TN LGBTQIA+ activists seek police action as cyberattacks surge ahead of Pride march

Queer persons facing such attacks for years told TNM that Western right-wing rhetorics that call queerness “a fallacy” and equate it with “pedophilia” are being employed.
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Ahead of the annual Queer Pride march on June 30, Tamil Nadu is witnessing an unprecedented wave of cyberattacks targeting the LGBTQIA+ community. Orchestrated primarily through social media platforms X and Instagram, the attacks appear to be organised, often from fake accounts, where the veil of anonymity offers the perpetrators a sense of protection. Queer persons who have been facing such attacks for years told TNM that Western right-wing rhetorics that call queerness “a fallacy” and equate it with “pedophilia” are being employed to strengthen these attacks.

"This year is very different. Last year, all attacks were right after or during Pride events, especially when people posted Pride pictures and engaged in discussions. This year, as soon as Pride activities started, the attacks began," said 20-year-old Ini (they/he).

Ini pointed out that one of the primary reasons behind the attacks is comments made by people with large social media followership. “Paari Saalan, several NTK supporters and fans of actors Ajith and Vijay, have also been very active in the cyberattacks,” Ini added. Paari Saalan is a self-described engineer, researcher, and prominent conspiracy theorist in Tamil Nadu. Almost every Tamil YouTube channel has an interview with him, giving him a platform to profess his anti-queer theories claiming that the LGBTQIA+ movement is a “conspiracy of corporates”, and that the activists are “sidekicks of corporates”.

Social activists said that such videos empower queerphobic persons and embolden their beliefs. L Ramakrishnan, activist and vice president of the NGO SAATHII, said that there has always been a certain amount of resistance to LGBTQIA+ individuals, but there were no homicidal threats before. “We have never seen such an attack before this year. I also think that this trend of hate speech began after the 2023 Supreme Court verdict in the marriage equality case.” In October 2023, a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud refused to recognise marriage equality of LGBTQIA+ persons, observing that it is up to Parliament to legislate on the matter.

Recalling the death by suicide of queer makeup artist Pranshu in November 2023, Ini pointed out that even such drastic incidents have not reduced the severity of the cyberattacks. Pranshu, a 16-year-old queer makeup artist who ran an Instagram page, died in their home in Ujjain after severe cyber harassment, which continued even after their death. “It gets even worse on Instagram. We would think that after Pranshu’s death, people would have some empathy, but that didn’t happen at all,” Ini said.

Replaying the Western rhetoric

Negha, a trans woman actor and a prominent activist, said that while online queerphobia earlier focused on slut-shaming, perpetrators now call it ‘science’, inspired by the Western discourse. “A group of people from Kerala also attack us constantly and several Kerala queer activists are being targeted. In addition to fighting for our life and career, we are forced to fight these trolls," Negha said. Ini explained that the language and tactics used in these cyberattacks are disturbingly familiar, mirroring the strategies of right-wing groups in the United States. 

"It is a complete copy-paste of right-wingers in the US. The identities associated with our sexualities, anything in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, are seen as perverse and compared with pedophilia," they said.

Moulee, the co-founder of Queer Chennai Chronicles, said that when people bring children to the discourse, the conversation goes in a different direction. “The rhetoric is the same as that in the West – that our children are being affected and there is more child sexual abuse happening because of LGBTQIA+ persons,” he said. Moulee also pointed out that violence has become more widespread and organised, calling it a scary trend. 

In Tamil Nadu’s neighbouring Kerala, banners and flex boards bearing unscientific and hateful claims about the LGBTQIA+ community, under the name of ‘YES Kerala’, had mushroomed across the Malappuram town ahead of the 12th Kerala Queer Pride March in October 2023. This indicates the organised targeting of queer individuals, putting their lives and mental wellness in peril.

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In Kerala, LGBTQIA+ persons are facing an organised hate campaign

DK, a queer-affirmative mental health counsellor, added that his clients who are young and already going through a lot, end up being in a much more difficult space owing to such harassment. “In addition, public accounts that are intended for information sharing and helping each other, like Orinam, are targeted, which makes more queer people feel unsafe," DK observed.

A call for action

Despite repeated efforts to tag and report fake accounts that engage in such cyber crimes, there has been little to no action from social media platforms or law enforcement. 

"We have been tagging these people, but what action has been taken? They are fake IDs. But how are the police trying to prevent them? They can at least respond to the tweets, which would make the harassers scared that they are being watched by the authorities," Ini pointed out.
DK said that the meta-system that oversees Instagram and Facebook can do little to prevent these attacks, as they are in regional languages.

Several queer activists have submitted a petition to the Chennai police seeking action against the cyber attackers. The petition also addresses hate speech and misinformation spread online. TNM has reached out to Chennai Commissioner of Police Sandeep Rai Rathore about the precautionary measures taken ahead of the Pride march. The copy will be updated if and when we get a response.

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