Congress party spokesperson Lavanya Ballal Jain has been subjected to online harassment following a TV debate with BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla. The incident occurred during a live interview, with Poonawalla making snide remarks on Lavanya’s name, leading to a heated exchange.
The debate escalated when Poonawalla referred to her as ‘Lavanya BJ’ and termed her arrogant. Responding to this, Lavanya retorted that he was insulting her name with his derogatory and loaded comments. “My name is Lavanya Ballal Jain, if you have a problem with announcing my name, please do not make sly, vulgar inferences to my name. I’m very aware of the social media team which is talking about my name, so you don’t need to make an inference,” she said. After the interview, Poonawalla posted a video on social media mocking her for not answering his question, referring to her as ‘Lavanya BJ’. For the past three days, this phrase has been trending on X (equating her name to a sexual act).
Post the interview, social media platforms were inundated with sexually explicit posts targeting Lavanya. Speaking to TNM, Lavanya said this was not an isolated incident and that she had experienced similar trolling and harassment on multiple occasions before too. She said, “This name has a history. I have been trolled since the Bharat Jodo Yatra. They said things like ‘you were in the BJ yatra, how does your knee feel?’ When I started posting with my name as Lavanya Ballal Jain, the trolling intensified.”
Many BJP supporters have justified the innuendo claiming Lavanya refers to the BJP as the BJ party and therefore they were just replying in kind. Lavanya, however, said that she started using the word as a way to hit back at persistent trolling. “I told them that they belonged to the BJ Party, their party itself has the letters BJP. So if my name is offensive, the same thing applies to them. They were offended then and the trolling died down then,” she recalled. It, however, restarted after the debate with Poonawalla.
Lavanya said that the BJP regularly misbehaves with women in the Opposition and tries to break their spirit.
“I have the platform, I have the agency to express what I’m going through. Crores of women don’t have that platform, imagine their plight at the hands of these monsters. Look at the numbers of rapists, rape accused and molesters their party has. Even the IT cell boys are rapists. They only harp about respecting women, but in reality they don’t,” Lavanya said. She was referring to the rape of a 20-year-old BTech student of the Indian Institute of Technology (Banaras Hindu University) in which two of the accused were members of the BJP IT wing.
“Social media has emboldened the trolls to behave even worse than they would on the streets. They have developed a mob mentality and their excuse is that she called the party some names but the party is an inanimate entity, it’s not an individual. Harassing a person and equating it to an organisation is not the same. For a set of people to gang up and harass a woman like this is unacceptable. They are also hiding behind the fact that they are the ruling party and no one will take an action against them,” said Tara Krishnaswamy, Co- founder of Political Shakti.
“If you’re going to choose to hit below the belt of a political leader, then this is a bad game. Because what are you going to do if those women decide to join your party tomorrow? They like women who are well articulate and can present their point well. They celebrate such women when they are on their side but they play a bad game when those women are their political opponents,” said Preethi Nagaraj, a political analyst and a veteran journalist.