Lack of police action emboldens harassers: Journalist Kavin Malar speaks on online abuse

Chennai journalist Kavin Malar faced abuse, harassment and character assasination on Facebook recently.
Kavin Malar
Kavin Malar
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“Women journalists who are vocal, who have opinions and are bold enough to expose things are targeted,” says Chennai-based journalist Kavin Malar, who faced online harassment, abuse and character assassination for a recent Facebook post. While an FIR was registered on August 17 under Section 4 of the Tamilnadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, Kavin says that this is just the first step in what is expected to be a long-drawn legal matter. 

In a post on August 9, Kavin Malar had sarcastically commented on photographs of BJP workers worshiping Murugan, without mentioning the name of the party. These visuals had appeared soon after the Karuppar Koottam controversy revolving around the Kanda Sasti Kavasam, a prayer to Lord Murugan. Following the post, she was subject to trolling, online abuse and harassment. However, when Kavin reported one user to Facebook for misusing her picture and for character assassination, the social media platform refused to take any action, stating that his post was not against their community standards. It was only later that Facebook removed one comment made by a man called Sasikumar, while other comments remain and so does his profile.

Kavin, who has faced repeated online trolling and abuse, says she had no intention to file a police complaint initially, and it was Facebook’s inaction that forced her to take the step. “Most of the abuse I have faced since 2013 are in words. This was different. I was portrayed as a prostitute. It was cruel,” she narrates, “I didn’t think about filing a police complaint. But the reply I got from Facebook made me totally irritated and angry. I wanted to do something, so I went to the police.” 

She says that such targeted harassment of women journalists is not new in Tamil Nadu. She had faced a similar online abuse and character assasination in 2013 while covering the story of Ilavarasan, a Dalit man whose marriage to a Vanniyar woman Divya sparked caste violence in Dharmapuri, and thereafter Ilavarasan was found dead. While an FIR was filed against her harasser Kishore K Swamy at the time, no action was taken. The case was eventually closed this March with the police claiming they couldn’t find his comments on Facebook, she says.  

The main reason women journalists continue to face online abuse and harassment, Kavin alleges, is because there is no police action. “If there was one arrest or some action taken, then it wouldn’t embolden them to do this kind of thing. The police works for the ruling party and the ruling party is protecting the harassers. I am talking about both the state and central ruling parties,” she alleges. The journalist points out that what’s surprising is that even women leaders in parties like the BJP stay silent when such online harassment takes place.  

Unlike in 2013, Kavin says she found a lot of support this time around. While many journalists rallied behind her, the CPI(M) took out a protest in front of the Chennai Police Commissioner’s office on Tuesday demanding action against those who harass and abuse women journalists. The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), the women’s wing of the CPI(M) also filed a police complaint in Coimbatore against Sasi Kumar, the Facebook user who had indulged in character assasination. 

Pointing out that such kind of support would not be possible for a layperson, Kavin says, “Now because of the series of attacks, fellow journalists and political parties are seeing it. People have come out in support.”  However, she notes that the registering of an FIR is not the end of the road on this incident. “This is just the beginning. The aim is for punishment. It is climbing like the Himalayas. This is just one step,” she notes.

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