When violence is consumed as porn: How Prajwal Revanna videos are affecting the social fabric of Hassan

TNM met Hassan college students who struggled to comprehend the sexual acts and potential abuse of power in the videos, parents unaware if their children had seen them, and residents sharing the clips, which have spread beyond Hassan, fueling a social media frenzy.
When violence is consumed as porn: How Prajwal Revanna videos are affecting the social fabric of Hassan
When violence is consumed as porn: How Prajwal Revanna videos are affecting the social fabric of Hassan

This story is part of our series, "Prajwal Revanna Tapes: The Aftermath." Three TNM journalists are in Hassan district, meeting survivors and others affected, to explore the profound societal impact of the sexual abuse videos. Read the first story here. Click here to contribute to the reporting fund.

Twenty-year-old Supriya (name changed), a BCom student in Hassan town, described the contents of one of the videos which have made her local Member of Parliament Prajwal Revanna notorious. The woman in the video was being asked by a man to undress, she said, describing it like someone would if they had watched it. Suddenly though, she changed tack and said, “That’s what I heard is there in the video.” It seemed that Supriya felt she shouldn’t have revealed that she’d watched the clip. 

Supriya’s hesitation to reveal whether she had seen these visuals is widespread among the residents of Hassan across age groups — and it's only the tip of the iceberg of the turmoil that the Prajwal Revanna videos have caused in Hassan’s society and beyond. The videos, scores of them, were released by unknown people a week ahead of the first phase of elections in Karnataka on April 26, which included the Hassan seat to which Prajwal Revanna is seeking reelection. They contain visuals of women being sexually assaulted, women performing sexual acts, and women in various stages of undress. The women’s faces are clearly visible in every single video. Fueled by social malice and stigma, the videos have exposed these women to relentless attacks. 

TNM met young people like Supriya in Hassan —  college students who had seen the videos and were unable to comprehend the nature of the sexual acts they have seen, or the potential abuse of power that may be involved. We met parents of minors and young adults who had no idea if their children had watched the videos; and parents who knew their children had watched the videos but had not talked to them about the issue because they simply did not know how. We spoke to residents who told us that their friends and acquaintances were eagerly seeking out or sharing the clips in their social circles. The videos have spread beyond Hassan, and there is a frenzied search on social media for them even as many people continuously create online profiles with links to the videos.

Fear and confusion

With a population of just over three lakh, Hassan is a small town where almost everybody knows everybody. According to activists, the women in the videos include those who worked at Revanna’s properties, members of the Janata Dal (Secular), wives of JD(S) party workers, public officials, professionals, and the district’s social elite. A Hassan-based senior journalist and activist told TNM that many male JD(S) members now suspect that their wives are in the videos. 

After initial hesitance, final-year BCom student Shreya* said that she saw pictures of some women: “I know one of the women. She lives in the lane next to my house.” Asked what she felt when she saw the videos, she replied, “I was disgusted. I don’t know if she went on her own or whether Prajwal Revanna abused his power, but the videos should not have been released.” Shreya said that she used to see the woman in her neighbourhood before the videos had been leaked, but not anymore. 

A 20-year-old student named Priya* said that she knew one of the survivors. “She lives in my neighbourhood. The husband and wife are both JD(S) members,” she said, adding that the couple had not been seen out of their house since the incident came to light. “Residents started speculating about the identity of the women and as far as I know, the couple attempted suicide,” she said. 

The videos include recordings of both sexual assault and sexual acts, the context of which is not known, and young people like Chaitra* who have little knowledge about sex could end up being frightened or get the wrong ideas about sex.

Chaitra*, a student, got a video clip on a neighbourhood WhatsApp group of her “annas” (brothers), as she refers to male acquaintances from her neighbourhood. “I accidentally saw the clip. I didn't even know what it meant, but it was terrifying,” she told TNM. Asked what she saw, she struggled to find the words. Her reaction suggested that she was shocked by visuals of sexual acts and male genitals. She said the video struck fear in her, as she had watched visuals of oral sex. “If this is what marriage is, I don't want to get married,” she said.

Shalini Aiyappa, a Mangaluru-based psychologist with counselling experience of nearly 30 years, said that Chaitra’s fear of marriage after watching the video is not surprising in a male-dominated society. “A man does not have the licence to do whatever he wishes just because it’s a marriage, but a patriarchal society will have you believe that.” 

But this is exactly the idea that young people will get unless parents address the incomprehension and fears that young people may develop after watching these videos, Shalini said. 

“Parents should tell their sons that they should respect their partners. They should ask their daughters if they’ve seen the videos and discuss their content. On the whole, they should tell their children that any relationship, sexual or otherwise, has to be about respect. Young people need to be told that in any sexual activity, both the man and woman should clearly communicate what they want. If one person does not wish to do something, their feelings should be respected. If people have the right information about sex, and if they’ve been told they have a choice with regard to all aspects of their lives, they won’t be so scared if they watch such a video,” she said.

Students who spoke to TNM said they had not spoken to each other about the videos. Most parents of teenagers appeared to have responded in a knee-jerk manner: they simply confiscated their children’s phones to prevent them from watching the videos.

We asked 40-year-old Chandrakala* who runs a condiments shop in Hassan town, what she thought about the videos of women in her hometown being watched by everyone. She spoke at length, repeating news developments, and mentioning that she feared that children would get wrong ideas about sex and women if they watched the videos. Chandrakala worried about the impact it would have when parents are getting their daughters married: “Because we’re from Hassan, people will wonder whether our daughters were in the videos.”

Only accidentally did she mention that her 20-year-old daughter had watched the videos. It came up during a conversation with her daughter and it left her stumped. 

Asked if she had spoken to her daughter about what she had seen, Chandrakala said, “We are a society in which people look away even if women’s clothes are dishevelled. How can I talk to her about this?” She then felt the need to defend her daughter, lest she be judged for having seen sexually explicit content. “Her friends sent it to her. She is very innocent. She’s the type who cries easily,” she said.

One parent, however, told TNM that she had spoken to her 19-year-old son, both about the sexually explicit content and the implications of the entire case given the immense power that Prajwal Revanna and his family hold. “I spoke to him about the allegations and told him to vote wisely,” said 44-year-old Raksha*. 

As a biology teacher at a government school in Hassan, difficult conversations are part of the way Raksha has raised her son. A couple of years ago, she found that he had been watching porn on his phone. “I told him that sex is not everything, that liking a person is important in a relationship. I also explained to him that everything one watches in a porn video may not be done out of free will and that the women in such videos may have been forced to resort to such work due to their circumstances,” she said.

Bhavani Revanna(left) Revanna (middle) Prajwal Revanna (right)
Bhavani Revanna(left) Revanna (middle) Prajwal Revanna (right)

Women as collateral damage

The speed with which the videos were circulated in Hassan and beyond has angered residents. Could this have been prevented? Could something have been done to slow down the circulation? TNM spoke to several people including JD(S) party workers who said that the police could have done something before the videos became viral. 

Many JD(S) workers we spoke to claimed that by April 22, there were rumours that sex videos related to the party would be leaked, while the elections were slated to be held on April 26. Not many people paid heed to the rumours. Most expected it to be a video related to Prajwal. As one party worker said, “We heard he was dating someone. We thought it would be some pictures of them. We were not very concerned —  with only four days left for voting, we thought these people (Congress and BJP) were just trying to stir trouble.”

By the next morning, several of them had seen the videos and immediately understood the gravity of the situation. On April 23, an FIR was filed by Poornachandra Tejaswi MG, the election agent of the JD(S) and the BJP which are in alliance, stating that morphed videos and images were being circulated to voters in Hassan to show Prajwal in a bad light.

Then news started circulating about people finding pen drives filled with hundreds of such videos being left on the side of the road, at bus stops, parks, and railway platforms. Even the local media received such pen drives, but it had only four images and one video. Initially, when the news was reported, it was estimated that there were hundreds of such pen drives left in public places which were picked up by unsuspecting public, but later circulated to other people by them. 

Over the next two days, the videos circulated at an alarming pace. Many women in the videos were immediately recognised and a vicious spot-them-and-shame-them campaign began. A JD(S) party member said they approached the Hassan police with a request to do something to stop the circulation but did not get a response. People recognised their neighbours, leaders in their area, relatives, family, and friends. Horrified at the scale of the violation, a veteran journalist in Hassan district said that he spoke to the police directly and requested them to take action — or at least issue a warning to the public not to circulate the videos as it was a punishable offence. 

“When we first approached the police at the headquarters, they told us to go to the police station concerned to file a complaint. It is against the law to circulate such videos. But the police were unsympathetic and refused to budge. They said they were busy with election duty,” the journalist said.

A couple of days later, activists approached the police again and were told by another senior police officer that they could not take it up suo motu unless someone lodged a complaint. “How could they say this when the scale of the issue was so huge? They did nothing. They just sat and watched it unfold,” the journalist said.

TNM reached out to Hassan SP Mohammed Sujeetha MS, but she was not available. This story will be updated if she responds.

We also spoke to two police officers who have worked as SPs to see if there was anything that could indeed have been done to stem the speed of the circulation of videos had the police acted earlier. Both the officers agreed that the police could have definitely issued a public warning.

“But it can be a double-edged sword. The warning could have the effect of making more people curious to see the videos and might make matters worse. But considering the nature of the videos and the numerous women whose identities were revealed, the local police should have issued a strong statement warning the public against circulating them,” an officer said. 

The Special Investigation Team formed to probe the making and circulation of the videos made a similar announcement earlier and it was only two days ago — 20 days after the videos were released — that they arrested two BJP workers — Likith Gowda and Yelagunda Chetan in Hassan — and another person in Chikkamagaluru for circulating the videos. These have been the first arrests for circulating the videos and even now, there is no concerted effort by the police to take down the numerous accounts on social media platforms linking to the videos. 

Curiosity — perverse and otherwise

The failure of the police to act on time has allowed the videos to acquire a Hydra-like permanent presence online, which the police may now find impossible to contain. The videos and pictures are being sought, shared, and even sold, with obscene enthusiasm. 

Some Facebook users have put up posts asking people to leave their phone numbers if they want to receive Prajwal Revanna videos on WhatsApp. A Reddit thread discussing the case has turned into a frenzied search for the explicit videos. One user on X left a link to the videos in a comment to a TNM story on the Prajwal Revanna case. The user said, “Enjoy, thank me later.” TNM reported the user on X. Instagram accounts are selling the videos for Rs 300. 

Instagram accounts are selling the videos for Rs 300.
Instagram accounts are selling the videos for Rs 300. Twitter

There are also Instagram accounts posting short unblurred clips of the women, with captions directing viewers to Telegram channels for more explicit content. (Instagram automatically removes nude content of a certain nature.) Admins of these Telegram channels have numerous backup channels where users can access the content if one channel gets taken down. Not all the content in these channels is related to Prajwal Revanna.

Instagram reel
Instagram reel
Telegram channel sharing the videos
Telegram channel sharing the videos
Resident of Hassan showing a Telegram channel where Prajwal Revanna videos are being shared.
Resident of Hassan showing a Telegram channel where Prajwal Revanna videos are being shared.

Sudhir*, a 26-year-old Hassan-based IT worker who campaigned for the JD(S) during the 2023 elections, said the consequences are grave for even those remotely connected to the women, he says. “People here know who these women are, who their friends are. Now they say, ‘Oh, her friends also must be there in the videos, they’ve just not been caught’. Any woman who is in the JD(S) is now suspect.”

There are many reasons people — including his colleagues from other states — watch the videos. “They watch them when they hear someone they know is in them because they are connected to Prajwal. If they don’t know Prajwal, they at least know Deve Gowda because he was PM. When people share these videos in groups, nobody objects. People actually ask others to send videos in which the visuals are clearer.”

Even as he is critical of the behaviour of those who seek out videos, he too has seen them. “I worked with one of these women while campaigning. So I watched it. But at the same time, I asked myself why I saw it.” He has watched a video in which a woman was sexually assaulted and said he felt “terrible” about what happened to the woman.

Fodder for insensitive memes

The videos have also sparked an industry of memes and videos that downplay the severity of the crime, and the malice and stigma these women have been subjected to as a consequence of their faces and bodies being visible to everyone with an internet connection.

Some social media pages have put tiny clips of the unblurred videos as if they were trailers of a movie. 

In one viral video on Instagram, a man approaches his visibly upset friend and asks about the reason for his distress. The friend responds that he is saddened by the end of his marriage because “his wife is from Hassan.” The two men then laugh off the situation.

Another video on Facebook shows two friends locking the door of the room and inserting a pen drive into their computer. They are soon disappointed after discovering that the pen drive does not contain the sexual abuse videos they were searching for. They decide to travel to Hassan themselves to search for the pen drive. This video posted by a purported news channel, got 7 lakh views.

Twenty-six-year-old Vivek HS, an engineering graduate preparing for the UPSC exams, said, “Things have gone out of control.” A member of the Students Federation of India, he had reported a Telegram group to the police. “I don’t know about how women feel, but many men watch the videos as if they are entertainment. A friend of mine called me up the other day and asked, ‘Hey, what’s up? Did you get any more videos? If you get any more videos, send them to me’.”

Asked how he felt about his friend’s attitude, Vivek said, “I talked to him and explained what the women were going through. If you talk to people, they will come around, but their initial response to these videos is disturbing. People still have a feudal, mediaeval mentality about women’s freedom and safety. You can’t expect them to have a healthy response all of a sudden.”

* Names changed

When violence is consumed as porn: How Prajwal Revanna videos are affecting the social fabric of Hassan
Silenced by fear: Survivors reveal years of abuse in the Revanna household

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute
www.thenewsminute.com