Initially the trolls started a diatribe telling me that I was a bitch, a bimbo, a moron, a stupid person and an Adarsh Liberal. Then they began accusing me of being a presstitute, paid media and of taking money from rival political parties to write down my opinion. Then they threatened to file lawsuits against me under different sections of the IPC. They said I’d be booked for hate speech and my “links” would be questioned. I was unperturbed by this utter silliness.
When the trolls couldn’t evoke a response from me, they became personal and vicious. This is when I started getting scared. Some of them began to comment on my body and my face. Someone called me a prostitute. One man threatened to find out where I lived and rape me. Another man threatened to hunt me down at a public event and throw acid on me.
It’s hard to describe the kind of fear I began to feel, but it was somewhat like being publically lynched.
I started blocking the troll accounts and reported a few overtly vitriolic ones for abuse. I had a public talk that day, ironically about power women who write, and I began to feel that it might be unsafe for me to attend the event. Still, I went, but I spend the entire session feeling vulnerable and exposed. My eyes were glued to the door almost expecting a man to walk in with a bottle of acid in his hands.
Two days later, when the onslaught somewhat abated, my fear turned to anger. No one had the right to do this to me. It was one thing to attack my work, but it was another thing to attack me for being a woman. I began to look closely at the Twitter accounts of those who were abusing and threatening me. Many of them were right-wing extremists claiming to be proud Hindu nationalists, Namo fans and Modi bhakts.
Now the thing is that I actually deeply admire, respect and like Modi. Modi is the kind of leader that India needs, as he strives to do great things for our country and works damn hard at it. So the fact that I was threatened with rape and acid attacks by his bhakts deeply saddened me. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
I couldn’t imagine that these were the kind of bhakts that a great leader like Modi would want. Bhakts who resorted to abuse as an answer to dissent. Bhakts who send messages to women that were violent, abusive or sexual. Letting a handful of trolls derail his plans for a billion-plus people is not what Modi deserves.
A true bhakt would strengthen Modi’s national agenda, not vilify it. Instead of threatening to rape a woman for stating her opinion, a bhakt would find ways to stop rape. A true bhakt would dare women to think, to dissent, and to question so that the daughters and mothers whom Modi is trying to empower truly become empowered.
Such Modi bhakts are distancing Modi fans from him, especially women. And this is a sad thing for a leader of Modi’s calibre and ambition, who needs thinkers more than he needs chamchas.
Actress Shruti Seth’s open letter may have compelled Modi to urge his supporters on social media to steer clear of abuse, but he may be too late. His supporters have already unleashed too much damage on Twitter.
Modi needs to seriously crack down on this hatred and intimidation that is taking place in his name. Cyber harassment should be made illegal. Threatening to rape a woman just because she voiced her opinion should be made punishable by law.
Abuse is not acceptable in real life and it is certainly not acceptable on Twitter.
Choosing to speak up
Like any woman faced with cyber abuse, I can remain silent. But I choose not to. Because I refuse to let women become the repository of shame in matters of abuse. For too long we’ve carried the onus of misogyny and patriarchy.
I will not be scared into silence. I will not let the women of my country be silenced. No one, not trolls nor threats, will stop us women from stating opinions that matter to us, our nation and, most importantly, should matter to those who claim to be Modi bhakts. And if we do scare the women of our nation into silence then, Mr Modi, our democracy will have a huge problem in our hands.
And not even your bhakts can troll their way out of that one.
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