Gayatri Bharadwaj won the Femina Miss India United Continents pageant in 2018, as a result of which her social media following saw a massive rise. But along with love and adulation, she also incurred plenty of unwanted attention in the form of inappropriate messages. “I never thought to reply back, because if you do that, you are giving them the satisfaction of instigating a reaction from you.” But then the Bois Locker room story broke and that was the last straw for her. Bharadwaj took screenshots of all the lewd messages that she had been getting and posted them on her Instagram story. “These were screenshots of messages from random people who said they wanted to have sex with me, or rape me; some of them I cannot even describe.”
While Gayatri got a lot of support from her followers, many asked her why she hadn’t reported these disturbing messages to the police. Like a lot of women, Gayatri chose to ignore these messages, because hey, isn’t this something that almost every young girl, ever woman influencer and celebrity experiences on social media? “The fact that I didn’t even think that it was wrong all this while, is what is wrong with our society. We often think that such behaviour is okay and I should just ignore it. I took this as a part of being popular. If you have a lot of followers, or are posting a certain type of pictures, then you just have to accept it, that’s what we are taught!” And even if she did tell about these messages to anyone, we all know the kind of reaction, or rather consolation she would get. It’s okay. Hota hai. Boys will be boys.
A month or so ago before coronavirus pandemic hit us, the thirst trap trend was gaining momentum on desi social media. I remember that a female artist posted some images of herself on Twitter for that trend, and got heavily trolled for them. She was shamed for the colour of her skin, for being plus size, for posting provocative photos on the networking platform and whatnot. This woman’s much public harassment for me remains a benchmark episode, when it comes to what women in India have to face every single day online. The Bois Locker Room incident may have jolted us out of our obliviousness or unwillingness to address this issue, but the truth remains that this wasn’t a one of a kind incident, that occurred out of nowhere. Women face rape threats, get asked for nudes, shamed for their bodies, served lewd comments on such a regular basis that it has become a part and parcel of our online lives.
Take a moment and scroll down any timeline, you will find endless trolling of female journalists, activists and opinion makers who are trolled not just for their opinions but also for just being ‘women with a mind of their own.’ Sagarika Ghose, Nidhi Razdan, Kavita Krishnan, Rana Ayyub, Swara Bhaskar and many have to face gendered online abuse and at times, even rape threats. Recently activist Safoora Zargar was trending on Twitter because trolls had a field day dissecting her life, her pregnancy and what not.
- Bois locker room incident jolted us out of our obliviousness towards women’s online safety.
- However, this wasn’t a rare incident of harassment that women face on social media.
- Women have to deal with lewd DMs, crass comments, body shaming on a day to day basis.
- So frequent and commonplace is the harassment, we think of it as a normal part of our digital lives.
The harassment of women is so commonplace and brazen, that it is not longer hidden in DMs or Bois Locker Room style chat groups. You can see lewd comments on breasts, derries, etc lurking under tweets as well. Trolls infact have a penchant for guising harassment as righteous behaviour and they have managed to get away with it. How dare she say she has a boyfriend, wear a bikini despite being of such and such religion, speak ill of the party that we support, be a feminist, criticise our sabhyata! She deserves to be harassed. She asked for it, by posting that picture while pouting, wearing that dress, calling out my misogyny so openly. She must be reminded of her place in the patriarchal hierarchy.
I am not saying that men don’t face harassment, but I am yet to see rape threats under the photograph of a man posing in just a towel to lay a thirst trap. In fact I hope no men ever has to face what women go through every day on social media. But how does one put across this plight through to the #NotAllMen brigade? To women who have internalised harassment and taken to policing their sisterhood instead. You got trolled? A creepy uncle sent you a d**k pic? This random dude fat-shamed you for posting a picture in which you were wearing a little black dress? Darling, what were you expecting? This is India, the onus of your safety falls on you. It is impossible to change the world that we live in, so let us mind our own conduct.
This random dude fat-shamed you for posting a picture in which you were wearing a little black dress? Darling, what were you expecting?
The first step that all of us need to take to change this dynamic, is to be brave and call out these predators openly. It will not only discourage people who don’t take their offences seriously, but also encourage other women to speak up.
Once Gayatri took a stand and put up the screenshot of all those who were harassing her, the influx of lewd messages stopped, just like that. However, she does think that simply outing online predators is not enough. “We have such a long way to go. But, it is my responsibility to call them out from my end, so that other girls see that it is okay and everybody goes through it. If I say that my life is perfect and none of this happens to me then women will hesitate to come forward and talk about their ordeal.” Gayatri believes that more and more women celebrities, who enjoy a massive fan following on social media need to come forward and share their experience with online harassment. “Once you start calling these people out, they stop.”
The views expressed are the author’s own.