Why I Did Not Take Trolls Lying Down, And Why You Shouldn’t Either

Facebook logoEditor’s Note: With #NoPlace4Hate, Youth Ki Awaaz and Facebook have joined hands to help make the Internet a safer space for all. Watch this space for powerful stories of how young people are mobilising support and speaking out against online bullying.

I was subjected to a lot of online threats and hatred after I wrote an opinion piece on Youth Ki Awaaz. And the trolling only increased after my media statement, and lewd comments were made on me after I spoke to The Quint live.

However, this has made my resolve stronger because I believe that crawling through hatred and violence (offshoots of fear), only strengthens them. This is why I along with several student activists are protesting to #StopOnlineMobs.

This is also to clarify that the movement #StopOnlineMobs upholds Freedom of Speech in the highest regard and condemns acts of violence online. It is due to these threats that a lot of people are wary of speaking out, in what essentially is a free country.

We are not against any particular group. The movement is an all-encompassing one, joined by hundreds of students to clean up the internet and stand together against ‘Troll Culture’.

The petition is to put an end to the extreme amount of trolling that has become a daily part of online conversations today. It is assumed that when you take to the internet to express yourself, you must be ready to laugh off death threats, sexual harassment, rape and lynching threats.

What about the basic principles that our constitution upholds? The constitution guarantees Prohibition Against Discrimination under Article 14 and also guarantees the Right to Life and Personal Liberty. All these incidents, be it cyberbullying or online mob culture, are an infringement of our basic rights. Though there are certain provisions under the Indian Penal Court sections 499, 503, 507, 354-A, 354-D and section 66E of IT ACT; but to what extent do they actually guarantee protection against all these violations?

Not just celebrities and public figures, the common man has also becomes inured to incessant trolling they have to suffer through for saying something that challenges other people’s opinions.

On the Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey conducted by Microsoft India ranked third in cyberbullying – a virtual offence with very real consequences. Hate mails, online gang wars, fake profiles and digitally-altered photographs are abound on the web with perpetrators “out for blood”. Nothing facilitates the game of one-upmanship like the internet because it is the easiest way to get back at someone, and almost always under an alias.

On the complaint of a woman television journalist, Delhi Police registered an FIR in June 2015 against a conspicuous though anonymous Twitter handle. Swati Chaturvedi alleged that the handle belonged to a senior journalist who heaped sexual abuse on her and harassed her online, goading his 40,000 odd followers also to troll her. Social media has given people a platform to air their views but it has also left them vulnerable to slander, character assassination, intimidation and defamation. Till March 2015, the government used Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as the remedy for all online abuse, but the Supreme Court struck it off from the law books.

The apex court found the section to be not just “vaguely worded“ but also in violation of the Constitution since it criminalized speech on the subjective annoyance of a user. The SC further faulted the provision for creating a new offence only on the basis of the medium used for communication. Does this then mean that an important weapon against online abuse has been taken away by the SC?

Being part of a country known for its pluralism and the Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression, we believe this is one thing that needs to be seriously countered. The problem arises from a lot of factors, from immense hatred to the absence open conversation, to peer pressure. However, troll culture is something that is being talked about, which is a start. For instance, the way Gurmehar Kaur was infamously trolled for issuing a statement online that condemned violence, I, Simran Keshwani, also met with the same fate on an article that talked of the historicity of vigilantism in India. We were openly given murder threats and sexually explicit abuses, which in the online world are “not serious, only words”. Even after reporting the trolls to Facebook, their IDs remained unsuspended as Facebook did not find open threats as a violation of its Community Guidelines.

Needless to say the trolls had to be endured with and ultimately ignored. But, that did not stop the conversation from coming to the forefront. A lot of mainstream media and news channels have examined the Troll Problem, and have found that it is a lack of viable laws and control that embolden people to exhibit worst kinds of behaviour behind the screen.

It is in vain to extenuate the matter. People may cry, “peace-peace” – but there isn’t any peace. The struggle has actually begun. We need to act now.

Here’s a list of things our petition demands:

1. Firstly, we are against murder threats, lynching threats and rape threats and would like strict laws for the same. We uphold the Freedom of Speech in the highest regard and would like to clarify that disagreements over the web do not constitute violent threats, neither are we advocation an infringement on a person’s right to express themselves online.

2. Secondly, we demand fast-tracking of these reports and a separate centre/helpline for reporting against Cyber Harassment and Threats. Most of the complaints registered online are not acted upon immediately and there is little awareness regarding the available legal recourses. Reports made take days to be looked into, and almost always amount to minor warnings to the perpetrators. We demand stricter punishment and a complete ban for repeat offenders on social media sites.

3. More discussions on Troll Culture using NGO networks that could conduct Seminars in schools and for the media to actively report these cases. Many times these cases are dismissed as “too normal” to be sensationalised.

4. We demand better accountability and moderation from social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter. At the moment, making fake accounts that issue such threats is rather easy. Moreover, the moderation process on Facebook is far too arbitrary. At best, it only gets those comments deleted. We demand that social media companies improve on their moderation methods, act on complaints in a specified time frame, and report legitimate instances of rape and death threats to law enforcement directly. This not only protects the victim but also makes it easier for the police to act faster as social media firms have access to the perpetrators’ details like their IP addresses.

We will be actively campaigning under the name ‘Stop Online Mobs’ till the authorities react. Please join us in large numbers if you believe in restoring the sanctity of open discussions.

You can join us the movement here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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