A video put out by Padma Priya, a YouTuber who goes by the name of Chennai Thamizhachi, on the draft Environmental Impact Assessment 2020 (EIA draft 2020) went viral, gaining the attention of the public in Tamil Nadu. Her fiery speech and the questions that she raised received wide praise but it has also made her a target for personal attacks, threats and political pressure. She was also accused of having connections with political parties. Following this, Padma Priya removed her video. However, she has now posted another video in her YouTube channel, in which she says that she took the decision because of continued harassment.
The Delhi High Court in June had asked the Centre to give time to the public to respond to the draft EIA by August 11. The problems with the controversial draft have been highlighted by many, including environmental activists and political parties. Padma Priya's video is one among the many such critical voices on the subject. However, she has been hounded for expressing her views.
In the first video, Padma Priya had talked about how the proposed EIA can lead to India losing its natural resources. In the new video, she says that her family feels intimidated by the threats and that she was forced to delete the first video because of this.
Speaking about those who have abused her, Padma Priya says, “For them (trolls) EIA is not the content, I who posted the video on EIA have become the content. The problem is not me, but whether the EIA is good or bad for the people."
However, it's not only random social media users who targeted her. BJP leader Kalyan posted a tweet asking for Padma Priya's personal details to be sent to him. He also made lewd remarks about her. Following the barrage of derogatory comments, Padma Priya left social media.
In her new video, Padma Priya denies that she is affiliated to any political party or knows any politician. Several had posted tweets, alleging her association with a certain party.
“I spoke as a member of the public. I spoke on an issue that the public did not speak about and it has reached the public now, is that their problem?” she asks.
The attack on Padma Priya has raised questions on freedom of expression and the democratic right to dissent. Considering that public consultation is a necessary part of the process, the harassment that the YouTuber has faced is among the many examples of the government's unwillingness to listen to dissenting voices, and choosing to crush them with an iron hand instead.
“I have raised my question in this democratic land and you should answer the questions instead of targeting me,” says Padma Priya.
The abuse that the YouTuber was subjected to is also tinged with misogyny. From asking details about her personal life to bringing all her work under the scanner to show that she is "senseless", the nature of the harassment is similar to what many women who express their opinion publicly have undergone. In the EIA issue, Tamil actors Suriya and Karthi were also targeted but the attack on Padma Priya was focused on her gender, and there were also attempts to question her character.
Referring to this, Padma Priya says in the video, “Just think about the pressure my family and friends would have faced and think about the mental pressure the issue would have caused to a woman. The men who carry out campaigns of hate speech never think about this, that’s why I removed the videos. I had social pressures!"
“Since they did not find any personal information about me, they started to comment on the beauty videos posted by me. They’re saying that I'm talking without an understanding of the subject. What do you know about me? I have always raised my voice for issues against women and children," she adds.
She also says that those who are calling her for one-on-one debates should face the experts who have raised similar criticisms about the draft EIA.