Threats and intimidation over social media platforms are not new in the communally sensitive Dakshina Kannada district.

They expect us not to file cases Ktaka women stand up to online moral vigilantesImage for representation
news Crime Monday, January 15, 2018 - 18:20

“I love Muslims,” wrote Bharathi Prashant, a resident of Bantwal in Dakshina Kannada, on Facebook on January 9. It was in response to the suicide of Dhanyashree, a college student in Chikkamagaluru, who was harassed over her alleged relationship with a Muslim man. Bharathi’s comment was the same one Dhanyashree had used in response to her harassers.  

Bharathi was faced by a volley of abuse for her comment in support of Dhanyashree while pictures from her Facebook profile were shared on WhatsApp groups in Dakshina Kannada.

She isn’t the only person to face such intimidation on social media.

On January 8, Madhuri Bolar’s phone was unusually active. She was receiving messages from family and friends that her picture with three colleagues was being circulated on numerous WhatsApp groups in Mangaluru.

The selfie, which was published on Facebook, was taken a year ago by her colleague Hamza shows Madhuri along with Suhas Adiga and Ganesh Bolar in a bus. Madhuri is the secretary of the Student’s Federation of India (SFI), the student wing of the Communist Party of India.

Recently, the picture surfaced in pro-Hindu WhatsApp groups in Mangaluru with a message asking pro-Hindu groups to “give a fitting reply (to Hamza) when he is seen with Hindu women”.

“Hindutvawadis were sharing an old picture of me on WhatsApp groups with names like Bajranga Bali, Jai Shree Ram, Kasargod Hindugalu, Mukhya Prana etc. There was also a comment on Facebook about Hamza and me saying ‘kondu haki’ (kill),” recounts Madhuri.

Bharathi and Madhuri were not going to be cowed down by the threats, with both women filing police complaints against their harassers. While Bantwal police arrested three persons in connection with the incident involving Bharathi, Mangaluru police arrested Harish Devadiga for harassing Madhuri. Police officials believe that all four are part of a pro-Hindu group.

The incidents brought Dakshina Kannada's notorious reputation for moral policing to the fore.

A similar kind of intimidation over social media proved to be fateful for Dhanyashree who committed suicide on January 7 after she was questioned and harassed on WhatsApp and over phone by a member of the Bajrang Dal over her alleged relationship with a Muslim man.

Chikkamagaluru police dug deep into her social media profiles to identify people who might have hurt or harassed her and found that a photo shared widely on WhatsApp groups created aspersions about the girl. Santhosh, a native of Bantwal was arrested in Bengaluru for circulating the pictures and also harassing Dhanyashree by messaging her on WhatsApp.

‘Women under pressure from families’

Madhuri pointed out that women in and around Dakshina Kannada are under pressure from their own family members to keep quiet when they are harassed. “Women are not only scared but are also under pressure from family members to not report cases to police to protect the family’s honour. Even when a woman wants to go to the police, family members sometimes stop them saying that it is a question of honour and that it will become news. Family members do not support the woman. They also reprimand the woman,” says Madhuri.

She believes that the only way out is by opposing this notion. “Parents should come out and defend their child in situations like this,” she adds.

Bharathi echoed similar thoughts and said that women should file cases in police stations when they are harassed or abused online.

“They are targeting women like this in Dakshina Kannada and are expecting us to not file cases. Today they will say don’t go out together with them (Muslims), tomorrow they will say don’t eat in their restaurants or don’t buy items from their shops. We have to oppose this and catch the culprits. Otherwise, girls and women in Dakshina Kannada will continue to live in fear,” says a defiant Bharathi.

‘File cases and we will act’: Cops

Police also agreed that they had found several cases where pictures of women were shared on WhatsApp groups and encouraged more women to come out and file a complaint if they are harassed on social media platforms.

“As soon as we receive complaints, we investigate. We don’t get complaints a lot of times. Women will be scared that their mobiles will be seized. We can’t do anything until the complaint is filed. If the person who is affected complains, then it has a bigger value otherwise it will be difficult to investigate for us also,” said Chandrashekar, Police Sub-Inspector at Bantwal Police Station who investigated the case of Bharathi.

“If women feel harassed, they should definitely go to the police and file a complaint because otherwise, they (abusers) will continue to post comments,” he added.

The cases of Madhuri and Bharathi are the latest in a series of incidents where relationships between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man have been questioned in the past month. The increase in the number of such cases also comes with months to go for the Karnataka Assembly Elections.

Also read: 'Love Jihad' in the time of elections, fear mongering on the rise in Karnataka