Update: Rediff has put up an edited version of the chat. You can check it out here.
Activist Kavita Krishnan is used to caustic abuse being flung at her. It’s part and parcel of organising and attending demonstrations and an occupational hazard of being Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association. As one of the editors of Liberation, a monthly Marxist publication, she’s also used to getting unpleasant emails. Consequently, she knows how to fight back, which is what she did yesterday during a live web chat organised by Rediff.
However, does this exonerate Rediff from taking any responsibility for the abuse directed at Krishnan during a chat organised and moderated by the website? “My demands are simple,” said Krishnan when she spoke to Firstpost earlier today. “I don’t want more regulation or anything that curtails free expression. But I would like a formal apology from Rediff because they invited me and their moderators failed to restrain someone who repeatedly threatened me with rape.”
Krishnan was invited by Rediff to participate in a chat discussing violence against women. “They wanted me to speak as someone who has been part of anti-rape protests and I was happy to do this,” she said. Krishnan is among those who have been regularly called upon by various media outlets to speak about rape and its implications. “Onkar Singh from Rediff’s Delhi office came to set up the chat at my office in the afternoon,” said Krishnan. “Questions started coming in and as is the practice, I’d pick one and answer and so on. It was going fine at first.” A little later, someone with the handle “RAPIST” appeared. “They’d chosen to write the word in capitals, so it was very visible. You couldn’t miss it,” recalled Krishnan.
RAPIST’s first message to Krishnan was to tell women to dress properly. “He wrote something like, ‘Tell women to not wear revealing clothes, then we will not rape them’ followed by gaali.” Krishnan replied to RAPIST, saying he was proving her point rather than making a counter-argument. “There’s no way that the person monitoring the chat in Mumbai could not have seen this exchange,” said Krishnan. “This person was writing in all caps. You couldn’t miss it. Also, I did respond. Whoever was monitoring must have seen me replying to that handle.”
After Krishnan’s reply, there was silence from RAPIST for some time. He returned after a bit with, “Kavita tell me where I should come and rape you using condom”. Again, the message was written in capital letters. “It popped up at least three or four times, all in CAPS,” said Krishnan. “I was very taken aback that this person, with a handle like that, could keep posting something like this.” Krishnan reacted sharply. “I wrote something like, ‘Give me your name and address, and I’ll show you’. I was disgusted.” The response didn’t stop RAPIST, who kept repeating his threats.
At this point, it was Rediff’s Onkar Singh who told Krishnan to log off. “He behaved with the utmost decency and had great presence of mind,” recalled Krishnan. “I was too taken aback to react properly, but he was the one who told me to get out of the chat. Before leaving, I wrote that this shouldn’t be the kind of offensive comments you should have to field and that I was leaving because of it.” That was the end of the chat and the beginning of a more tangled debate on intimidation, free speech and responsibility.
Immediately after the chat, Rediff promised Krishnan that an FIR would be lodged. “Ganesh Nadar of Rediff told me they had great connections with the Worli cyber crime lab, that they had a screenshot and they would lodge an FIR,” said Krishnan. She asked if the chat would be edited so that the abusive comments are removed. Nadar said yes. Krishnan told him that she wanted her last lines to remain because she wanted readers to know why she’d left the chat abruptly.
Nadar agreed. He also told her that it wasn’t possible to screen who left a comment because it was a live chat. Nadar changed the story later and told Krishnan that the person monitoring the chat had missed RAPIST because there were so many people sending questions.
Neither explanations seem particularly plausible to Krishnan. “I know that’s not true because I’ve done these chats before,” said Krishnan. “Screening can and is done. As for not noticing, it’s not possible to miss someone who calls themselves RAPIST, especially since I did respond to him.” Krishnan asked Nadar for a screenshot of the offending section. He said he’d send it to her along with the FIR number. He also gave her the editor’s email and suggested she write a letter detailing the incident. Krishnan did so. She also recounted her experience on Twitter and Facebook, and urged others to write to the email she'd been given about Rediff's comment moderation policy.
This is the unedited text of Krishnan’s email to the editor of Rediff.
Mr. Ganesh Nadar fom Rediff had contacted me yesterday to participate in a live chat today, and I agreed. Mr. Onkar Singh from Delhi's rediff office came to my office today to facilitate the chat, which was to take place from 2 pm to 3 pm. The chat had been advertised as an opportunity to chat with me as one of the activists involved in the recent anti-rape protests.
During the chat, someone with a handle 'RAPIST' repeatedly intervened in capital letters. In one 'question' he said, "Kavita tell women not to wear revealing clothes then we will not rape them." The same man then posted another question several times: "Kavita tell me where I should come and rape you using condom." Both questions were in block capitals and very visible. Mr Nadar initially said live chats cannot be 'screened' - which I know for a fat is not true since I have been in such chats with other media groups. Later Mr Nadar said that the man in the Rediff Mumbai office monitoring the chat failed to spot the 'RAPIST' because there were 'so many questions.' I find this difficult to believe since this was the only handle in capital letters and the questions were also in capitals.
Yet, no one from Rediff did anything to screen the guest - me - from such offensive questions, or to block someone with a handle of 'RAPIST' from the chat!
Mr. Ganesh Nadar has informed me that Rediff has taken a screenshot of the chat and is filing an FIR and sending the screenshot to Worli cyber crime labs to identify the 'RAPIST.' But I am yet to get a copy of the screenshot though I have asked for it; excuses are being made. I am also yet to receive the FIR number. Mr Nadar is very vague and contradictory about why the transcript of the chat is yet to be posted; whether the RAPIST's questions will be screened there; whether I will receive a screenshot or only the transcript (which will only have the questions I responded to); and other queries that I have.
I demand a public apology from Rediff for its failure to ensure that a chat organised by them was a safe space for me, a woman. Condoning and allowing such intimidatory behaviour against women keeps women out of the online space - just as rape keeps women off the streets. I resent this intimidation, and in this instance, hold Rediff squarely responsible for failing to keep 'RAPIST' out of the chat.
Expecting a public apology from you.
So far, the only response Krishnan has got from Rediff is an aggrieved email from Nadar asking why she’d put the editor’s email in the public domain. It’s a perplexing question to Krishnan. “The email I was given is not a personal email,” said Krishnan. “It’s not a violation of privacy. I don’t even know who the editor is. What I have and what I’ve circulated is a generic, professional email. It’s the kind of email to which people write letters to the editor, which is what I and a few people did.”
Krishnan has not received either the screenshot or the number of the FIR that they promised they’d lodge. The chat has not been uploaded. Some have urged Krishnan to file an FIR herself but Krishnan doesn’t think it’s her place to do so. “I think it’s for Rediff to do because they organised the chat and it was during something they organised that I received these personal threats,” she said. “It’s their responsibility. I'm more than happy and willing to appear and testify should they need me to, but I think it's their responsibility to take measures that will give their guests a sense of security.”
On hindsight, Krishnan has just one regret: “I should have taken a screenshot of that transcript. Not because I want to make it public – I shouldn’t have to. Rediff told me it was a public chat, so it’s in any case public – but because I should have kept my own record of this man’s behaviour towards me. But I was just too taken aback and disgusted then. I just shut my computer.”
The incident has reiterated to Krishnan how concerted an effort there is to corner and threaten women in the virtual space. “It’s a reflection of the intimidation and lack of security that we talk about in the physical space,” she said. “We can’t let this happen. Women, much like Dalits, Muslims and other minorities, must be free to access and make use of the virtual space without fearing for their personal safety and without the threat of this kind of abusive and personal intimidation.”
Despite the ugly trolling she’s faced, Krishnan is unequivocally against any kind of increased Internet regulation that could be manipulated to curb free speech. “There’s many kinds of hate speech and it exists in the real and the virtual world, but that’s no reason to impose any kind of government regulation of the internet,” she said. “Whatever someone says, I believe they’re free to say it. The difference on the Internet is that anonymity offers security to the victimiser rather than the victim, which is the concern. It falls upon all of us, individually and collectively, to uphold the norms that will ensure security and encourage debate, rather than intimidation. That’s why all I’m asking for from Rediff is a public, formal apology. It’s just churlish to invite me to a chat, to do nothing when I’m exposed to this kind of intimidation and to not even enquire after my wellbeing afterwards.”
Updated Date: Apr 25, 2013 17:49:52 IST