Members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ communities in Kerala, on Wednesday, November 22, took to the streets near the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram in vehement protest against the alarming surge in social media pages targeting them. The protestors marched from Palayam Rakthasakshi Mandapam to the State secretariat, bearing placards against transphobia and queerphobia, seeking government intervention to combat cyberbullying, which has taken a severe toll on their mental health.
Athul PV, a member of the queer community, told TNM that the perpetrators behind such cyber attacks operate through a network of deceptive fake profiles, primarily on social media platforms, especially Instagram. “Their target is not only the queer community members but also women and people with disabilities. They employ a disturbing tactic of sending derogatory personal messages, laden with abusive language. Adding to the distress, they also appropriate the photos and videos shared by community members and edit the content and post in their profiles,” Athul explained and added that the number of harassers is quite less, but they often use multiple profiles to intimidate us into thinking they are part of a huge crowd.
Aami Neermathalam, a second-year student at Maharaja’s College, pointed out that the impact of such cyber-attacks is amplified by their organised nature and that they are not always limited to the virtual space. “Students and members of the transgender community find themselves particularly singled out, facing orchestrated and targeted assaults both online and offline. The impact of these repeated and consistent attacks is deeply traumatic and pushes us towards ideations of death by suicide. What makes the situation worse is the coordinated nature of the attacks, as they operate in groups rather than as isolated persons. After they post derogatory content, about 300-400 odd people start online attacks against queer individuals,” she said.
Vyas Dheep also concurred that though homophobia has always existed in our society, what we see now is a much more organised, coordinated activity. “They openly challenge us, and trigger us saying they will push us to death by suicide and make people throw stones at us,” Vyas said. Adding to Vyas, another community member said on the condition of anonymity, that for many trans folks, going out and buying things itself is a huge task. She noted that battling cyberbullying is an added pressure to such an extent that they collapse. She further called this disturbing trend a mission to invisibilise the queer community.
‘Need a new law’
The demand of the protestors points towards the need to formulate and implement new legislation to tackle targeted cyberbullying. Athul is of the opinion that the possibility of legally dealing with these attacks in cyberspaces is quite low because many of these acts are not considered punishable offenses. “Our demand is to bring one such law, where there are strong repercussions,” Athul added.
Social activist and Bigg Boss Malayalam fame Diya Sana also took part in the protest march and said that the state should intervene and implement a new law. “Only if new laws are formulated, such bullying can be prevented,” she said.
Agreeing with Athul and Diya, the anonymous respondent further pointed out that it is pertinent to think of younger queer generations at this juncture. “They are seeing even queer people with the most social capital getting harassed. We have to think not just of the queer people who are here right now. We also have to think of the queer people who are going to have to either navigate this abuse, die, or forge a secret existence for the rest of their lives.”
She also added that though the reality is very bleak at this point, there are people here who have gone through similar experiences and will be there to extend support. “So stay strong and try not to do anything drastic to yourself. Maybe, just maybe, there might exist some hope for us in the real world,” she said.
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