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Analysis

Updated on: Thursday, November 04, 2021, 12:38 AM IST

Virtual reality: Rape threats to women & babies under the cover of online anonymity is the new 'badge of courage & masculinity', writes Robin Roy

What else can one say when faced with the news of disgruntled cricket fans (must we call them fans of the gentleman’s game?) sending out rape threats to MS Dhoni’s five-year-old daughter because her father was not performing well enough? If you thought that was a one-off case, sample the recent one where a threat was issued to Virat Kohli’s nine-month child…
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India recorded an average of 80 murders and 77 rape cases daily in 2020, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report. At an average of 80 murders daily in 2020, India reported a total of 29,193 fatalities in 2020. Overall, 3,71,503 cases of crimes against women were reported across the country last year.

Of the total cases of crimes against women in 2020, 28,046 were incidents of rape involving 28,153 victims, according to the NCRB data for a year in which Covid-19 broke out and there was an unannounced pandemic-induced lockdown.

These are hard facts. But what about rape threats uploaded in cyberspace, which keep relentlessly stalking the minds of the targets?

Rape threats to children

It’s obnoxious and abhorrent, to say the least. The levels of hate have crossed all limits, it seems. The wafer-thin patience and tolerance level of these elements that have no name -- should we call them anti-socials or rather, extremists… smack of a mindset that’s depraved beyond words. What else can one say when faced with the news of disgruntled cricket fans (must we call them fans of the gentleman’s game?) sending out rape threats to MS Dhoni’s five-year-old daughter because her father was not performing well enough? If you thought that was a one-off case, sample the recent one where a threat was issued to Virat Kohli’s nine-month child…

This reflects the rape culture that seems to be insidiously breeding in our society. Imagine a Twitter user casually typing out posts threatening to rape a nine-month-old! What sort of debased thought processes bring these nameless elements to the conclusion that abusing women and children is the only route to vehemently vent one’s anger.

'Weapon of choice'

Sexual violence is almost always the go-to ‘weapon of choice’ to avenge any kind of insult. Where did they learn this? From a childhood spent witnessing or being subjected to abuse? What explanation could there possibly be for thinking this way at the drop of a hat? This abject dismissal of women as property or goods and their violation sexually as the way to ‘dishonour’ or ‘doom’ their family pride or their prestige.

And these cowardly elements cannot come out and say it in the open, so they hide in real life and emerge on social media, once again, anonymously. They are shrill, lack self-respect and and think that issuing rape threats to a woman or a baby is proof of their masculinity and courage. The mentality which prompts such blots on humankind to unleash such horror lays bare the tattered patriarchal mindset of society.

Lifelong trauma

What most people actually fail to grasp is that rape threats are just as harmful as the act itself. It leaves the survivor scarred for life. Issuing virtual rape threats to women, and lately, infants, is scraping the bottom of the barrel of depravity.

The toxic idea of tattered patriarchy that some men continue to clutch at is beyond belief. Further, they believe that calling out a wrong and ‘correcting it’ with another wrong is absolutely fine – two wrongs make a right, they reason.

Kohli and Dhoni are celebrities and hence, if rape threats are directed at their kin, they are publicised in the media and the authorities sit up at once and take note. But what about the fact that rape threats are strewn on cyberspace like pollutants in the air, why is data all that cheap? How people abuse, cocooned in the anonymity offered by the jungle that is the internet is mind-boggling.

At the drop of a hat

If a woman is friendly… issue a threat! Someone dresses ‘boldly’, issue a threat! Have an argument with someone and know you have lost but can’t digest your defeat… issue a threat! Someone takes a bold step and even if you think deep down that it’s right but disagree with them (because you are unable to come to terms with their being braver than you could ever be), issue a threat! And not just any old threat… throw in rape.

Morally speaking, there can never be any justification for rape threats. Yet, thousands of women, especially those who speak their minds and moreover, do so on social media, are subject to the outpourings of these ailing minds, day after day, and even as we speak.

Women have been issued rape threats for debating nationalism, defending a victim of rape, for political speaking, reporting news or even objecting to a monologue/dialogue. They just have to speak out and a rape threat is born.

Thus, when we say there are no safe spaces for women, the domain of peril now encompasses cyberspace.

Troll tendency

The findings of Amnesty International’s Troll Patrol India study provide evidence to support this belief. During the general elections in 2019, women politicians received, on average, 113 problematic or abusive tweets a day, including rape threats and badgering. The data was gathered by 1,912 decoders analysing 1,14,716 tweets directed at 95 women politicians. And these numbers are from Twitter alone.

However, having said all this, it does not mean there’s no hope and all avenues of sanctuary are shut. To curb cyberbullying, social media platforms can take proactive measures, such as zero tolerance for online sexual harassment. Accounts indulging in such activities should be deleted immediately and permanently. Surely there are devices to make the internet safer, make it more representative of equality and opportunity, as opposed to a safe haven for predators.

But the key to lasting empowerment lies in spreading education and awareness. Therein lies hope.

The writer is Senior Associate Editor, The Free Press Journal, Mumbai

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Published on: Thursday, November 04, 2021, 02:30 AM IST
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