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Decode

Kerala’s Homophobic Trolls Led To Two Deaths

A petition was filed in the Kerala high court against a few social media accounts that are allegedly trying to spread disinformation against LGBTQ+ community and also encouraging fake social media accounts to engage in online hatred.

By - Shantasree Sarkar | 13 Dec 2023 7:38 AM GMT

Praveen Nath, Kerala’s first transgender bodybuilder, married their longtime partner Rishana Ayshu on Valentine’s Day of this year. It was a grand spectacle, kind of a talk of the town, and covered by Kerala’s media houses. It was the beginning of an acceptance of change in society. But fate had other plans. A few months after their wedding Praveen Nath posted a statement announcing their split as a couple, on Facebook. Immediately, hate comments inundated the Facebook post.

Realising their mistake, the post was deleted in an hour but the online tirade of hateful comments didn’t stop.

There were WhatsApp groups made to harass both Praveen and Rishana. They received threatening calls telling them that they were “shaming the society with their sham of a marriage”. This led to further fights between the couple.

Rishana moved to their parent's house after a point. Praveen tried their best to control the situation. But soon after the incident, Praveen consumed poison and died.

“Their partner Rishana also tried to take their life, blaming them for the unfortunate death of Praveen,” Amma, a friend of Rishana and an executive member of the transgender organisation, Dhisha Kerala said.

Rishana doesn’t speak with anyone and prefers to stay in seclusion. “Such is the impact of online trolling, a family was completely broken and lives were lost,” Amma said.

The online world is full of homophobic trolls. Recently, a queer make-up artist Pranshu died by suicide after the barrage of hateful comments on their Instagram post. Pranshu was 16. Most of the hate comments on Pranshu’s post and Praveen’s Facebook post earlier were from the same accounts.

On November 28, 2023, a writ petition was filed in the Kerala High Court against a few social media accounts who are allegedly trying to spread disinformation against LGBTQ+ community and also encouraging fake social media accounts to engage in online hatred.

The petition asked for restraint on “any derogatory remarks through the social media accounts” especially YES Kerala and ‘to remove the hate speeches and hate campaign made against the petitioners from various social media accounts.”

On Instagram, while a robust queer community is building a safe space to voice their needs and opinions, there are a few organisations running hate campaigns against the queer community. Most of these accounts are from Kerala.

Social media accounts like Yes Kerala (Youth Enrichment Society) have been accused of circulating fake news, unscientific data, spewing hatred and derogatory remarks against LGBTQ+ members. Particularly, accounts like “Toxic Mallu” and “Toxic Patriarchy” have been accused of trolling queer community members online, in Malayalam.

As Instagram and other Meta platforms fail to detect abuses in vernacular languages, these accounts never get taken down.

“If one goes through the comment section of 16-year-old Pranshu’s viral reel of wearing a saree during Diwali, one will find such abusive comments in Malayalam from these fake accounts of trolls from Kerala. There are over five hundred such accounts who comment on our posts daily and also sometimes they drop in DMs(direct messages) threatening to kill us or rape us,’’ says Amma.

Also Read:It’s Terrifying To Be A Woman Content Creator In The Age Of Deepfakes

Decode went through the Instagram posts of “YES Kerala’’ and found out social media campaigns to stop Pride marches. Some of the volunteers reach pride marches and set up a make-shift stall claiming that it is ‘unscientific’ to go through sex change operations. There have been several incidents of scuffle between the queer community and YES Kerala members on the streets, to the extent of filing FIRs against each other.

Fayaz Ahmed, secretary of YES Kerala spoke to Decode to clarify the allegations levelled against the organisation, “We are mainly focused on stopping the foul campaign run by certain queer communities among youth and propagating unscientific concepts like sex change surgeries in Kerala. Our campaigns are not limited to Instagram, we are trying to reach every school and college in Kerala. They always come for our kids by influencing them with perverted sexual acts, it’s our duty to protect our kids from the unnatural love being promoted.”

Ahmed said they want to stop the queer community from propagating lies. “There should be better monitoring of their acts in the public spaces; even monitoring of teachers who might have similar views across schools and colleges,” he said.

One of YES Kerala’s posts on Instagram tries to explain why they term homosexuality as “Degeneracy”. “It’s not love but lust”, the post reads. Another Instagram post goes to the extent of dismissing the history of Pride month of June by openly calling founding members of Gay Rights movement, Harry Hay and surgeon John Money (who conducted the first sex change operation), as an “unabashed pedophile advocate”.

Daya Gayatri and Sruti Sithara, Kerala’s first lesbian transgender couple spoke to Decode and said, “We are completely confident that organisations like ‘Yes Kerala’ and ‘Unwoke India’ are behind creating 500+ fake accounts to spread hatred against our community members. They don’t realise the far-reaching impact these comments have on our mental health, sometimes we suffer from anxiety and also stay in fear. We do not feel free or equal because of the homophobia among several Malayalis in Kerala. And it is not limited to Kerala, these accounts are now targeting queer members across India.”

Daya Gayatri is also one of the petitioners in the Kerala High Court against cyberbullying and harassment.

Gayatri said that their photos have been morphed and then circulated across social media to defame and shame them.

“We have been blackmailed on direct messages and even on calls. These are organised campaigns targeting us and our community members, which isn’t possible with support from these organisations,” said Gayatri.

Sruti Sithara has received calls asking them to kill themselves.

“I was also told if I am marrying my partner then I should do a virginity test, and if my partner doesn’t bleed on the wedding night, I must divorce my partner. I have been accused of spreading HIV disease. Do you think a human listening to such vulgar comments can function normally daily? Of course, it’s going to affect us and even push us to the brink. This is a fight that’s becoming horrendous every day. We filed complaints to the nearest cyber police cell but their only solution is to block these accounts because these accounts are being traced to some countries abroad and no action can be taken.”

“We are human beings, we want to live a life with respect and without fear. We want justice but we don’t feel protected from these bullies.”

Kerala high court passed an interim order on the writ petition, asking the State Police Chief to file an action report on the status of cyberbullying and also observed that “every citizen has a right to live and the rights are constitutionally provided and protected and cannot be attenuated or suppressed by any person who may have propagandist ideas.”

Anagh, the Vice president of Dhisha Kerala, who is also one of the petitioners in the matter, says, that accounts like YES Kerala has temporarily halted posting queer-phobic videos and posts. “But I have no idea how long this will continue, we need change which has a long-term impact,” Anagh said. “The transgender communities across Kerala do feel emboldened after the interim order as we had utmost faith in the judiciary to make a difference.’’