It involves the usual suspects offering the usual theories.
In the past week, we’ve witnessed shocking scenes from the protest held by India’s top wrestlers against alleged sexual harassment by Wrestling Federation of India chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
On May 28, the Delhi police forcibly cleared their protest site at Jantar Mantar when the protesters tried to march to the new Parliament building. Wrestlers like Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Sangeeta Phogat were dragged when the police bundled the protesters into buses.
On May 30, the athletes headed to Haridwar where they planned to immerse their medals as part of their protest. They cried on the banks of the Ganga, surrounded by supporters. They later deferred this plan, giving the government five days to take action.
Subsequently, the details of the two FIRs filed against Singh came under spotlight. In at least two instances mentioned in the FIR, he demanded “sexual favours”, while 15 instances of sexual harassment were also mentioned. Both the FIRs have been lodged under IPC Section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (sexual harassment), 354D (stalking) and 34 (common intention). One of the FIRs also invokes Section 10 of the POCSO Act, reports said.
Simultaneously, drama unfolded on Twitter – but this time in favour of police action against the wrestlers. Over the last few days, the usual right-wing suspects have condemned the wrestlers, suggesting they’re fabricating their allegations against Singh.
Those tweeting have sizable followings, and their tweets gained plenty of traction too. The usual phrases were thrown in too – “toolkit gang”, “tukde-tukde gang”, “urban naxals”. Many of these users have been previously flagged for misinformation and disinformation, but when has that ever stopped someone on social media?
Here’s a run-down of some of these tweets, though this list is far from exhaustive.
Journalist Abhiit Majumder, who has over 581,000 followers, tweeted a video from May 28 saying “champions once, toolkit gang forever”.
Ajeet Bharti, former editor of blog OpIndia who most recently issued threats against Alt News cofounder Muhammad Zubair, thanked the police for their work. With over 163,000 followers, he got over 3,700 retweets and over 15,000 likes.
Arun Pudur, a self-described tech billionaire, alleged “Congress direct involvement” in the protest. Pudur has over 98,000 followers.
BJP member Priti Gandhi, who has over 515,000 followers, said the Indian government had spent crores on training the wrestlers and they were acting like “spoilt brats”. Over 2,500 retweets here.
Conspiracy theorist Hawk Eye, which was part of the online campaign to jail Zubair, said the wrestlers “have done for photoshop so ppl can post such propaganda”. The user has 167,000 followers and paid for a blue tick.
BJP member Shivam Tyagi brought up those old right-wing bugbears of “tukde-tukde gang” and “urban naxals”.
Everyone’s favourite Bollywood pundit Ashoke Pandit produced a new hashtag – #AwardWapsiGang – and brought up “urban naxals” too. It got a little over 1,000 retweets.
Journalist Aman Chopra – whom the Rajasthan police was searching for last year – had several tweets on the protest.
A handle with over 84,000 followers accused the wrestlers of platforming “anti-India elements” and trying to “defame India”.
Former IAS officer Sanjay Dixit, who runs a dubious portal called Jaipur Dialogues, produced an entire video on the wrestlers’ “conspiracy”. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers.
And finally, former IPS officer NC Asthana, who suggested the wrestlers be shot.
These tweets are only the tip of the iceberg, but they’re a sad commentary on the state of discourse on social media.
But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen such campaigns, and it won’t be the last. From January to April, the Chief Justice of India was the subject of an online trolling campaign that involved over 7,50,000 tweets. Read about it here.
Update at 8:04 pm, June 2: This report has been updated with the details of the FIRs lodged against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.