Dhanya Rajendran, a member of NWMI, was abused for her August 4 tweet which read: “I had watched Vijay’s ‘Sura’ till interval and walked out. #WhenHarryMet Sejal has made me break that record. Could not sit till interval.”
This innocuous tweet about her opinion on a film she saw more than six years ago made fans of Tamil actor Vijay, who played a lead role in Sura, go ballistic. Within hours, thousands abused Rajendran with a hashtag, #PublicityBeepDhanya, which was trending in India. Rajendran had to complain to Twitter before the hashtag was pulled down.
The trolling snowballed in the following days and by the time Rajendran was forced to meet the Commissioner of Police in Chennai to lodge an FIR on August 8, there were more than 30,000 abusive tweets. An FIR has been registered against two Twitter handles and other unnamed persons, under Sections 354(D), 506 (1), 507 and 509; Section 67 of the Information Technology Act; Section 4 of the Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 2002 and Section and 6 of the Indecent Representation of Women Act.
The NWMI unequivocally denounces the online hate campaign against its member, and urges for a greater tolerance for divergent views on social media. Recent examples of Rega Jha, editor, Buzzfeed India, Neha Dixit, independent journalist and Meena Kandasamy, author highlight the fact that women journalists often face vicious sexual abuse online.
The virtual mob assault on Dhanya Rajendran raises questions about the self-proclaimed fans of actors and politicians, who seem to receive tacit support from the stars they claim to deify. In this case, the film actor Vijay should issue a statement condemning the abuse being meted out in his name.
The Twitter accounts of those who had issued rape and death threats have not been suspended. The lack of prompt response from Twitter is of deep concern, given that misogynist trolling, sexist and sexual abuse and outright threats create an atmosphere of intimidation that forces many women to self-censor or even quit the platform altogether.
The NWMI demands that:
- Swift police action be taken on the FIR registered on August 8th, to punish the culprits and ensure Dhanya Rajendran’s safety.
- Twitter be more sensitive to online abuse, specifically of women and institute more robust mechanisms to combat online abuse in regional languages.
- Film actors, politicians with mass following should speak out in public against such abuse.
- The Editors’ Guild of India and Press Council of India must take suo moto notice of such online harassment of women journalists and editors and come out strongly in their support.