20, Feb 2019 | Deborah Grey
Several Indian journalists, known for their liberal and secular views, became victims of doxxing when their numbers were leaked and circulated, allegedly by right-wing social media trolls. Barkha Dutt, Abhisar Sharma, Rajdeep Sardesai and many others, have since then received threats of violence and abusive messages on their phones. Is this a conspiracy against media persons who believe in defending India’s pluralism and democratic values?
Firebrand journalist Abhisar Sharma who is best known for speaking truth to power on his show Suniye Sarkar started receiving threats via calls and text messages when his number was made public, allegedly by a group of right-wing social media trolls.
The messages not only questioned Sharma’s patriotism, but also threatened his family with violence. Sexually derogatory language was used for the women in his family and one of the trolls threatened to rape his little daughter!
But this only made Sharma more determined to fight back and he filed a formal police complaint, following which two men were arrested.
But Barkha Dutt, who returned to television news with her show Democracy Live on HTN recently, had much worse luck. While Dutt is not new to trolling, this time she was targeted more viciously on account of her gender, given how the perpetrators now had access to her personal number and did not face privacy challenges like those on social media. Frustrated by the constant onslaught of abuse, including pictures of genitals, Barkha tweeted this:
Subsequently in a series of tweets, she also made public all the numbers of people who harassed and abused her. But Twitter authorities allegedly threatened to take action against her, locked her account and forced her to delete some of the tweets including the image of the genitals. Shocked, Dutt tweeted:
Interestingly, even though Sharma had also tweeted numbers of people who had harassed him, he was not asked to take down the tweets and they are still visible on his page!
In fact, one of Dutt’s harassers was allegedly caught only because police were investigating Sharma’s complaint! At the time of publishing this story, Barkha Dutt was still getting threats! She urged the police to take action.
This apathy is reserved only for women journalists. Winner of Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Award for her book “I am a Troll” Swati Chaturvedi has faced intense trolling. But things got ugly when she received a death threat on Twitter in November 2018. However, no action was taken prompting the UN to write to the government of India.
Meanwhile, Rajdeep Sardesai, whose number was also made public tweeted the following:
Journalists with strong voices of dissent and a large social media following are perceived to be threats to a proto-fascist regime. All these threats are, therefore, a coordinated attack to silence Abhisar Sharma, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and other journalists who value our Constitutional values such as equality, secularism and social justice… men and women who are not afraid to question those in power or expose their wrong doings.
We need to stand by them if we are to preserve not only Press Freedom, but also the larger ideas of Freedom of Expression and the Right to Dissent. After all Dissent is the lifeblood of Democracy.