Online harassment hit rock bottom on social media when a Twitter user threatened to rape Congress leader Priyanka Chaturvedi’s 10-year-old daughter.
When Priyanka Chaturvedi, convener of All India Congress Committee’s communication department, addressed a press conference calling for justice and the politicisation of the rape case of an eight-year-old girl in Mandsaur two days ago, little did she know that her own 10-year-old daughter would be targeted by a troll on Twitter — reacting to a statement wrongly attributed to the politician— who threatened to rape her.
This comes only a few days after external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was accused and trolled for alleged Muslim appeasement on Twitter.
While the Congress leader was quick to report the threat to the Mumbai police, such incidents bring to light the continual harassment women go through online.
Talking about the tweet, Priyanka says, “I was stunned and shocked at the level of language used for my daughter and me. I’ve got to know how it has gone viral not only on Facebook, but even on WhatsApp. So I believe that it’s a synchronised attack.”
At the time of going to press, Priyanka had contacted the Mumbai police, who got back to her promptly, but she was yet to lodge an FIR at the station.
Calling fake news extremely disturbing, she adds, “It concerns me that we are living in a time when WhatsApp forwards and fake stories can lead to mob lynching while the government continues to watch it as a mute spectator, not holding these people accountable or condemning such incidents, which emboldens this kind of violence in society.”
According to author Nazia Erum, such venom is another kind of mob attack — but one that takes place online. “There are huge parallels between online trolling and offline lynching. And it’s manifesting now because people know that they can get away with it, as simple as that,” says the author of Mothering A Muslim.
Former actress and All India Mahila Congress (AIMC) general secretary Nagma Morarji is of the opinion that in a democracy where freedom of speech is upheld, a direct attack is bound to happen.
“This is unacceptable. Growing violence against minors, atrocities against women, and topping it is this kind of trolling. Why and how are they allowed and it’s not even being traced,” rues the former actress.
The online trolling of women often takes a gendered nature, wherein threats of rape and violence and demeaning name-calling is commonplace. Priyanka adds, “I fail to imagine the problems that women who do not have a strong enough voice or the media to speak out to face on an everyday basis. That is what pains me.”
Throwing light on the ramifications of online rape threats, Nazia explains, “Threatening rape here (online) is very frightening. It is not just about blocking people. It haunts you if you are in the middle of it. You know it is online, but the offline ramifications of it are very intense. It can lead to a lot of psychological disturbance in a person.”
Meanwhile, Priyanka has kept the sickening incident from her daughter, as she doesn’t want the little girl to lose faith in humanity.
“I haven’t brought this to the notice of my daughter, and I totally believe that she does not need to get into the gory details and the depths to which we have plunged. I would still like her to believe that we are living in a happy world,” she concludes.
‘This is a new low’
Enough has been written about us individually, in the sense that all of us who have taken these (anti-establishment) positions publicly have been threatened with bodily harm, and I have had that share so has Priyanka and many other women. But this is definitely a new low. This is something that should really be condemned by everyone unequivocally.
Letting something like this go is very scary for us to know. Ultimately we all do everything for our children, so this begins to threaten the idea of what this world represents for our children tomorrow.
I am deeply disturbed. We all have been part of some abuse but this one has really hit home. The same kind of terrible, physical harm was threatened to my father, last year, when he called out the human-shield incident. Stuff like you should be dragged through streets; you should be the recipient of stone-pelters, and they came after all of us. But to involve a child in a reference like this is not good. I do hope that police and ministry of information and broadcasting takes action.