15/06/2015 9:49 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

I Spoke Up Against Sexist Remarks On Facebook; What Followed Was Worse

I am a strong independent woman who has been fortunate to have a privileged upbringing. One would assume, I live a more secure life. Yet, I have faced harassment and cyber bullying. While I don't consider myself a victim, I know I was targeted.

Vishakha Singh

I am a strong independent woman who has been fortunate to have a privileged upbringing. One would assume, I live a more secure life. Yet, I have faced harassment and cyber bullying. While I don't consider myself a victim, I know I was targeted.

I am not just referring to the incident that suddenly made me the nation's talking point a few days back.

What happened post the incident is something that needs to be addressed as well.

I am a person who juggles various jobs. Acting happens to be one of them.

And as an actor, I have an official FB page. This is done to stay connected with fans. I also get people sending lewd messages to me online quite often. My social media team used to block/report such cases.

This particular person had been sending me lewd messages in my inbox for a while. Block him, and he would create another profile and resend the messages. I avoided him for a long time. He finally commented on a post of mine publicly. What triggered my anger was the child's picture against his lewd remark. I had reached my tipping point.

Despite my anger, I maintained my civility and replied to him.

However, what followed opened a Pandora's box.

Four days after writing that post, I was suddenly trending on FB.

My post was shared all over the Internet. Everyone had an opinion.

A man had harassed me. I replied to him. It was as simple as that. There was no bravado. A NORMAL act was turned into a heroic tale.

That is when the actual harassment began.

Now, as a girl , I am not new to harassment. Even when I was not an actor and wore salwar suits to college, I used to face eve-teasing and harassments in various forms.

But cyber bullying was a new experience.

The next day, I was targeted by the trolls online; for being a feminist (since when did that become a bad word?). I was called a man-hater, the classic 'cheap actress looking for publicity' and my favourite 'she wears such clothes, she asked for it' and of course, 'would she have had the guts to chide a producer/director if they had done this to her.'

What I have written is a mild representation of the accusations/threats and hate mail that has come my way online.

Despite the resounding support I received, the handful of trolls online had a field day.

Since this was my first such experience, I tried explaining my point to a lot of people. I sincerely believed we must have a dialogue to resolve issues.

Most trolls had not even read the comment and were upset that I had 'insulted' the women in that man's family.

(And what is with the fake profiles and fake display pictures? Why be anonymous if you believe the point you are making is right?)

There were some who threatened violence by saying they will put me in my place, some crass comments that called me an 'item girl/dancer'.

I explained I wasn't a male basher, just replied to two men who I didn't agree with.

Publicity? I don't need it. Much as I enjoy the few films I do, they are not my main source of income.

I don't take nonsense from ANY man or woman. That is the way I have been raised. But then you have already stereotyped me.

The clothes I wear or the fact that I am an actor are lame reasons for you to pass lewd remarks. It's a reflection of who you are, not me.

Item girl/dancer? I am neither but why so condescending? They are hardworking professionals (who, by the way, pay 12.36% (now 14%) percent service tax over and above the normal taxes you may pay). And many dance to support families. That's dignity of labour.

Yet, the barrage still continued. And will continue. Simply because the trolls know they can get away with it.

Fortunately for them, this might be actually true. Translating online accountability of these crimes in real space is a long arduous procedure.

I have often wondered what happens when I report a person on Twitter or FB? Their account is suspended and then what? I am sure they make another profile and start all over again.

Yes, we need stricter cyber laws but simultaneously we need proactive programs to prepare the younger generation that will come to the cyberspace in future. Teach them social media ethics from a very young age. This way, we invest in future netizens and a healthier social platform.

(I believe most of us from the current generation of cyber users are highly inept at handling the freedom the Internet gives us.)

As for the present, a simple understanding that what is unacceptable in real life is unacceptable online, will go a long way.

And yes, civility; the foundation of any healthy society. 'Lets agree to disagree without being disagreeable.'

The best example of this would be my private banter with the very young man who posted a 'proof' online with pictures that showed me 'liking' a previous similar comment and thus 'exposing my hypocrisy'. He wrote to me and ended up having a civil and healthy conversation with me online. I told him why it wasn't me and why we doubt the credibility of the pictures he put up.

He saw my viewpoint in some cases. We agreed to disagree on some other points.

Looking back, I took a simple stand. But a whole lot of people drew inspiration from this incident.

Not just women. And that's good to know.