Why are Indian women being attacked on social media? #Vaw #Womenrights

By Divya AryaBBC Hindi, Delhi, May 8,2013

Sagarika GhoseSagarika Ghose has stopped giving her views on Twitter

What does a top woman journalist do when she is threatened regularly with gang rape and stripping on Twitter?

And what about when her teenage daughter’s name and details of her class and school are tweeted too?

“It was very disturbing. I didn’t know what to do. So for a few days I had her picked up and dropped off to school in our car and not via public transport, because I was really scared,” says Sagarika Ghose, a well-known face of Indian television news, who anchors prime-time bulletins on CNN-IBN and writes for a leading newspaper.

On Twitter, she has more than 177,000 followers.

“Targeting me for my journalism is fine. But when it is sexist and foul-mouthed abuse which insults my gender identity I get incredibly angry. In the beginning I used to retaliate, but that would lead to more abuse.”

Ms Ghose says women abused on Twitter in India tend to to be “liberal and secular”.

“The abusers are right wing nationalists, angry at women speaking their mind. They have even coined a term for us – ‘sickular’.”

Ms Ghose has now decided to stop putting out her views on Twitter.

“I just put out our programmes and disseminate information. Though I still re-tweet some of the abusive tweets because there has to be awareness of what women journalists face. What else can you do?”

Vicious attack

Kavita Krishnan, a prominent Delhi-based women’s activist, was attacked viciously during a recent online chat on violence against women onRediff.com, one of India’s leading news websites.

“It began well. I had answered a few interesting questions. And then one person, with the handle @RAPIST, started posting abusive comments. He then asked me where he could come to rape me using a condom,” she said.

She says she decided to leave the chat after the abuse continued.

Ms Krishnan considers herself “thick skinned, used to addressing difficult questions and dealing with abuse”, but this, she says, was “sexual harassment”.

“What angered me was that Rediff didn’t ensure that their guest was given a safe environment, the chat was not moderated nor was the abusive handle blocked.”

Meena KandasamyMeena Kandasamy chose to go to the police when she faced online abuse

Rediff did not respond to BBC’s requests for an interview.

However, they posted an edited transcript of the chat on their website. The offensive posts had been removed and an apology made to Ms Krishnan.

More than 90 million Indians are active users of Facebook and Twitter and a large number of them are women. Cyber stalking and bullying of women are common.

Writer-activist Meena Kandasamy chose to go to the police when she faced sexist abuse online.

Last year, she had tweeted about abeef-eating festival at a university in the city of Hyderabad after which she was threatened with “live-telecasted gang-rape and being torched alive and acid attacks”.

Hindus who regard cows as sacred had clashed with low-caste Dalit groups who had organised the event.

“On an average, I get about 30 to 50 abusive tweets on days when I am active on Twitter. During the beef festival, there were more than 800 tweets in a span of two to three hours,” Ms Kandasamy says.


She believes that many Indian men react to posts that are critical of “caste and of Hindu nationalism”.

“I face the threat of violence even outside this virtual world in terms of people who don’t like my writings, my politics. Copies of my books have been burnt. I feel that kind of pain is far more deep and real than anonymous trolls and threats,” says Ms Kandasamy.

K Jaishankar, a teacher of criminology who has been studying bullying, stalking and defamation of women online, says India’s “patriarchal mindset has pervaded the internet space”.

“Men don’t like women to talk back. Public personalities who express strong opinions are trolled in a bid to force them off line,” he says.

Mr Jaishankar, who counsels victims of cyber crime along with his colleague and lawyer Debarati Haldar, says that Indian users online are largely male introverts who have found the web a place where they can express themselves freely and anonymously.

Kavita KrishnanKavita Krishnan was attacked on an online chat

“These men could be respectable professionals such as doctors, lawyers or professors in real life but online, they tend to show a darker side.”

Most of the women affected online do not go to the police, Ms Haldar says. Instead, they try to get the objectionable content removed, which is not usually easy.

India has a law – Section 66A of India’s Information Technology [IT] Act – against sending inflammatory and indecent messages on the internet and in recent times it has been used by the state as a weapon against dissent.

But, Ms Haldar says, women facing cyber bullying of a sexual nature have not been able to convince the authorities to take action against their abusers under the law.

“In many instances, when I motivated the woman to go to the police, they came back and told me that their complaints were dismissed as trivial. Instead, the police told them that it was not necessary for women to give their opinion on social media.”

Ms Haldar says the authorities must take these cases more seriously and charge the offenders under Section 66A of the IT law.

Even charging the offenders under the existing laws on sexual harassment could go a long way in curbing such abuse against women, she says.


Does the Internet belong to the cyber bully? #FOS #FOE #Vaw

Rape threat to Kavita Krishnan


by  Apr 27, 2013, Firstpost


“Tell me where I should come and rape you using condom”, wrote someone to activist Kavita Krishnan during a public chat organised by Rediff.com. This person had chosen for himself the handle “RAPIST” and initially, his ill-begotten suggestions were directed at women in general. However, when his gracious offer to stop raping women if they stopped wearing “revealing clothes” was brushed aside, perhaps he found it necessary to narrow his focus. So he threatened to rape Krishnan.

How could Krishnan have responded to his threat? In the virtual world, all Krishnan could do was retort or ignore, and then retreat. Krishnan’s experience isn’t exceptional. When she was threatened during the live chat, Krishnan became one of the countless for whom the virtual world isn’t quite as free, fair and welcoming as most of us imagine the Internet to be.

India ranks third in cyber bullying after China and Singapore. In an article on Huffingtonpost,  writer Soraya Chemaly points out how the internet is perceived as medium where it is easy, and also justified, to silence women. The methods of silencing, as has been found on several websites in India and abroad, is severe abuse.



David Porter notes in his book Internet Culture that the internet has evolved from being a “peripheral phenomenon” to a “site for cultural production and transformation”. Ways of negotiating virtual identities and communities, therefore, have to be constantly discussed, reinvented and regulated. Communities and identities that populate virtual spaces can display desires that may not manifest themselves obviously in the real world.

Real life prejudices often take on monstrous proportions online. Women are subjected to insults, criticism and extreme cases of abusive behaviour. Take, for example, the case of Amaresh Mishra, whose bio on Twitter reads, “Author, Historian, Film writer and Politician”. Incensed by Modi-supporters who “abuse Sonia and Rahul Gandhi”, he went on a Twitter rant spree and threatened to rape and brutalise (with rods) Narendra Modi‘s female supporters. Some time later, presumably once he’d calmed down, Mishra deleted the damning tweets, thereby almost doing away with evidence that could be used to sue him.

Abuse on the Internet thrives for the same reason street harassment does — because it is tolerated and it’s difficult to ascertain who precisely is your tormentor. The targets, as in the physical world, tend to be those who question the status quo, those who are perceived as less powerful in the social hierarchy.

“It’s not just women,” says Krishnan, while speaking about how the internet can be a threatening space. “Dalits are targeted a lot, I know. I’m told Muslims also receive lots of hate messages. Basically, it’s minorities who are attacked.”

Debarati Halder, who runs the Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling in Chennai, says the preferred way of lashing out at a woman on the internet is by calling her a “slut”. It’s not used in an embrace-your-sexuality way, but seeks to demean the woman into a sexual object.

“They may also bring up personal details including her vital statistics. In many occasions such bullies openly invite trolls to escalate the situation. I have seen if the victim is an active participant in these chat forums, in the beginning they try to protest. But more defensive you get, the more the bully is encouraged,“ says Halder. She says several such instances of abuse can make a woman feel unworthy of respect and even suicidal.

According to Chemaly, when faced with intimidation online, vocal women usually choose to mellow and stop fighting on public forums. When a masked identity taunts you with graphic threats –how he wants to violate you, where he wants to rape your school-going daughter and so on – the most common response is to create a distance between yourself and the commenter.

In India, cyber bullying gets the necessary go-ahead from the absence of laws attuned to such cases. Except for Section 66A of the IT Act, according to which a person can be booked for sending false, offensive messages through communication services, there is no strong law to tackle cases of online abuse. Most cases of online abuse are dealt by clubbing Section 66A with the Prohibition of Ragging Act (Section 509 of IPC), meant to tackle sexual harassment. However, Halder, points out, “Except for cases of monetary fraud over the internet, they [the police] don’t fall back upon the law too often.”

Delhi-based lawyer Apar Gupta says it’s not the absence of well-defined laws that hampers action against cases of cyber abuse.

“Abusive messages are actionable under provisions of existing penal laws since they extend to online mediums as well,” says Gupta. “Personally I feel rather than a problem of lack of laws, there is a problem of lack of enforcement and conviction.”

Anja Kovacs, who runs the Internet Democracy Project, agrees that laws alone can’t create a healthy internet culture.

“Free speech ends where it harms someone’s human rights,” she says. “We have to create a culture of civility on the internet. At present, there is no clear distinction between what can be accepted levels of criticism and rage and what should be blocked and disallowed.”

Looking at the current state of affairs, where the internet isn’t completely safe, Kovacs suggests that we grow a “thick skin”. Halder says that at least moderated forums should take up the responsibility of blocking and booking perpetrators.

“No service provider actively monitors the user’s activities,” says Halder. “This becomes a huge problem especially for Indian victims (specifically women victims) as many perpetrators take this opportunity to continue harassing the victim.”

study on internet users revealed 45 percent people prefer to use pseudo-names in public discussion forums and social networking sites. But 74 percent people on these sites also exchange personal information, including photos, with people they know just virtually. The study also says that more than 69 percent of users have faced abuse and a whopping 78 percent have received abusive messages from known and unknown sources.

From Twitter to Facebook, most social networking portals announce in their policy section that bullying, harassment and abuse will not be tolerated. Facebook has separate sections that warn users against bullying, harassment, using hate speech. Twitter too mentions that offensive content will not be tolerated on the site. It even has a provision that allows the site to block the user completely. However, rarely do the websites make efforts to force out abusive users, which is how the likes of Amaresh Mishra continue to use Twitter.

“The only action they can initiate and conclude is to cancel the registration of the user on their web service for violating the terms,” says Gupta.

Gupta feels the only way to tackle cyber bullying is police reform rather than more legalities. He cautions against legal provisions against online harassment that could be used by conservative and far-right political groups to further grudges and book anyone who seems to oppose their politics vocally on a public web forum.

And so, Krishnan’s harasser and others of his tribe will walk free and perhaps they’ll log on to another chat and spout their threats. They’ll do so fearlessly and confidently because at present, all the odds are in their favour.


Study confirms abuse of Indian women online: Here’s how to stop it #Censorship


by  Apr 15, 2013, Firstpost

Something unusual happened when Anshika, a Mumbai based media professional retweeted a tweet noting that a respected left-leaning historian had argued that the politics behind book-banning should be exposed.

One of the respondents to her tweet, whose profile picture was the sacred Hindu symbol Om, asked her how she would react if someone wrote about the sex life of her parents without proof. Anshika said she wouldn’t read the book. What followed was an avalanche of tweets containing graphic details of her parents’ supposed sex life.

Sowmya, a blogger with a wide range of interests, was in for a shock when she wrote about national politics. Many of her readers, who were otherwise fond of her views, wondered why she wanted to dabble in political writing. Similarly, when  Sharda, a Mumbai based online activist extended her support to ‘slutwalk’, she was asked if that was her chosen career. Among other names, she was given the title ‘chief slut’.

Social media is widely considered to be a democratic alternate medium against conventional forums, and in some cases has even empowered maginalised communities, but sadly, it mirrors the real world in respect to the treatment of women.

Gender based verbal abuse, harassment, and stereotyping of women is as much a part of the online world as it is in the real world. Even the ways in which women tackle abuse online is not very different to how they deal with abuse offline. And laws have failed victims in both the real and virtual spheres.

Representational Image: Reuters

Representational Image: Reuters

How women are targeted online

“Misogynists will do whatever they can to humiliate women and abuse them. Basically, everything that they can get away with. And I think one can get away with more in the virtual world,” said Meena Kandasamy, Chennai based writer and active blogger.

Not all the abuse targeted at women is direct, underlined a qualitative study of women and verbal online abuse in India, done by the Internet Democracy Project (IDP), a Delhi based NGO which works on online freedom of speech and expression.

The study, based on interviews with seventeen women including the three case studies mentioned above, noted that women reported to have been abused on the sly. (Firstpost has received early access to the report.)

How this works, is that a small online community will gang up against the woman without mentioning her name or addressing any comment directly to her. The targets of sly communication, noted the study, are considerably troubled when the abuser in question is someone more powerful or popular than the woman as the sly communication will frequently also result in an increase in direct abuse.

Opinion is divided, though, on whether merely being a woman is enough to become a target of online harassment or whether it is related to the topics they choose to write/ comment on.

Based on the experiences of transgender people- who have been a part of online spaces as both men and women however, the IDP report noted that the resulting abuse was disproportionately higher when the online avatar was female as opposed to male.

Refusal to chat with a man on public platforms has caused women to receive cuss words and rape threats. “On chat forums it has happened multiple times that if you refuse to talk to them, they will call you a bitch or a whore or other names,” Kalpana, an Internet enthusiast told the surveyors.

And like in the real world, the moral police is very active over the Internet. When women share their personal lives on the Internet, they often encounter a community telling them the do’s and dont’s of life. When Tripti, an active blogger, mentioned in one her blogs that she was keener to relocate to India than her husband, she got several hate mails saying that she was a selfish bitch; that she had no right to dominate her husband and that she was making him relocate when he didn’t want to.

But to say that only gender decides the tone, type and content of abuse would be to implifying a complex issue. “Those who tweet about politics, women’s liberation, persecution of religious and sexual minorities are targeted,” said Kandansamy.

The types of abuse against women

Almost every woman respondent interviewed for the IDR report, said that commenting on Modi or his policies in Gujarat inevitably leads to a barrage of abuse. Mridula, a human rights activist and active blogger, said that among the many hate emails or ‘love letters’ as she calls them, which she received on email groups, for condemning Narendra Modi and the BJP’s politics, included statements such as “Like the women in Gujarat, you should have been raped because you converted”.

One of the preferred ways to target or silence a woman on an online forum is to attack to attack her sexuality. “The real problem is when they do not talk about my thought process, but about my appearance,” the study quoted Nidhi, a rightwing political commentator and active twitter user, as saying.

Trolls also often use images and videos against women online. Many women, who don’t get offended by rape threats and explicit verbal abuse, feel uncomfortable when their pictures are circulated online.

Muskaan, a Kashmiri woman who is vocal about the situation in the valley, discovered that an online forum had obtained her picture and had started writing captions on it like, “Look at her, she’s a Kashmiri. But shameless, partying!” Muskaan is however was not new to online harassment. But when her image started doing the rounds on social media, her reaction, as noted in the IDR report, was “Get my picture off the page, you can write whatever you want to.”

Akin to online communities across the world, the rape threat is also used in the Indian blogosphere as a device to hammer out the message of male superiority. “Background research and testimonies of women bloggers from different parts of the world suggests that irrespective of your popularity or readership size, there will always be harassers who seek a woman out, simply on the basis of her gender,” notes the report.

Remedies to counter gender abuse online

Non- legal strategies used by women to tackle online abuse include ignoring the abuse, moderating comments, blocking abusers, reporting abusers, naming and shaming, self censorship and taking the trolls head-on.

Also social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have mechanisms to report abuse.

On receiving a complaint, Twitter probes and suspends the account if it finds merit in the complaint. But the person can always come back to the micro-blogging site with a new email id. That said however, they will lose the number of ‘followers’ they previously had, and it will also cause them to think twice before targeting the same women.

IDR noted that while Facebook advises complainants to block the abuser and claims to have removed the abusive content, the policy has loopholes.

One of the report’s respondents Namrata runs a page on feminism on Facebook. The content on her page is regularly taken down because of terms such as slut and whore.

To the IDR interviewers, she said, “Facebook has an evident bias towards these [hateful, abusive] pages. When we were blocked recently, I got in touch with a Facebook official in USA. He told us that since we use the world slut, bitch on our pages and there is a programme which automatically searches for words like these, and that’s why they were deleted. But this is a lie because there are so many pages that use the word slut, bitch in a derogatory way and those pages are still there and they are just flagged off as ‘controversial humour.’

However, when harassed or abused online, women prefer not to report the matter to family members or friends. Prashant Mali, a Mumbai based lawyer who specialises in cyber security cases, gave one such scenario. “This woman had a boyfriend in college but she refused to marry him. The man did not let it go. Years later, when she was married, he put their old pictures on Facebook. Out of embarrassment or societal pressure, the woman did not want to discuss the matter with her husband or anyone else.”

Despite this, online support networks have played crucial role when women at the receiving end look out for help. “Support was considered crucial, but was usually drawn from an online community and took the form of public tweets private messages and sometimes even phone calls, when friendships move to offline lives as well,” highlighted IDR report.

While retweeting abuses on twitter emerged as a popular strategy to gather online support and to name and shame the abuser, fewer women recommended taking the troll head on.

Legal remedies are the least sought after in such cases due to various reasons- delayed justice, victimization and anonymity of abuser.

Police advising the victim on how to conduct herself has permeated in the online realm, too. Mumbai police has uploaded four YouTube videos on cyber security.

While two of these videos suggest that women protect themselves, there is no direct message about the IT Act or IPC provisions under which legal action can be taken for online abuse, noted IDR. According to Prasahant Mali, lack of awareness about laws is one the reasons why online abuse continues unabated. “Every time a social media company is questioned, it says that it is governed by international law and treaties. I believe they should allocate funds to spread awareness about facts, such as, what constitutes defamation and harassment online and what is the punishment in Indian law for these offences”, he said.

Yet, advocates of online freedom of speech and expression argue that more stringent laws are not the answer to tackle online abuse of women. Apar Gupta, Delhi based lawyer and cyber law enthusiast said there is a need to bring parity in provisions which apply across media as it will build consistency and predictability which is beneficial to understand crimes. But he doubts if a law meant to govern online speech will be used impartially. “The provisions for criminalising speech which is made specifically online, will be used against dissenters and minorities who enagage in conversation contrary to dominant social values,” he said.

Pranesh Prakash, policy director at Bangalore based Centre for Internet & Society concluded, “Politeness and civil discourse cannot be legislated. We need societal change and more avenues of free speech rather than laws to tackle online harassment of women.”



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