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In India, Journalists Face Slut-Shaming and Rape Threats

 Pack your bag and leave for Pakistan;   Ms Rana Ayyub, an Indian Journalist was told

MUMBAI, India — I work as an investigative and political journalist. Two years back, I published a book — after going undercover for eight months — about the complicity of Narendra Modi, now prime minister of India, and Amit Shah, now president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, in riots in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat. I also reported on several extrajudicial murders in the state between 2002 and 2006 that Mr. Shah was accused of being involved in.

For the past few years, like several female journalists critical of the Hindu nationalist politics and government, I have been targeted by an apparently coordinated social media campaign that slut-shames, deploys manipulated images with sexually explicit language, and threatens rape. Mr. Modi and several of his ministers embolden the virtual mob by following them on social media.

Yet nothing had prepared me for what was thrown at me in the past month. On April 22, I was alarmed to find a quotation supporting child rapists falsely attributed to me and going viral on Twitter. A parody account of Republic TV, India’s leading right-wing television network, had posted the quotation.

I received numerous messages shaming me for supporting child rapists. A Facebook page called Yogi Adityanath Ki Sena, or the Army of Yogi Adityanath, translated the tweet into Hindi and circulated it on social media. Mr. Adityanath is the firebrand Hindu nationalist monk who was elected the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, last April.

I tweeted a clarification about the falsehood to no avail: My social media accounts and my phone were inundated with WhatsApp messages urging others to gang-rape me. Various leaders of Mr. Modi’s party, who promoted the lie, refused to delete their tweets despite my pointing it out.

The following day, on April 23, another tweet was generated using Photoshop and attributed to me. “I hate India and Indians,” it said. The online mob asked me to pack my bags and leave for Pakistan, some threatened to tear my clothes and drag me out of the country while invoking the genocidal violence between Hindus and Muslims during the partition of India in 1947.

In the evening, an activist from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindu nationalist mother ship, alerted me to a scurrilous pornographic video being shared on various WhatsApp groups. He had received it from a group with many Bharatiya Janata Party members: a two-minute, 20-second pornographic video of a sex act with my face morphed onto another woman.

Minutes later, my social media timelines and notifications were filled with screenshots of the video. Some commented on how prostitution was my forte. I went into a frenzy blocking them, but they were everywhere, on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Some commenters asked what I charged for sex, others described my body. Many claiming to be nationalist Hindus sent pictures of themselves naked.

I started getting screenshots from friends of a Twitter account created in my name. I was doxxed. A tweet with my name, picture, phone number and address was being circulated. “I am available,” it said. Someone sent my father a screenshot of the video. He was silent on the phone while I cried. After a while he spoke in a sad, heavy voice. “I am surprised this did not happen earlier,” he said. “They want to break you. The choice is yours.”

That night the administrator of a Facebook page called Varah Sena wrote, “See, Rana, what we spread about you; this is what happens when you write lies about Modi and Hindus in India.” The comment was posted along with the concocted video on Facebook and Twitter. (The page was deleted after I filed the police complaint.)

The slut-shaming and hatred felt like being punished by a mob for my work as a journalist, an attempt to silence me. It was aimed at humiliating me, breaking me by trying to define me as a “promiscuous,” “immoral” woman.

As I collected myself, I thought of Gauri Lankesh, the editor and outspoken critic of Hindu nationalists, who was murdered outside her home in Bangalore last September. She had published my book in the Kannada language.

Several handlers of these social media accounts, who posted and circulated the pornographic video, had celebrated her death. And some of them were and continue to be followed on Twitter by the prime minister of India.

Mr. Modi has repeatedly talked about changing Indian lives through technology. Four years into his term, his followers have indeed found a vigorous use for technology: curtailing criticism and normalizing hatred and misogyny.

Rana Ayyub is the author of “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.”

The article has been picked from New York Times

Read More: Plight of Minorities – Comparative Analysis of India and Pakistan

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