In the digital age, women journalists , writers or activists who bravely speak out against crimes in their respective areas often find themselves subjected to relentless online abuse, harassment, and even death threats. This in-depth report delves into the experiences of two courageous women, Hyderabad based independent journalist Thulasi Chandu and Shalin Maria Lawrence from Tamil Nadu, shedding light on the alarming trend of targeted attacks against women. Their stories paint a vivid picture of the challenges they face, the far-reaching consequences of their advocacy, and the urgent need for stronger measures to protect their safety and uphold the fundamental principles of freedom of expression.
Thulasi Chandu, an independent journalist based in Hyderabad, has become an unfortunate victim of constant harassment, hate speech, and threats due to her vocal opposition to communal hatred. The journey of her being targeted began in 2020 when she released a video titled "Coming of communalism," which aimed to shed light on the communal undertones observed during the Greater Hyderabad Municipal election. Almost instantaneously, right-wing trolls unleashed a relentless campaign of labeling and character assassination, branding her as "anti-Hindu," "commie," "leftist," and even resorting to derogatory slurs like "prostitute."
What initially seemed like mere name-calling quickly escalated into an organized onslaught of vitriol and misogyny. The trolls spared no effort to flood Thulasi's online platforms with graphic descriptions of rape and murder, leaving her constantly fearing for her life. As a journalist known for her meticulous research and fact-based reporting, Thulasi's videos, such as "How India Sold out to Adani" and "Politics Behind Attack on Atheist Bairi Naresh," garnered substantial viewership, attracting a staggering 1.79 lakh subscribers to her YouTube channel. However, this success has come at the cost of an army of designated trolls who seem solely focused on threatening her physical and mental well-being.
In an attempt to seek justice and protect herself, Thulasi filed a complaint with the cybercrime wing of the Hyderabad city police in January 2022. Yet, despite the involvement of influential political figures, including K Tarakarama Rao, a prominent leader and IT minister of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi party, no concrete action was taken to address the malicious campaign against her. The apathy and lack of accountability in addressing her plight have only deepened her fears. In a recent emotionally charged Facebook post, Thulasi expressed her chilling apprehension of being killed.
“...My photos are being morphed. One day, some innocent youngster fed with hatred by the party he loved will turn that hatred into a bullet or a sword,” she wrote. “Nobody will come to defend me...No group will stand for me because I don't have any sort of identity including an identity card that is given to journalists by the government. I cannot do anything other than giving these explanations. One day I will fall, be killed. Let it be, but by then at least allow me to record my agony and isolated voice.” Thulasi wrote in her post.
As per a report published in The News Minute, the police in Hyderabad have recently filed a new case against three YouTube channels and one Facebook page. Dileep Konatham, the digital media director of the Telangana government, stated that the government is actively pursuing the case and working to ensure that the culprits are held accountable. However, women journalists in Hyderabad have expressed concerns that fear-mongering and a hostile atmosphere have become normalized in Telugu media and virtual spaces since the BJP came to power in 2019 and made attempts to gain influence in Telangana.
Shalin Maria Lawrence, a Christian Dalit activist based in Chennai, has encountered relentless online violence and shaming for her commitment to exposing crimes against Dalits in Tamil Nadu. Lawrence attributes the abuse to supporters of two rival political parties, the ruling DMK and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who paradoxically engage in hate politics while claiming to be adversaries. Both factions actively target individuals who dare to shed light on their wrongdoings, leaving activists like Lawrence to endure the brunt of their vitriol.
The genesis of Lawrence's activism can be traced back to a tragic honor killing incident in Tirupur district in March 2016. The case involved a premeditated attack on V Shankar, a 22-year-old Dalit man, and his 19-year-old wife, Kausalya Shankar, orchestrated by her family. Overwhelmed by grief and determined to seek justice, Lawrence transformed into an ardent anti-caste activist, passionately advocating for legislation against honor killings and demanding robust protection for inter-caste couples.
However, Lawrence's bold advocacy has not come without severe repercussions. She has become a target of relentless online abuse, including caste-based discrimination and body shaming. Detractors, in their attempts to silence her, engage in the delegitimization of her identity, questioning her Indianness and even suggesting that she relocate to Pakistan or Uttar Pradesh. The toxic online environment has taken a toll on Lawrence's mental well-being, leading her to question the sincerity of the political parties who claim to counter hate politics while resorting to similar tactics when their interests are challenged."
“If it is the BJP and RSS, I can understand. They are right-wing and conservative, and this has been part of their politics,” she said. “What shocks me is that a left party like the DMK, which I believed were the torch bearers of social justice, is very cruel towards Dalit women on matters of caste.” Shalin said in an interview published in April this year by Article 14.
Meena Kotwal, a resilient journalist and Founder of The Mooknayak, a speedily growing digital news platform, vehemently condemns the pervasive cyber bullying faced by women journalists who dare to speak out against crimes and advocate for marginalized communities. Kotwal , herself a survivor of severe online trolling, recognizes that this form of abuse not only undermines the freedom of expression but also perpetuates a culture of fear and intimidation.
In response to the targeted attacks she has personally endured, Kotwal asserts that cyber bullying is a grave violation of human rights and a clear attempt to silence marginalized voices. She emphasizes that the impact of such harassment goes beyond the individual journalist, extending to the broader society by stifling important narratives and perpetuating systemic injustice.
Kotwal believes that the responsibility to combat cyberbullying lies with society as a whole. She calls for collective action, urging individuals, communities, and institutions to stand in solidarity against this digital violence. She stresses the importance of fostering a safe and inclusive online environment that respects freedom of expression, encourages constructive dialogue, and promotes empathy and understanding.