Gurmehar on making online spaces safe for women

By Amnesty International India
8 March 2018 12:36 pm

Amnesty International India interviewed Gurmehar Kaur on her experiences with online abuse and how she did not let it deter her and her activism. Gurmehar is a strong advocate on the issue of ending Online Violence Against Women and calls for all possible steps to be taken to make online spaces safe for women. 

Gurmehar Kaur, a third year English literature student of Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi was a regular college student, until one day, when the opinions she posted online made her a target for those who wanted to silence her voice. We recently met up with her to discuss how her experiences with online abuse rather than silencing her, emboldened her and her belief in the freedom of speech and expression.

In February 2017, in response to the violence perpetrated by a student group during a protest at Ramjas College, Gurmehar posted a photo of herself holding a placard, which read:

“I am a student from Delhi University.
I am not afraid of ABVP.
I am not alone.
Every Indian student is with me.
#StudentsAgainstABVP”

In response to this photo and the #StudentsAgainstABVP online campaign that she initiated, she was criticised by many male political leaders and prominent public figures, and faced targeted online abuse from ordinary people, including rape threats.

“I have been an ‘Indo-Pak’ activist since I was 17 years old. When I posted my picture online earlier in 2017, I knew there may be backlash, but I did not expect it to be of this size. I had two choices before me, either let the online violence silence me, or use the platform to amplify my cause. I chose the latter.”

“The experience was harrowing. Initially I was scared. The online abuse ranged from people giving me rape and death threats to extremely personal and gendered comments on me and my family. Reporting the abuse to authorities also was not helpful as no swift action was taken by them.”

Gurmehar explained how difficult it was to find out which laws could be used to report online abuse. She shared that though she reported her case through the Delhi Commission for Women, the police have been very slow in investigating her case and there has been no outcome till date.  She also detailed her experiences with reporting the online abuse directly to the relevant social media platforms. While Facebook’s response to her complaints was “extremely disappointing”, she explained that Twitter’s response was at least relatively swift. She stressed that much more needs to be done to make these platforms, and the internet at large, safe for women.

“I feel it is very important that we start addressing the issue of online violence against women more seriously. The internet is a great space for us women to express ourselves and speak out but because most of the platforms where we do speak our mind are not as diligent as they should be when it comes to addressing online gendered abuse, a lot of women choose silence. I’ve been trolled, called an anti-national and mocked, but this incident and what followed has only made me more determined. I was lucky to get support from all quarters when I decided to be brave and not let online harassment shut me up, not everyone does. Therefore, it is all the more important to stand up for those who face harassment and abuse, specially women, whether, offline or online.”

Read Amnesty International India’s special for International Women’s Day.