Constant harassment and hate-spewing have led a Hyderabad-based woman journalist to say she is likely to be killed soon.
In a long, emotional post on Facebook on June 24, independent journalist Thulasi Chandu said she was being “hated and abused for telling people that communal hatred is harmful for the youth of any country”.
“...My photos are being morphed. One day, some innocent youngster fed with hatred by the party he loved will turn that hatred into a bullet or a sword,” she wrote. “Nobody will come to defend me...No group will stand for me because I don't have any sort of identity including an identity card that is given to journalists by the government. I cannot do anything other than giving these explanations. One day I will fall, be killed. Let it be, but by then at least allow me to record my agony and isolated voice.”
After working for nearly 14 years in different Telugu television and print media, Thulasi started an independent YouTube channel in 2020. According to her, there were professional constraints to her work owing to shrinking Telugu media spaces and a void of critical voices in Telugu virtual space. Thulasi’s recent outcry on Facebook points to the appalling trend of ‘organised’ abuse and harassment.
A glance at the comments and posts shows that there are YouTube channels and several social media users committed to attacking her and anyone who supports her work.
Her ordeal began in 2020 when she released a video titled “Coming of communalism’” where she spoke about the communal overtones seen during the Greater Hyderabad Municipal election. The video drew the wrath of Hindu right-wing trolls who immediately began labelling her as “anti-Hindu,” “commie,” “leftist,” and “prostitute.”
It soon transformed into intense hate, misogyny, and graphic rape and murder threats.
Thulasi’s work is loaded with facts and research. Her videos – such as “How India Sold out to Adani”, “India’s Situation after Hindenburg Report on Adani”, “Rishi’s Message to India”, “Rajasthan Nine-years Dalit Boy Issue”, “Politics Behind Attack on Atheist Bairi Naresh”, and “India Railways Story” – have drawn swelling viewership and a whopping 1.79 lakh subscribers. But this is accompanied by ‘designated trolls’ who graphically describe ways to assault her.
In January 2022, she filed a complaint with the cybercrime wing of the Hyderabad city police. But there has been no action against the perpetrator who ran a malicious campaign, which included morphing her images. Interestingly, not even the intervention of Bharat Rashtra Samithi’s top leader and IT minister, K Tarakarama Rao, has prompted any action. KTR is the son of Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao.
Ever since Thulasi posted on Facebook about her situation, scores of people across the social media platforms have been expressing their solidarity. A group of students at Osmania University also staged a protest seeking her protection.
In a brief conversation with TNM, Thulasi said, “I have always questioned communal politics, corruption and administrative lapses irrespective of the party. But well-organised BJP cadres and several Hindu right-wing social media handles have labelled me as anti-Hindu, lefty, communist, sickular and mixed breed, besides passing rape and murder threats.”
She added, “The astonishing and depressing thing about it is that there are few handles who are seemingly designated to set surveillance on me. Within minutes to hours, a massive group of people will either come and pass such violent threats in writing or they will put out videos abusing me and my family or instigate such comments.”
When asked if she is motivated to attack the Hindu religion as alleged by the abusers on social media, she said, “Talking about the scams, telling about the economic offences of the powerful and exposing the lies which are aimed at creating a rift between communities, is not anti-Hindu.”
TNM independently verified some of the comments on YouTube against Thulasi which were seeking to kill or turn her into an “ISIS sex slave”. They feature a deeply violent and sexist, misogynistic smear campaign similar to one of the released by the International Center for Journalists where it blamed the Hindu nationalist BJP for backing the trolls of journalist Rana Ayyub.
In over 100 videos that she has released, Thulasi has not spared anyone. Some of the videos have questioned and have been critical of the BRS government. She also cautioned against the “communal nature” of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen by equating it with BJP. One video exposed orthodoxy in Islam when a Dalit youth was killed by Muslim men for marrying across religious and caste boundaries following a relationship.
The police have now registered a fresh case against three YouTube channels and one Facebook page. Dileep Konatham, the Telangana government’s digital media director, told TNM that the government is pursuing the case and ensuring the police book the culprits.
But women journalists in Hyderabad said fear-mongering and a vile, vicious atmosphere have been normalised in the Telugu media and virtual spaces ever since the BJP returned to power in 2019 in the centre and its successful attempts to make inroads into Telangana.
NV Subhash, chief spokesperson of the BJP in Telangana, denied allegations of organised harassment at the behest and support of his party and its affiliates.
Yet this is not the first time that women journalists or activists have been targeted. Journalists Swathi Vadlamudi and Vanaja C and activists G Sandhya, Devi and Professor Sujata Surepally have all been targeted by Hindu right-wing trolls.
Speaking to TNM, Vanaja said, “There has been an organised attack on the journalists who have been criticising communal hatred. They either body shame or pass rape threats or attribute motives. It’s very apparent that the BRS government, which claims to be secular and doesn’t tolerate hatred, is not taking any action even after lodging complaints.”
She added, “It says a lot about the government’s attitude towards the victims when there is no action against the culprits despite minister KTR himself requesting the concerned police officials. The claims of the state government led by BRS do not match its actions.”
Professor Sujata said, “Being a victim of such organised social media trolling and harassment, I know what kind of toll it takes on mental health. The state government should step up before it's too late as they’re going to the extent of giving death threats.”
This report was as part of The News Minute-Newslaundry alliance. Read about our partnership and become a TNM Member .
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