Sushma Swaraj continues to face abuse online

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. File   | Photo Credit: Reuters

After more than a week of being targeted by social media users on Twitter, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s husband and former Governor Swaraj Kaushal came to her defence, even as both the government and the ruling BJP declined to comment on the issue.

Reacting to a tweet from social media user suggesting violence against Ms. Swaraj, Mr. Kaushal wrote that his words had given him and the External Affairs Minister’s family “unbearable pain.” “We adore her. Please do not use such words for her. We are first generation in law and politics. We pray for nothing more than her life,” he appealed.

The user, identifying himself as Mukesh Gupta, a graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, had told Mr. Kaushal he should “beat [Ms. Swaraj] up” and “teach her not to do [minority] appeasement”, has since deleted his account. According to sources, had also received several complaints about the tweet, which was being processed.

Support from responders

Meanwhile, a twitter poll started by Ms. Swaraj, asking social media users whether they “approve” of the trolling she has faced since the story of Hindu-Muslim couple who alleged harassment at the passport office emerged on June 20, found that as much as 43% of the responders said they “approved”.

Tweets criticising the Ministry’s action to grant a passport to the couple and transferring the official without holding a proper enquiry began to grow subsequently, and soon turned into abuse targeting Ms. Swaraj personally.


More than 1.14 lakh accounts responded to Ms. Swaraj’s poll, which closed at 10 p.m. on Sunday, with just over half, 57% of them actually disapproving of the kind of tweets Ms. Swaraj has received. Among the tweets were direct threats of violence to the Minister, communal slurs and memes mocking her with derogatory pictures and language.

Despite the severity of the online attack, Ms. Swaraj has found no support from her Cabinet or party colleagues. The Hindu reached out to BJP leaders, including the IT cell in charge Amit Malviya, for comments, but drew no response amidst reports that many of the accounts that had issued abusive tweets belonged to supporters of the BJP, and were followed by members, and none have tweeted or issued statements in her favour.

“Horrified by the vicious trolling @SushmaSwaraj ji has been subjected to,” former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and former BJP ally Mehbooba Mufti tweeted on Sunday, adding that “If our own Minister of External Affairs is not spared, what hope is there for any other woman?”

Several members of the Opposition and the Congress's official handle had condemned the tweets after Ms. Swaraj highlighted them on her twitter handle.

'Action will be taken by Minister'

Meanwhile, when asked if the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)would take up the case of its Minister officially with either Twitter or other social media platforms where she is being targeted, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that any action would be taken personally by the Minister.

“Action in this matter has already been taken in a way that External Affairs Minister deemed fit and any further action, if at all, is to be taken, it will be taken by the External Affairs Minister,” Mr. Kumar said on Thursday, responding to a question from The Hindu.

The problem of abusive trolling raised by Ms. Swaraj has put the spotlight on the larger issue that a few other Ministers have also tried to raise. At a round table conference on cyber crimes last month, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi criticised Twitter for failing to remove posts containing abuses and rape threats hurled at women.

In July 2016, Ms. Gandhi’s Ministry had asked women to use #IAmTrolledHelp to raise an alarm if they were being bullied, stalked or abused online. Subsequently, the Ministry set up a cyber cell under a Joint Secretary level officer, and it received 57 complaints over six months, according to a Parliament statement. However, the anti-stalking cell was subsequently put into cold storage, after accusations of censorship from one section of Twitter users against the Ministry’s initiative.

(With inputs from Jagriti Chandra and Nistula Hebbar)

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 12:20:55 AM |

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