Sadhvi Khosla was a BJP volunteer who for long years was part of the party’s troll army. She began to be disturbed by the party’s social media cell targeting women, particularly women journalists, with rape threats if they were perceived to have a contrary view or were reporting inconvenient truths.

She told her story to Swati Chaturvedi, herself a victim of trolling, who then wrote a best seller titled .'I Am a Troll’ which is a chilling expose of how the BJP’s social media cell identifies and picks on women and attempts to intimidate them into silence through threats of physical injury, including rape.

No other political party has mastered the BJP’s skill at trolling those perceived to be against their ideology. Now, however, other parties and organisations seem to be catching on – and playing catch up is Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party. Predictably, then, the trolling now arrives in Marathi. Until now it was mostly English and Hindi language journalists, like Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghosh, Shobhaa De or Rana Ayyub and some men like Rajdeep Sardesai and Ravish Kumar who had to stave off the troll army. Lately Rashmi Puranik of ABP Majha has been having to face trolls for simply doing her job. Akshay Kumar Gavali of the NCP threatened to tear her clothes simply for reporting an inconvenient truth but a spirited Rashmi tagged Supriya sule, Ajit Pawar and Dhananjay Munde on that tweet and he was forced to apologise to her forthwith.

The ABP Majha, including its Hindi channel, is generally perceived to be neutral. However, during the Kisan Sangharsh Yatra undertaken by the combined opposition in Maharashtra, there were a few stories by the channel that were damaging to these politicians. One related to the yatris travelling by luxury air-conditioned buses on their yatra whereas just before the campaign they had set a code of conduct for themselves – they will not travel by luxury cars, they will sit on the floor, like farmers do, to have meals, etc. The luxury bus was stark evidence of our MLAs not being able to put up with even a little temporary hardship in the sun and that seems to have angered the party trolls the most.

Says Rajiv Khandekar, who heads the Marathi channel, ''I just do not want to react to the trolling, One, whoever is trolling us has the right to freedom of speech and expression. Second, this is not the first time we are being trolled for doing just our job. Earlier, during the Maratha agitations for reservation, we were heavily trolled for seeking reactions from Dalit groups to the morchas. They even personally targeted me on my caste. And we have got abused by all, including the Sambhaji Brigade, the NCP, the BJP and the Shiv Sena. That only proves we are neutral.‘’

While that is an exemplary stand and demonstrates much grace under pressure, the fact remains that the worst of trolling is reserved for media persons reporting the uncoloured, and perhaps unpalatable, truth and to intimidate women journalists seen as unbiddable and unamenable to turning their reports into a PR exercise for these parties.

It is, however, both dangerous and disturbing that all political parties seem to believe that threats and abuse can take the place of reasoned argument and gentle persuasion.

  • Sujata Anandan

Updated : 3 April 2017 12:21 PM GMT
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