While the whole world was coming together in solidarity for the #MeToo campaign, I became the target of horrifying sexual harassment inside a closed Facebook group called ‘The Punnery’.
On October 17, a Facebook user I shall refer to hereon as ‘The Pervert’ from ‘A Good Family’ posted a joke mocking the #MeToo campaign.
‘Mithu’ is a Hindi slang for ‘parroting’. This ‘pun’ soon led to many crass jokes on the #MeToo campaign, which I found to be in very poor taste. When I requested members of the group not to trivialise this campaign, they started trolling me.
It was one of the worst instances of mass bullying I have seen online.
Why was I in this group to begin with? I thought it was about puns. It wasn’t supposed to be a verbal porn club where opinions and comments endorsed abuse, harassment and racism.
In this group of over 37,000 users, two ‘alpha’ males led a misogynistic mob of around 50 men against me. Over 1,000 people ‘liked’ the crass jokes and comments aimed at me, while 30 more aggressively defended them.
Distressed, I messaged the wife of the Pervert From A Good Family, including screenshots of the abuse. Her silence was chilling. I later found she had blocked me. Further still, the silence of the admins (an advertising professional and his journalist wife), as well as the remaining 36,000 members was no less.
When the crass jokes didn’t stop, a few men and women tried to intervene by sharing their testimonies on how they were abused in the past. But the aforementioned Pervert From A Good Family found their stories really funny because (in his opinion) people from ‘good’ families don’t get abused! Furious, I called him out for mocking these survivors. And then all hell broke loose.
“Bitch”, “TMKC”, “BC”, “feminazi”, “moron”, “bhains”, “whore”, “pussy”, “fame seeker”, “illogical”, “bully”… a never-ending torrent was hurled at me, much of which I still keep blocked from my mind. I was told that I “asked for it” and I would be “put in place” unless I leave the group.
After a few people reported these abusive comments, the post was taken down. But to my dismay, another thread emerged in defiance, to mock all the women who didn’t like this brand of crass humour. This time a stale joke was posted by another man: “Just ‘did’ Aarti & Pooja in my office. #HappyDiwali”.
Every possible name of a woman was thought of – Archana, Shraddha, Jyoti, Bhakti, Vandana – followed by rape jokes. I was tagged in the comments and insulted. And I wasn’t the only target. A woman from the North East had been trying to put forth a polite and a rational point of view. She was called a “bitch” and a “Chinky with no sex life and no sense of humour”. One of these perverted men even dared to ask if she received multiple orgasms.
Finally, a lawyer stepped in, warning that these remarks can lead to a lawsuit. In the process, an entirely new and absurd narrative was created by these trolls. The Pervert From A Good Family was treated as the ‘victim’! We were told that we need to march with candles instead of ruining their fun on Facebook. We were also told: “If you use a small knife, we will use a bazooka against you.”
In the face of our persistence (and the lawyer’s remark), these trolls decided to erase their abuse from Facebook. To evade going to court, they took down multiple threads which had clear proof of the harassment.
The Pervert then put out a feeble apology – addressed not to us but to all his ‘alpha punsters’, who had apparently suffered a feminist invasion! He wrote: “Over the last few days a lot of hate has been thrown my way for a mistake I had made in the heat the things…” He even went as far as saying that our comments had resulted in him taking prescribed anti-depressants.
These people do not hide behind shadows. They are educated, ‘respectable’ people who openly and proudly practice misogyny and encourage rape culture by normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.
There is an upside to this incident. In the last one week, four women and two men became my personal heroes after taking a stand against sexual harassment and fighting off a mob of around 500 misogynists who okayed this behaviour because it was their group policy to joke about anything. In an online world of anonymity, here’s my personal salute to some real-life heroes.
This whole experience was traumatic, but it led to a few of us finding each other.
When millions of people have shown courage, shared their stories and taken their first step towards healing, how can anyone treat it as a trivial joke? Many online movements often remain just a hashtag.
But for the first time with #MeToo, I saw something that was truly asking to make a difference. This brave bunch of people that I have still not met, sacrificed their time, dignity and privacy to take a stand against online abusers, to support me, by enduring abuse for speaking up. It showed me (and hopefully others) that Facebook can be a platform where real change is possible.
To you, dear reader, my request is simple: keep this fight going. It’s your right to live with dignity and respect. No matter where you are or what your gender is, or what social media you use, abuse and harassment must not be ignored even if it ruins the idea of someone’s fun.