If you're a writer active on social media then you probably fight off 'trolls' every day. But if you question the Hindu nationalist government of India, you find yourself dealing with an entirely unique breed of a troll.
Armed militias carry out the dirty deeds of an increasingly fascistic state in the streets, and trolls carry out its communications operation in the online world.
Trolls swarm their targets with counterpoints, challenges, and also rhetorical abuse. They overwhelm their replies and comments in a way that makes the views expressed by the individual in his or her social media posts to appear as though they are unpopular, inaccurate or wholly out-of-touch with reality.
During my more than a decade-long career in journalism, I’ve been mobbed by the most relentless and ruthless trolls that inhabit the orbits of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. From ultra-Zionists to Assadists to New Atheists to the MAGA crowd, I’ve had my replies and private message inboxes overwhelmed by them all.
One particular group of an online troll stands out above all others, however, at least in my experience. I’m referring to Modi and BJP/RSS-supporting Hindu nationalists.
Last week, I published two articles with two respective news outlets, and also a podcast episode on India’s revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir, which, in turn, has brought what feels like an avalanche. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Hindu nationalist trolls, lie in wait in my replies on my social media accounts, and in my private message and email inboxes.
Look, trolls come with the territory, especially when you write about highly contentious and impassioned subjects, but what makes the Hindu nationalist troll unique is his viciousness.
Most online trolls will challenge your arguments, post disinformation, deflect via whataboutery or call you names. Hindu nationalist trolls are collectively obsessed with wanting to rape my wife, daughter, and mother.
I'm not exaggerating. If I had a $1 for every rape threat I've received in the past 72 hours, I'd have more than $100. This is not normal behaviour. That this specific kind of threat is received over and over again and exclusively from Hindu nationalist trolls speaks to a real sickness.
When I spoke with Carin Fischer, a German-born civil rights activist who lived in Indian Administered Kashmir for ten years, she told me, “We [pro-Kashmir independence activists] receive the most vile threats online from Indians. I don’t even want to repeat what they are saying, but it is beyond misogynistic and involves rape and even beheading. Kashmir is such an emotional issue that you never know if there’s some Hindutva nut even in the West who may go after you.”
Swati Chaturvedi, author of the book “I am a Troll – Inside the BJP’s Secret Digital Army,” describes in a great detail how India’s ruling party has organised an army of paid workers and unpaid volunteers to attack journalists and anyone else who is critical of the party, Modi, or the nation.
“These trolls are mostly anonymous, though some as shown in the examples aren’t. The latter tend to lead the charge, and as soon as they abuse you, a swarm of anonymous trolls follow in their wake, either repeating the original abuse or adding more to it,” writes Chaturvedi.
“The more high profile the victims are, the worse the abuse gets with women often facing the brunt. Apart from rape threats, the anonymous swarm often send sexually explicit messages such as images of pubic hair to women with vulgar messages attached to it.”
Translate to 'in real life'?
The use of sexual violence as a means to intimidate and suppress opposition voices is not only deployed by faceless and near-anonymous online trolls, but also by members of India’s ruling party - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In fact, since the moment New Delhi announced it was doing away with Kashmir’s 'special status' as an autonomous territory, Indian politicians, pundits, and online users have been threatening or encouraging the kidnapping and rape of Kashmiri women.
A remark by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar captures what has become a widely shared sentiment in India towards Kashmir:
“Anyone, young and old alike, can understand how this [poor sex ratio] would create a problem in the future...that there will be fewer women and more men. So our [minister OP Dhankar] Dhankhar ji said we will have to bring girls from Bihar. Now some people are saying Kashmir has been opened, we can bring girls from Kashmir also. Jokes aside, if [sex] ratio is fine, then there will be balance in society.”
There was also a BJP legislator who proclaimed that single BJP members were now free to go to Kashmir and marry “fair skinned” Kashmiri women.
It's almost as though frighteningly mainstream Indian society views the colonisation of Kashmir as one great rape-and-rescue fantasy, insofar as seeing itself set on a divine mission to liberate Muslim women from Muslim men.
Various Indian news media outlets, including India Today and Hindustan Times, have subtly emphasised this meme, by publishing proven to be fake stories about Muslim women sending “rakhis to brother PM Narendra Modi” for saving them from cultural and Islamic practices.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that a recent survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found India to be the world's most dangerous country for women, ahead of even war-torn Afghanistan and Syria.
Is it any wonder then that millions of Muslims in Kashmir are panicked and paralysed by fear with the prospect of a Hindu nationalist settler-colonial project?
The Indian military has already demonstrated its willingness to use rape, sodomy, and torture as an “instrument of control” in Kashmir, as documented in a 560-page report submitted to the United Nations. With India scrapping Article 370, it won’t only be the military that persecutes the Kashmiri people, but also ordinary Indian citizens if threats made by Indian politicians and Hindu nationalist online trolls are carried out.
We must do all we can to mobilise the international community into pressuring India to reconsider its anti-democratic move in the valley, despite the number of vicious trolls it might invite. I can already imagine them lining up after this article is published.
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