By Shamolie Oberoi
Society for Education, Nutrition and Health Action (SNEHA) was invited to attend #NoPlace4Hate, a panel discussion hosted by digital media portal Youth Ki Awaaz. I attended the event on behalf of the Empowerment, Health and Sexuality of Adolescents (EHSAS) team on 23rd September, 2017
It started off with a performance by feminist spoken word poet Harnidh Kaur – highlighting the kind of abuse especially women face online just for having an opinion, political or otherwise. Yet, she maintained her faith in the internet as an space of democracy and expression.
The panel discussion followed, moderated by Karanjeet Kaur, the Deputy Editor of Arre, a popular digital media website. The members of the panel included Gurmehar Kaur, a student who was trolled online for speaking about peace between India and Pakistan, equal rights activist Harish Iyer and actress Tannishtha Chatterjee, who recently was a part of the film “Angry Indian Goddesses.”
Each of the panelists shared their experiences of being trolled online, with Gurmehar in particular mentioning that she often feared that this online violence would manifest itself offline. Harish Iyer spoke of his unique social position, i.e. being a part of the “male” majority and queer minority, and how it impacts the way he is perceived in online spaces.
Tannishtha and Gurmehar also made the important distinction between disagreement and abuse, highlighting that while different opinions can and should exist, they should not cross over to personal attacks and threats to safety. All three also shared the ways in which they tackle online abuse and hate- ranging from sometimes engaging with the trolls, resorting to humour or simply blocking those who spew hate.
At the end of the event, 3 members of the audience also went up to talk about their experiences of online abuse – two women spoke about the specific gendered abuse they face- fat shaming, being called sluts and being threatened with rape. The male member of the audience who spoke up talked about how he was threatened online for expressing a negative opinion about a particular political figure. He also mentioned that the level of online abuse has increased over the last few years.
It was an interesting discussion to be a part of, but I do wonder if it helps to hold discussions on topics like these with a small, middle to upper class “curated” crowd!