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‘Stop Online Mobs’: Fighting Internet Hate, Trolling And Patriarchy

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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.

In almost all conversations that run on the internet today, troll culture manifests in the passing snide remark, the absolutely unnecessary profanity, the family shaming and the slut shaming remarks. Once all this creativity runs out, it escalates to violent death and rape threats.

For instance, the intrinsic masculine rhetoric and heavy amounts of violent vitriol in a statement like ‘her secularism stems from being molested by a maulana or a priest at an early age’ is nothing new to the outspoken female who takes to social media to express her views.

It is no secret that the country stands at a crossroads today. In maintaining a veil of silence, while violence burns bits of us everyday, we romance the oppressive forces. In times like these, there will always be a syncretic dialogue and healthy discourse, which will obviously be blocked by those in positions of the power it threatens.

Take the case of Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer during the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Her own country denounced her for speaking against the establishment. What is it that Gordimer did to make an entire regime come after her? She spoke up. And this is precisely what we should consciously take on, whenever there is an attempt at ‘othering’ a part of the population.

To begin talking of the concept of nationalism today, one must invariably point to the country across the border. A bellicose vituperation of the enemy is how one’s love for the motherland is measured today, nearly 70 years post independence.

The more profane your condemnation of a land you know little of, the more intense your commitment to your land. What would we be pointing guns at, if Pakistan as a nation state did not exist? We’re free but living in two histories – always arguing with one another, the brunt of which always lies on the minority’s shoulders.

As a 21-year-old appalled with the orgiastic nature of mob justice that’s taking over the country’s narrative, I decided to add to the conversation. An article I wrote for a particular news portal, which examined the historicity of mob lynching as a paralysis of the law, was used as clickbait to throw a stone at my head, call me a Pakistani (because ‘Sindhis are anti-national’), defame my father and grandfather, talk of my degeneracy stemming from possible molestation and issuance of open lynching threats.

The conversation, which glaringly questioned my nationalism, is one peculiar feature that marks all dissent – as was also seen in Gurmehar Kaur‘s case.

Read how Stop Online Mobs came together: Why You Need To End Your Silence On Troll Culture Immediately

After a strenuous week of physical and mental violence, a police complaint and visibly no relief, I decided to fight back. When we sit silent in the face of adversary, we embolden the oppressor. A lot of activists also reached out to me, and within 24 hours, a movement called “Stop Online Mobs” was initiated. The questions were pertinent, and we wouldn’t rest till we found answers: Who are these people behind the screen? What/who emboldens them? Why is there no heed paid to complaints?

What we simply dismiss as an ill of being on social media is, in fact, an organised controlling tactic. How is it that one post garners thousands of detractors in a jiffy? And how is it that bombarding an unknown person’s phone number is that easy? There has to be some authority which is backing such efforts to crush alternative points of view.

A protest under the name “Stop Online Mobs” was staged on July 30, 2017, at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. The event saw a lot of participation from student groups. There were talks on how the virtual and the real merge on an ugly middle ground.

Initially, we were met with a lot of teething problems – from accounts being hacked and suspended to open questioning (for instance, “INC aur AAP se kitne paise khaye (How much bribe did you take from INC and AAP)?”). An unshakeable faith in what we stood for is what got us through. But, the fight continues.

We, a group of 15 core committee members have registered a trust and collaborated with psychologists, lawyers and student activist groups to keep expanding the discourse. We are also collecting a database of complaints that go awry and threats that don’t stop. We shall be appealing to the authorities to demand fast-tracking of complaints dealing with rape and death threats, and strengthening the existing judicial framework that looks into cyber harassment.

Real-time violence always begins with one harmless threat – and it is high time we took this conversation from the screen to the concerned authorities. There are 13-year-olds fetishising threats and abuses as a marker of masculinity – and that derails any viable progress we’ve made with feminism in India. We need to create a strong sociological counter culture to the unhealthy practise of taking somebody down with threats.

I have always believed that at the heart of all violence lies a deep fear of losing control over the oppressed. It is our voice that scares them – and if we take threats silently lying down, we empower them. A lot of women are afraid to speak up as they consider trolling as something innocuous and commonplace. Defenders of cyber harassment labelling these practices as ‘freedom of expression’ only exposes the brute, empty logic behind crushing dissent.

There must always be room for debate and factual evidence. But, once it escalates to the level violent threats that can have real-life effects, you need to act.

In pictures, posters and scenes from the event:

If you have a story that can add to the database, please email me at simran.keshwani@gmail.com.

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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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