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The Online Attack On Sushma Swaraj Is Proof That Women Are The Favourite Target Of Trolls

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You cant keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours” – Hillary Clinton

Since June 22, 2018, I have come across a painful truth, even the Foreign Affairs minister, despite being from BJP, is not safe from right-wing trolls.

Women are safe on the internet as long as they don’t speak their mind. There is growing concern of right-wing trolling over communal issues and we have seen that in the past with Shehla Rashid, Barkha Dutt and Aamir Khan. The latest victim is Sushma Swaraj. Personally, I noticed her “liking” several tweets which condemned her actions against passport officer Vikas Mishra, so that tweets were brought to the attention of the public. She sarcastically tweeted, indirectly calling out the abusive racist tweets.

Tanvi Seth, a woman married to a Muslim man, wrote a series of tweets accusing passport officer Vikas Mishra of abuse. She claimed that the officer accused of her not taking her husband’s name and he alledgedly asked her husband to convert to Hinduism. Vikas Mishra claimed that he only asked her to use the name on her nikahnama and another eye witness claimed that Mishra was not abusive and just did his job. Personally, I hope that thorough investigation will be conducted and action is taken based on that.

But in this communal sensitive era, racism and bigotry should not be treated as a less severe issue. I believe that external affairs authorities did their job. Maybe, she rushed her decision, maybe she didn’t. If she is wrong then, of course, the mistake should be pointed out and criticised. However, the trolls took the whole issue to a different level putting her along with other folks who are infamously categorised as “anti-nationals”, “libtard” or “sickular”.

I read very disturbing tweets directed at the minister. Personally, despite her RW views, I admire Sushmaji for her dedication, feistiness and humour on Twitter. She replies to Indian people stranded around the globe. She led the campaign to free Indian nurses in Yemen and others in difficult circumstances. If someone so reputed and respected across Indian politics becomes the victim of communal based cyberbullying then it simply means that we are all vulnerable to the same. It is also deducted that 41 BJP lawmakers follow the trolls who attacked Sushmaji. Congress came out to support her via Twitter, “No matter the situation or reason, nothing calls for threats of violence, disrespect & abuse. @SushmaSwaraj ji, we applaud your decision to call out the heinous trolls of your own party”, but the fact that BJP folks are silent over this is bothersome. Especially from the PM, who could use his platform to condemn the trolls and RW men who continue hurl abuses at her.

A woman took a dig at Sushmaji’s anti-Hindu sentiment, pointing out to her “Islamic kidney”. She had to undergo a kidney transplant and in 2016, a Muslim man offered her his kidney and she praised the man for the same. The mass is fueled by intense anti-Muslim mindset and bigotry.

Another guy totally made this into a “Hindu” issue and several other tweets echoed the same.

Apart from all that, few folks ensured that she is reminded of her position as a woman online with death threats, rape threats and photoshops.

Journalist Barkha Dutt, in her essay defending Ms Swaraj, puts it eloquently, “As someone who has experienced this myself (and yes, I’ve complained to the police, taken it to court and reported such abuses to Twitter), I can confirm that outspoken women are their favourite targets. And when we speak out against our vilification, resisting the attempts to intimidate and silence us, we are accused of “playing the victim.”

The fact they twisted ministry’s process of taking action based on evidence and testimony into a religious and communal issue is the underlying factor and even if the officer is proven innocent, the point is made after all. I myself faced the same when I wrote condemning Hindu fundamentalists who raped and killed Asifa. “You are a bitch. Women like you shame Hindus” I was told. After the same, we have a swarm of RW folks neutralizing the conversations related to the case.

When nationalism is linked with bigotry, misogyny and racism then the ability to exhibit healthy criticism is extinguished in itself. I hope that authorities will take action needed against the cyber bullies.

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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.

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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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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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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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