The Cyber Crime Branch of the Chennai police has lodged an FIR against four anonymous Twitter handles and others for the sexual harassment and abuse of TNM Editor-in-Chief Dhanya Rajendran on Twitter. The FIR was lodged after Dhanya was abused for several days by persons who are allegedly fans of Tamil actor Vijay.
The abuse and trolling started on Friday, after Dhanya put out a tweet about a movie - Jab Harry Met Sejal; the senior journalist tweeted that she had walked out of the movie - which has been panned by critics and audiences alike - and compared it to another movie she had walked out of several years earlier: Sura, starring Vijay.
Vijay’s fans then descended on Dhanya’s timeline, to abuse her with sexually coloured remarks, issue rape threats, and drag in her family and friends for ‘insulting’ their favourite actor. They pulled out a few of her tweets referring to Vijay's films from 2011 and 2013, claiming that the conversation she had with a friend and the jokes she'd retweeted were "proof" of her intention to "insult" Vijay. The 3-4 tweets, spread over a period of six years, were supposedly "evidence" enough for the fans to attack her.
On Sunday, they launched a coordinated attack, with the sole aim of harassing the senior journalist for expressing an opinion.
Most of those harassing Dhanya, and the others who supported the journalist, were hiding behind anonymous handles and proudly proclaimed that they will continue to harass her for criticising a Vijay film. Drawing a false equivalence, the harassers claimed that saying one did not like Vijay’s acting deserved threats of sexual abuse, sexually coloured remarks, and abuse.
On Tuesday, Dhanya filed a complaint with the Chennai police and recorded her statement on the issue. An FIR has been filed under IPC sections 354 D (stalking), 506(1) (criminal intimidation), 507 (criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication), 509 (insulting the modesty of women), section 67 of IT Act (publishing obscene material), section 4 of TN Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, and section 6 of the Indecent Representation of Women Act.
Dhanya has received support from several quarters. The DMK working president MK Stalin in a tweet said, “Intolerance in any form, for expressing ones views in a democratic country is unacceptable. These acts to strangulate the freedom of expression, especially of a woman journalist in Chennai is highly deplorable and condemnable. Rule of law must take prompt measures in curbing this menace.”
Singer Chinmayi put out a video on Facebook and Twitter in support of the journalist. “There is something called as personal opinion, which is allowed by the Constitution of this country. Have you never criticised a film, have you never said you couldn’t stand an actor on screen? Or do you feel that if someone says that in public, there should be ‘repurcussions’ for it?” the singer asked.
“If you have a difference of opinion with someone, you should put it across in a decent, respectful manner,” Chinmayi said.
She also wrote about the issue in detail on Facebook.
4 - 5 days of seeing the abuse unfold on a journalist and the witch hunt on her, talking to some Vijay Sir's fans on...Posted by Chinmayi Sripada on Wednesday, 9 August 2017
Senior journalists from across the country have also extended their support and solidarity to Dhanya.
The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) strongly condemned the online sexual abuse and trolling. Releasing a statement, NWMI wrote, “The NWMI unequivocally denounces the online hate campaign against its member, and urges for a greater tolerance for divergent views on social media. Recent examples of Rega Jha, editor, Buzzfeed India, Neha Dixit, independent journalist and Meena Kandasamy, author highlight the fact that women journalists often face vicious sexual abuse online.
“The virtual mob assault on Dhanya Rajendran raises questions about the self-proclaimed fans of actors and politicians, who seem to receive tacit support from the stars they claim to deify. In this case, the film actor Vijay should issue a statement condemning the abuse being meted out in his name,” the statement added.
In a statement, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said, “The IFJ is seriously concerned by the online abuse of journalist Dhanya Rajendran in India for her opinion in a tweet. The growing trend of intolerance of diverse opinions especially that of woman journalists, silences critical voices and curbs healthy and open debate. It is also saddened by Twitter’s lack of prompt response to tweets in vernacular languages. The IFJ urges the Indian government to take action against those involved in trolling Rajendran; and Twitter to implement effective zero-tolerance policy and action against such acts.”