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When The Media Turned On JNU Students, I Saw The Full Force Of Online Hate

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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.

It was less than a week after the infamous “JNU Incident” of February 9, 2016, when alleged ‘anti-national’ slogans were raised on campus. Media channels broadcasted multiple, conflicting and distorted version of the same event. And when I made multiple Facebook posts on the matter, responses varied between “I had so much respect for you, I thought you were smart,” to “I regret that I even taught you.”

After recovering from the initial anger and embarrassment, I needed to find validation with those who supported the students, enlisting close relatives to check on what other family members thought of me and the topic, and then to moderate my ties with everyone based on their Facebook posts on the issue.

Why was this so important? In the aftermath of the incident, students watched in horror as the ramifications became clear. In addition to the reputation of notoriety we obtained as ‘JNU students’, and the threats that were made to our safety, the backlash on social media occupied us for months. For politically conscious non-activist students of the recent times, this was probably the apex of politicisation that prompted steady engagement as social media warriors to salvage Jawaharlal Nehru University’s legacy. The trend was to largely share a positive depiction of the incident and stories by some section of the electronic and print media, desperately vying for the attention of all those who were in their Facebook friends list to peruse through and then commence a war on the comment section with those who didn’t.

With every post I made, it was painful to come across adverse opinions from my family and friends. Intriguingly, as much as these comments in my posts led to estrangement, the online backlash took a more dangerous turn. Our comments on public news articles and on posts of prominent student leaders’ got responses threatening rape and acid attacks. That led to them sending threatening messages to me personally on Facebook, and the fear psychosis grew when one of them identified my hostel.

This is where Online Hate transcended the managed quarters of anonymity and became a reality. The ability to incite on unverified narratives, where people cannot gauge nuances and your opinions are easily mistaken to being overwhelmed with hate coming from all quarters require strength. It also invites the need for introspection on our orientation of responses. While the right to express one’s views on one’s social media forum remains, doesn’t it occur to everyone that it is still better to reach out to clarify and debate things through with the value of civility in discourse rather than confront on assumptions?

Very few asked me what exactly happened. Most of the unpleasant encounters were based on the identity of being a JNU student. Did they themselves never face hate on what they had written? Did they ever not get easily misunderstood? Did it ever occur that a civil conversation over comments can take place? While debating to come to a middle ground is not the aim anymore, and to derive new insights has long been forgotten, how has the need to comment obscenely on posts you don’t agree with gain such applause? How did one even intend to spend time trolling in an exhaustive manner?

The personal impact of seeking validation and designating enemies and friends based on one opinion on an issue was heavy. More importantly, how do people forget before posting hateful comments that there are multiple realities, multiple opinions and one cannot fight against them all? Have civility and the need to clarify disappeared in the era of Comment Section warriors? Has hate become normalised to the extent that it overrides the right to air views? Online Hate is unmoderated and overwhelming due to the fact it gives access to multiple people and their actual views. It creates pages that randomly take up and doctor posts without consent, and it invites myriad anonymous accounts to attack users online. This has become the norm, where the hate impairs us to feel secure in expressing ourselves, reinforces the insecurity we live with as women (in the physical space and in cyberspace) and reminding us how trolls closer to the present dispensation wield enough power to impact one’s career, one’s rights to differ/dissent, and impose the kind of conformity they want that is detrimental to us an individuals.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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