The actor spoke to TNM on kickstarting the discussion on online abuse and the emotional toll it takes on women.

Dont dismiss online bullying because you dont see damage on the body Parvathy speaks
Flix Interview Sunday, December 15, 2019 - 09:13

The Women in Cinema Collective has launched a campaign against cyber violence and online bullying. The Mollywood actors’ body has kick-started the 10-day online campaign to 'Recognize, Report and Prevent' abuse that takes place in online spaces. Coming together with various women’s groups including SheThePeople, Feminism in India, Women’s Business Incubation Program, Popcult Media, ICU and actor Farhan Akhtar's MARD, WCC seeks to highlight the abuse faced by women online and the toll it takes on their mental health. 

Actor Parvathy, who has been a vocal proponent against and frequent target of online abuse speaks to TNM on the biases stacked against opinionated women online and how structural changes and conversation are required to find collective redressal mechanisms:

What is the WCC campaign all about? What does it aim to do?
 
For the last two-three years, WCC’s campaigns have been about women in cinema, against workplace sexual harassment, for equality, pay parity, etc. However, we realised that to exist and work online, women don’t have the space at all. We generated the campaign so we start a conversation with different perspectives heard. We have partnered with women’s groups who have already been doing work in this area. We want to highlight that women are at the receiving end of much of the online abuse but we want to keep it as gender neutral as possible. We don’t want to stop here but this definitely a kickstarter campaign. 
 
I feel the most healthy of approaching this war against cyber bullying is to grow with it and change it along with it because we don’t know what this monster is. We don't know what it is capable of yet. We know it is a data war out there. But we are at the lowest strata of understanding the person-on-person attack. Until and unless I see changes on a large level, it will just be endless venting and disappointment. So I think we should all read, discuss and be aware of it as much as possible.
 
What has been your personal experience dealing with online abuse and what have you learnt about the process?
 
I had a dormant Facebook page for a long time. The only place I felt comfortable online was on Instagram. I was forced to start a Twitter page because of the false statements being attributed to me. But when I was enjoying social media, even as an non-famous person, I remember getting dick pics and requests for pictures of my feet. I blocked them but as I became more well known, it grew to become online harassment and stalking. If I posted a picture from somewhere, people would turn up there and that was just the beginning. It didn’t matter whether I had an opinion or not, it was enough that I was a woman. But it was not until I spoke about Kasaba that the harassment became an organised one. (At a panel on women's representation in films in 2017, Parvathy had called out the Mammootty-starrer for its misogynistic dialogues and portrayal. Her comments were met with severe backlash from both fans of the Malayalam star as well as industry insiders who viciously trolled the actor.) The social media space was weaponised to bully me, my family and slut-shame me. In hindsight, I consider that life-changing. Because until it reached a point of rape threats and death threats, I did not take it seriously. 
 
I was also the kind of person who would say it’s not a big deal, or say, ignore it. But we know now that social media is an entirely new frontier of attack. We need a whole new education that takes into account virtual existence. We cannot pretend that we are living in the 1980s. We don’t realise how lax our laws are. You don’t get to belittle the threat or effect of online bullying just because you don’t see the damage on the person’s body. It has so many repercussions that it is no longer OK for us to put up with it. 
 
You spoke of the horrific cyber attack that you faced when you spoke your mind about the film Kasaba. But you once again called out the misogyny in Arjun Reddy at the Film Companion round table. Did you not worry that something similar could happen all over again?
 
Even during Kasaba, the only time it affected me was when I realised that the laws were not really strong enough to protect anyone. So it was not you or me, it was about everyone and no one is protected. When I made the comment on this film (Arjun Reddy), I felt that about 90 percent of the debate was actually a proper debate and discussion. When the anonymous [Vijay Devarakonda] fan accounts started posting abuse, I had no time to explain that I was not talking about them. I was not as rattled. Every time this happens, it gives me the strength and courage to deal with these things. This may not always be the trajectory but I’ve realised I’d rather speak and bear the brunt of it than be quiet. 
 
So this campaign is to bring courage to people never had it to speak up about the bullying they face online. To make sure they have the kind of space that I wish I had when I was learning my way online.
 
You have filed two police cases - one for cyber abuse and rape threat and another for stalking. In one case, the guy got a bail the day after arrest. Do you believe that though we have enough laws, they aren't used properly?
 
I don't think there are enough laws, and the existing laws are not used properly. Other than this, to get information from social media companies about the IP addresses of the accused is also tough. And in the time it takes, people can shut down accounts and do other things. Though cyber police may be keen to help and investigate, we need to ask for better infrastructure for them.
 
What kind of emotional toll does the online abuse and bullying take on you?
 
I have felt anger, especially when my parents get affected when news channel debates happen. People are called in and they start character assassinating me. So that is really difficult for parents to watch, when their daughter is being ripped apart, for minute details, romantic relationships, etc. That is the only thing I remember really affecting me. And I think my parents have evolved with me on this issue, they have seen and learnt from what has happened to me and my friends.

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