That social media is turning more and more toxic by the day became clearer on Monday with the vicious attacks online trolls launched on External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Twitter was flooded with vile messages to Swaraj, some calling for her assassination, some making jibes for granting visas to Pakistanis and others saying her judgement was clouded by her "Islamic kidney".
Not one to be fazed easily, the Union minister took on her trolls with her usual class and dignity. In a tweet and Facebook post announcing her return from her four-nation tour, she said: "I was out of India from 17th to 23rd June 2018. I do not know what happened in my absence. However, I am honoured with some tweets. I am sharing them with you. So I have liked them."
She then went on retweet and like some of the messages directed at her. The trolling was in response to the transfer of a passport officer from Lucknow to Gorakhpur after allegations that he had denied a couple a passport for bigoted reasons.
As this went on, Swaraj received plenty of support from journalists, liberals and even the Congress, condemning what they claimed was the BJP's IT cell's doing. "No matter the situation or reason, nothing calls for threats of violence, disrespect & abuse. @SushmaSwaraj ji, we applaud your decision to call out the heinous trolls of your own party," the Congress tweeted.
Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam said that the "abusive language" used by BJP IT cell workers "should be condemned by one and all". He urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "take action against such cyber criminals if he really believes in protecting dignity of women".
Notably, no Union minister or BJP leader has come out in support of Swaraj or condemned the vicious trolling that began while she was abroad. Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Smriti Irani, too, have been mum on the online attack on Swaraj, which did not go unnoticed by her defenders.
I waited for a day to see if any, any BJP MP/leader says anything against the trolling @SushmaSwaraj is facing from mostly their own online cadre. Sadly, none has spoken. And that makes a lot of things clear
" Stuti Mishra (@StuteeMishra) June 25, 2018
Must appreciate @INCIndia for their solidarity with @SushmaSwaraj ji, when no one from the BJP has condemn the vile abuses & trolling she's subjected to. A point to note is that nobody from BJP/RW has ever condemned the ugly attacks on Sonia Gandhi. Mahatma vs Savarkar ideology. https://t.co/QEqLlfOWEV " Sadhavi Khosla (@sadhavi) June 25, 2018
Modi has given several speeches on women's rights and the government's commitment to women's empowerment and protection. However, the reality is far from it, as Barkha Dutt pointed out: "Dear @SushmaSwaraj. It is odious what you have been subjected to. But Ma'am, imagine if this happens to you, with all your authority and influence and as a superb minister, think what happens to the rest of us " especially independent and outspoken women who fight on regardless."
It remains to be seen if any BJP ministers break this silence over the days to come.