The Unholy Alliance Between Lynchings, The Right-Wing And Social Media

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Tabrez Ansari has been murdered, and this occurred exactly two years after Junaid was killed over a seat on a train bound for Mathura; FB memories ensured I got the timeline right.  An ‘alleged’ thief, Ansari was tied to an electric pole, beaten for 18 hours and forced to shout slogans of Jai Shri Ram. He was taken into custody first, and then to the hospital, where he eventually succumbed to brain hemorrhage. As I write this, my thoughts are punctuated by the recent conviction of Sanjiv Bhatt by Jamnagar Sessions Court, but perhaps that’s irate rambling for another day, another article.

For representative purpose.

A few days ago, a madrassa teacher was thrown from a moving train in West Bengal for not chanting Jai Shri Ram. It might appear that throwing Muslims from trains has now become routine for the perennially hurt Hindus. While #notojaishriram began to trend on Twitter as an aftermath, the new age right-wing internet vigilantes are up in arms with tweets on whataboutery over the latest incident of violence in Chandni Chowk; the details of which are still hazy. Tweets of this ilk follow a recognizable pattern; they tend to contain disturbing and often violent images or fake and unverified information to create propaganda of Hindus being persecuted or to lend credibility to their claims.

UNESCO becomes the biggest stamp for approval as the national anthem and the Prime Minister are declared best in the world. Images of the infrastructure of other cities are routinely shared to spread false propaganda about how developed India has become under the present government. The image of the hurt and ignored Hindus always come in response to outrage over any instance of mob violence against Dalits or Muslims and are circulated with such calculative precision, and on such a scale, that there is now no iota of doubt about the involvement of organized right-wing party machinery.

Besides aggressive sharing, use of trolling is employed to attack opposition and silence any counterpoint. As a result, the myth of persecuted Hindu becomes part of the mainstream narrative. For instance, the recurrent image of a bloodied Sadhu in West Bengal is used as per convenience to question silence over the alleged assault on Hindus. Even though this “fact” has been firmly denied by Kolkata Police, the religious guru was beaten by angry family members of the girl he had sexually assaulted, the image has been getting resurrected since 2017.

A similar tactic of provocation was used in the aftermath of the Aligarh tragedy despite the refutal of rape allegations by the Twitter handle of the Aligarh Police. Not only that, celebrities like Sonam Kapoor were viciously trolled by social media users close to a right wing party for her appeal to not communalise the said murder; false comparisons between this and another odious rape and murder case in Kathua were made to insinuate yet again that Hindus were being viewed in an unfair manner.

The remarkable rise of social media in the last decade has produced new and active forms of political expression. Nobody can deny the transformative power and consequences of social media to Indian politics; IT cells and social media campaigns are important for almost all political parties. It is within this domain of high politics that one major right-wing political party has managed to tweak social media for substantial electoral and ideological gains. The Internet enables one to disseminate ideas anonymously across the globe and this has become a useful tool for the party to situate the site of national debates outside political institutions.

Anonymity on the internet proves conducive for brazen use of abusive language and for silencing criticism in a manner not possible otherwise. The relationship between these social media users and organized right-wing remains ambiguous to the public despite common knowledge that several of them are actually specific right-wing party workers or its online supporters. This creates an artificial binary of good versus bad as the online trolls (much like the gau-rakshaks (cow vigilantes) and terror accused till 2019) are considered primeval fringe that are not part of the party machinery.

Related image
Jack Dorsey with the placard

Recently, Twitter’s Chief Executive, Jack Dorsey, posted for a picture while holding a placard that read “Smash Brahmanichal Patriarchy” around the same time that Twitter shadowbanned several accounts, many of which were pro ruling party or of right-wing users. Endorsement of end to caste-based patriarchal domination was deliberately interpreted by several right-wing users and supporters who dubbed it as an attack on the Hindus. They unleashed online attack so massive that Twitter had to release a formal apology. Jack Dorsey was later summoned by MPs on the parliamentary committee for information technology (he never attended that), to explain Twitter’s bias against right-wing ideology.

We can see how the organized right-wing uses social media first to build a narrative biased towards its specific agenda, and then seeks intervention of institutions within a terrain that it has already been mapped out. There is also the larger question of how the political elites of the organized right-wing use social media. While the early retirement of Shikhar Dhawan from the World Cup ensured a flurry of tweets by ministers including the Prime Minister wishing him speedy recovery, death of Ansari was met with eerie silence from them which is a typical response after every case of hate crime against minorities.

Sahana Udupa has identified the relationship between organized right-wing and social media as enterprise Hindutva and one could say that it plays a role in expelling from public memory the rise in number of hate crimes against marginalized. It is important that we rethink and nuance our engagement with social media, especially in the light of horrific events that have transpired in the last few days; social media does not represent high politics anymore.

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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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