "knows nothing about the RSS".
Contrary to what is being alleged on social media, the Mumbai police has ascertained, as part of the investigation, that Akubathini was, "not affiliated to any political party or outfit", The Quint has learnt. However, Akubathini's tweet and subsequent arrest reveal what goes into the making of a young troll — a conducive Hindu right-wing online ecosystem that encourages impunity.
The accused has confessed to having tweeted the abusive post from his Twitter account, @criccrazygirl. Moreover, the Mumbai police, based on phone records, has found that Akubathini was suicidal before his arrest.
Here's a peek at Mumbai police's investigation into the case, so far.
Gappistan Radio and a 23-Year-Old
On 30 October, Virat Kohli said, "Attacking someone over their religion is the most, I would say, pathetic thing that a human being can do”. The captain was speaking in support of his teammate Mohammed Shami, who was trolled on social media after India's rout in the ICC T20 World Cup. Most trolls had targeted Shami's Muslim identity.
At the time, Akubathini who was out of a job was passively scrolling down the pages of those he follows on Twitter. "He came across a very heated and abusive debate on the handle @GappistanRadio. He tweeted the abusive comment in the heat of the moment, thinking it is okay to do so," a senior Mumbai police officer who is investigating the case told The Quint.
The 23-year-old had resigned from a high-paying job in Bengaluru, a year after he graduated from IIT-Hyderabad in 2019. His father is a technician at the central defense establishment, Ordnance Factory in Medak, Telangana.
Why did Akubathini think that he could be abusive on Twitter without consequences? Reason, he was emboldened by the abusive content tweeted by @GappistanRadio.
According to the Mumbai police, @GappistanRadio was the Twitter handle of a writer associated with the right-wing website OpIndia. The Quint too has independently verified that the writer uses GappistanRadio in his author profile, that has 44 posts, on OpIndia. The writer had tweeted an abusive comment against the Indian team at 5.50 pm on 30 October. @GappistanRadio account is now deleted.
"Under this tweet and the same user's subsequent tweets, many cricket fans commented in support of and against Virat Kohli. Most of these comments were abusive. The accused followed the same line," said the senior officer.
Meaning, Akubathini, who claims not to know right-wing outfits including the RSS, was however, drawn to handles that support Hindu nationalism.
Since he joined Twitter in 2020, he too has been a part of the hate-speech ecosystem, boosted by right-wing handles.
"We have not retrieved his earlier tweets, but it is clear that he did not think there will be any consequences for his abusive tweet till it became viral," another police officer said.
As screenshots of his tweet were widely shared, Akubathini worried about being tracked. The anonymity, which had allowed him to be abusive, wouldn't shield him forever, he felt. The software professional then tried to cover his tracks.
Googling Suicide after Viral Abuse
Akubathini's father A Srinivas told The Quint, "He is an introvert and was only encouraged by social media postings of others. He made a mistake". The Mumbai police has, however, not accepted Srinivas' version that Akubathini's phone had slipped from his hand to accidentally send an unintended tweet.
Besides, some Twitter handles have published screenshots of sexually abusive messages from Akubathini's handle @criccrazygirl. His online behaviour too was dubious in nature.
"When he realised that his tweet had gone viral, he first tried to hide his identity by changing the location of his profile to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir," an officer said. Akubathini chose PoK as the location because he felt that Twitter users, who were already accusing Pakistani bots of abusively trolling cricketer Shami, would think that his handle too originated outside the country.
Even @GappistanRadio had accused Pakistan bots of trolling the Indian cricket team.
As his profile mostly had tweets about Indian cricket players, including women cricketers, Akubathini felt that adopting a location other than India and Pakistan would not serve the purpose. To strengthen the assumed Pakistani Muslim identity, he also sprinkled his profile with Urdu, a language he does not know.
The trick, however, did not work. The Quint along with Alt News and Boomlive revealed in an investigation that the account was indeed Indian. The investigation also revealed that @criccrazygirl was Telugu.
Akubathini then googled suicide methods. "We have search records corroborating his suicidal tendencies. He had googled different methods of suicide. He decided not to take his life because he felt responsible towards his parents," a police officer said. Meaning, Akubathini, suddenly felt the pinch of the law and order mechanism in the country. The fate of every troll, if the police crack down on online abusers?
The day police turned up at his doorstep, he was deeply depressed as he knew that he would get caught.
"He knew that it was only a matter of time," the officer said. Akubathini's father is currently in Mumbai trying to get his son out on bail. The family does not have enough money to afford bail and a lawyer, they have told the police.
"Suddenly his anonymity disappeared, his Twitter friends are nowhere in sight and he now knows that he is vulnerable," the police officer said. Would Akubathini's case serve as an example for other anonymous, abusive handles on social media?
Mumbai police is expected to wind up the investigation in a month.
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