India, Opinion

The minister that should have our attention isn’t Smriti Irani but Maneka Gandhi

Social media is a great disrupter in the field of communication. It is slowly turning other means of communication obsolete. Twitter and Facebook have become major sources of information for many of us now. I use Twitter as my primary source of news. In fact, I have created a Twitter list comprising of more than 80 news handles. Twitter and a couple of android apps are all I need for news. Twitter also provides governments, political parties, media organisations, journalists and celebrities a seamless and free information dissemination platform. This is how Twitter became the social media battleground that it is today.

But gradually Twitter turned into a news generator. Tweets from eminent people, their faux-pas, gaffes and most importantly their Twitter fights started making headlines. The 2014 General Elections witnessed the power of Social Media where Twitter and Facebook dominated the attention of the youth more than television news or newspapers.

However, the crop of such a brilliant form of communication also came with unnecessary weeds. The ease of creating fake and anonymous accounts allowed trolls to lash out at those who didn’t buy into their thought process. Journalists, politicians, film stars, everyone became victims of abuse on social media. And the biggest victim of online stalking and abuse became women. Irrespective of their profession, women on Twitter receive more abuse than anyone else.

I remember the case of eminent journalist Barkha Dutt who according to trolls is married to a Kashmiri person.

Barkha probably wasn’t invited to this wedding nor was she informed of it.

But this is the least Barkha could complain about. Apart from misinformation there have been campaigns against her, and she has been hurled with the worst abuses ever coined.

Her mobile number too was shared in an abusive campaign.

Barkha isn’t the only example of a woman who has handled abuse for being opinionated. Sona Mohapatra recently tweeted her disgust at the way Salman Khan compared his fatigue to a raped woman and the fact that his father Salim Khan has to come out and apologize for the son’s faux pas. An army of Salman fan’s trolled her. Tweets ranged from critical to filthy and abusive ones. Sona took a screenshot of a few of these tweets and tweeted the same to Salman Khan.

Even her tweet tagging Mumbai Police received the filthiest of replies.

Another troll recently tweeted tagging Congress spokesperson, Priyanka Chaturvedi that she be raped and brutally killed like Nirbhaya. The tweet was deleted after it received flak from several people. Journalist Swati Chaturvedi, who too is a soft target of trolls, decided to take a legal course of action. She filed a FIR against @LutyensInsider in June 2015.

However no action has been taken yet.
For long, civil society has debated the unwillingness of the government and police to act against such online abuse. People have also pointed out that the Prime Minister himself follows some abusive trolls.
It is in this context that Maneka Gandhi’s initiative of reaching out to women who are trolled online comes as a beacon of hope. Mrs. Gandhi took to social media asking women to tweet with the hashtag #IamTrolledHelp or write to her at [email protected]

The minister said she has also directed NCW to monitor instances where women are at the receiving end of trolling. This is an initiative worthy of appreciation and support from all quarters of the society irrespective of our political thought and assessment of the government or of Maneka Gandhi herself.
I would humbly appeal to Mrs. Gandhi to ensure this initiative works and does not end up becoming yet another ‘sarkari’ circular.

Shahnawaz is a political thinker and former secretary, National Students Union of India (NSUI). He tweets at @shahnawazk

Latest Update