Anyone who is on social media would know how trolling and abuse have become a part of the discourse.
The same goes for my experience online.
As an active Twitter user, who happens to belong to a political party (Congress) that is different from the current powers that be, getting trolled and facing abuse is a daily menace, which due to lack of better option, i have to grin and bear.
I say lack of any option because under IPC sections, there is no immediate relief to anyone who faces this abuse, all sections are of bailable nature. The second challenge is of almost non-existent support structures coming from these platforms despite many tools that they say they have introduced to filter content. But trying to get accounts suspended or deactivated is near impossible.
Recently in an interview to NDTV, Shri Arun Jaitley said it was near impossible to control the trolling. While I appreciate his honesty, I disagree with him saying it isn't possible. If laws against trolling and cyber abuse were made more stringent (discarding the loopholes in Sec 66A ) and if the response because less red tape and more proactive, then maybe there could be a way to address this issue. So saying it's not possible is a convenient escape route that he took.
The Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi who recently said trolling could be looked at as violence against women quickly beat a hasty retreat as soon as the BJP and right wing supporter base went up in arms against it. Such is their clout and such is the uncontrollable nature of the beast that right wing has unleashed on these platforms. To now say it is near impossible to control would be running away from accountability.
Let me be very clear that I have no problem with anyone having a different point of view from mine and arguing on Twitter on issues. I follow many people from the intellectual right wing and spokesperson of parties that have a different ideology than mine. Debate is good, debate is healthy and is the essence of any strong democracy. But using abuse, threat and intimidation to try and silence a differing point of view is doing a huge disservice to the entire idea of freedom of speech enshrined in our constitution.
Observer Research Foundation, a leading think tank, had in 2015 tried to understand the political gender representation on Twitter - they sampled 23,250 tweets under political trending topics and 7.72% of tweets were by women, 46.15% by men, rest of the numbers made up by organisations or handles that haven't specified their gender (read anonymous handles). With a disparity as huge, it anyway is a mammoth task to get women to speak their mind. For them to be a relevant participant in the political discourse, we need more numbers, yet we see how through abuse, intimidation of sexist nature and bullying, the attempt continues to keep them on the fringe.
Last evening, I was threatened with "rape and death like Nirbhaya" for just pointing out a BJP spokesperson's use of innuendo and insinuation to silence me on a TV debate. So if being a woman wasn't bad enough to be on these platforms, it is worse to be an opinionated woman from a differing ideology. However if such people and official and unofficial supporters of right wing think they can intimidate me, I am sorry, you have dialled a wrong number here. In fact I am going to talk more and more about such threats to ensure this intimidation and bullying is held accountable, even if they get away by getting bail for it and facing courts in the time to come
The Mumbai Police has been the most helpful since last evening and have been coordinating with me to bring this man to book. However this isn't the first time that I have sought the help of cops. I had done this earlier with a handle that used to stalk my timeline, unfortunately with all the help I could get then too, the matter is still pending in courts.
Mr Jaitley, what you can definitely do, considering you have a stellar record as a lawyer, is to draft an action plan for online women users facing sexual harassment and abuse that is on the lines of women facing them in real world. What Mrs Maneka Gandhi can do is ensure it's taken with the same seriousness. Stop passing the buck and show who is in charge here
(Priyanka Chaturvedi is the National Spokesperson of the All India Congress Committee (AICC))
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.