I saw it for real and it left me shocked. So far I had only watched this on television. Yes, I had seen the venom through trolls on social media. But this was happening right in front of my eyes. Groups of men, yelling and shouting, sloganeering ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ came straight at a woman who was speaking on trolling in the online world and what they do to women’s safety. They called themselves students but nothing they did depicted behaviour of people who study in colleges.

When trolls from the screen arrived in person, disrupting our talk on women’s safety

SheThePeople was holding a workshop on women’s safety online. Minutes after one of our panelists Kawal Preet left the stage ‘students’ who looked much older to be in college started disrupting the workshop and huddled together. They were creating a ruckus and speaking loudly, interfering with the workshop. SheThePeople hosts events to highlight the need for safety of women online and this was another of our efforts to get college students sensitised to online harassment and share tools to avoid the same. Ironic that on such a workshop, goons barged in, and tried to disrupt what’s clearly dialogue necessary for our times.

The professors, aghast themselves were wondering if this was turning out to be a repeat of what happened at Ramjas College last year

Their first target was Kawal Preet, a DU student who has been trolled in the past. She was there to talk from experience on how trolling affects women and what steps can help prevent it. The mob went after her. If it wasn’t for professors who guarded her and later students and our colleagues who made a human chain around her I shudder to think of implications. The noises got louder and the workshop was disrupted. At a point all the real students of the college were pleading with these union members to leave. All the volunteers who helped us put together the workshop were crying out of helplessness, admitting they had never seen this before. The professors, aghast themselves were wondering if this was turning out to be a repeat of what happened at Ramjas College last year. Some security was also got into to shunt these men out. I was aghast when two of the boys tried to raise his hand on a professor, and another couple of them paid no heed to the principal’s request to leave their college premises. Even as one teacher didn’t leave the side of Kawal Preet. Some of the union boys went a step ahead and tried to snatch phones of those present. As if the trolls from the screen had arrived in person.

Even as one teacher didn’t leave the side of Kawal Preet. Some of the union boys went a step ahead and tried to snatch phones of those present. As if the trolls from the screen had arrived in person.

I have no idea what they wanted to achieve but this incident left me asking many questions. What will stop them? Just what emboldens their spirit and guts to be the way they are? They were ready to attack. It was a lathi charge of abuses. How can this atmosphere of fear and intimidation be wiped off? When will women really be safe in India? Will they ever? In institutions of education, why do we need unionism? Politics at universities is supposed to be for student rights not against their rights? The outcomes of such an incident could have been far more severe than what we saw today, which stopped at threats and intimidation. Ironically at an effort that was putting together dialogue to look at solutions to online threats to women. Our resolve at SheThePeople is now to put an even bigger to focus on women’s safety.

Why do men find it so hard to deal with women who have an opinion of their own? Who don’t conform to majority conversation? Who believe they must have their own voice? Women must speak up against such intimidation and threat – it’s high time

I am proud that the workshop was completed. It was resumed after the hooligans were taken away by authorities who intervened. For the benefit of all others who attended it, we can hope that these people will champion the message of keeping women safe online and safety tools and take it to the others.

Email us at connect@shethepeople.tv