Thanks to social media, even the humblest of citizens can speak truth to power, writes Madhu Kishwar.(Illustration: Rahul Krishnan)
Thanks to social media, even the humblest of citizens can speak truth to power, writes Madhu Kishwar.(Illustration: Rahul Krishnan)

Let’s Talk About Trolls | Despite a flood of abuse, social media has empowered me: Madhu Kishwar

I don’t play victim because I believe that women, who wish to be in public life at par with men, shouldn’t play ‘the hapless woman’ card when faced with criticism or abuse.
By Madhu Kishwar
UPDATED ON APR 24, 2017 01:03 PM IST

I am amused at Barkha Dutt’s declaration that “online abuse (is) a modern-day weapon to silence women”. This sounds bizarre coming from a woman who is hyperactive on social media, who writes regular columns for leading national and international dailies, has been the prima donna of TV journalism for decades, is invited to speak at countless Lit fests and other high-profile public events on a regular basis. If this is proof of her “silencing”, one wonders how much more talking she wants to do! This is not to justify or condone rape threats or obscene posts that Barkha has been receiving. But she and others of her persuasion do not care one bit when those who oppose her brand of journalism receive such threats or are victims of real murderous attacks as I have been.

Ironically, those who have occupied the highest seats of power in the domain of journalism and have therefore enjoyed total monopoly over the political and social narrative in mainstream media (MSM) by shutting out and demeaning all voices and opinions that didn’t echo their own, have taken deep fright at the emergence of social media which, in my opinion, is a truly democratic platform.

Today, thanks to social media (SM), even the humblest of citizens can speak truth to power, including the many tsars and tsarinas of mainstream media. It holds a mirror to the erstwhile stars of MSM as well as powerful politicians. Since the image they see in that mirror is rather ugly, the ‘libtards’ and ‘sickularists’ (L&S Gang) have manufactured a phobic narrative that social media is infested with ‘right-wing’ trolls hired by BJP and allies to harass these bleeding-heart guardians of liberalism, secularism and human rights in India.

This is factually incorrect. All of us who have a presence on social media — irrespective of ideology and political affiliation, including non-affiliated independent voices -- get critiqued and trolled. In fact, none among the influential voices who’re giving anxiety fits to L&S Gang, owe allegiance to the BJP or RSS.

The few who are hired by the BJP, Congress or other parties don’t carry a fraction of the influence that non-aligned social media activists do. And those who carry real influence on social media may be sharp and pungent in their critiques but are never abusive.

Sadly for them, the L&S Gang are bitten by the bug of deriding everyone who differs with them as a ‘Sanghi’ or a ‘right-winger’ and naively think that once they stick this label on to someone, they don’t have to answer the questions being raised about their own credentials!

The main reason for their sense of persecution vis-a-vis social media is that they were used to one-way communication. They also got addicted to adulation since those who disagreed with their version of events and devious representation of issues were not given space in MSM. Therefore, they could get away with lies, distortions, partisan agendas, paid news and rabid demonisation of those they disliked. For instance, several papers and TV channels controlled by the L&S Gang had blacklisted me.

Today, they go berserk at the slightest hint of criticism and challenge to their deviously crafted narrative. The feminists among them are particularly prone to playing victim and rant that they’re vulnerable because they are women.

As someone who has a reasonably large following on social media, I too get trolled, critiqued and abused often—that too from all sides because I don’t owe allegiance to any political party nor am I enslaved to any ideology. Therefore, each time I post an article or tweet, sometimes it is the ‘right-wingers’ who get outraged sometimes the ‘leftists’, at other times ‘independents’ and sometimes all of them together. But I don’t play victim because I believe that women, who wish to be in public life at par with men, shouldn’t play ‘the hapless woman’ card when faced with criticism or abuse. It is not as if men don’t get abuses when what they say falls foul of popular perception—right or wrong.

If you are such a chhui-muuyi, then cover yourself with a veil and stay inside chardiwari under the protective care of whomsoever you can trust. But if you want to take on political battles, criticise the high and mighty, engage with contentious issues, then better be prepared to take the rough and tumble of politico-public sphere.

For me as a woman, social media has been enormously empowering despite the flood of abuse that comes with it every now and then. After drifting away from leftists circles, I was finding it very difficult to get published in mainstream papers and journals because almost all are guarded by L&S Gang. Even for my well-researched book on Narendra Modi, I couldn’t get a publisher and had to invest own money to publish it.

For daring to write this book that exposed the lies and distortions of professional Modi baiters, I was abused and defamed no end by the L&S Gang including my ultra-progressive colleagues at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). However, no mainstream paper condescended to write a proper review of the book. But for social media, my book would have died without a trace. It’s social media, which allowed it to travel far and wide.

The libtards who get hysterical at getting abusive tweets showed zero concern when a Srinagar court issued patently illegal non-bailable warrants against me in a criminal defamation suit filed by one of the L&S Gang members, Shujaat Bukhari, on the basis of three factual, non-abusive, non-threatening tweets. Not a single mainstream paper carried even three-line mention of it. Had one of L&S Gang received such warrants, they would have raised hell. Once again social media came to my rescue and gave me strength to challenge the illegal arrest warrant. Otherwise I could have rotted in a Srinagar jail for the rest of my life.

My strategy for braving out SM attacks is to sift between legitimate criticism and malicious attacks. It makes sense to get hurt if someone with impeccable integrity thought ill of me. Why bother about the opinion of people who attack me out of malice and/or ignorance?

However, when someone points to an error of judgment on my part or some factual mistake I’ve made inadvertently, I thank that person and acknowledge my mistake publicly. This way many of those who were once hostile turned into friends.

I celebrate social media for giving voice to crores of ordinary citizens by providing many vibrant platforms with equal access to all where we are judged on merit, not on the basis of our political clout or social connections!

Madhu Kishwar is a professor of ICSSR at Maulana Azad National and founder human rights, women’s rights organisation, MANUSHI

This piece is part of HT’s new campaign, Let’s Talk About Trolls, which focuses sharp attention on online abuse and bullying. Share your views with us at or @htTweets with #LetsTalkAboutTrolls

Story Saved