Priyanka Chopra is in the news again. And it is for the wrong reasons again. And to make matters worse, the trolling she is facing — name-calling, character smears and whatnot — is again emblematic of the cyber-bullying that women face on a regular basis.
Now, there is a distinction here. I am not getting into the debate on whether she should be trolled or not, although I will let you decide for yourself when I give the facts.
The point I am trying to say is that irrespective of whether she should be held accountable or not, the language she is being subjected to is highly derogatory and should not be used at all!
The smoking incident
What triggered the trolling was a picture of Priyanka Chopra seen smoking with her mother as her husband Nick Jonas digs into some food.
Most people pointed out that Chopra had earlier appealed to people not to burst crackers during Diwali because it exacerbated the asthma in people who had it, including her.
They said it was hypocritical of Chopra, as had been the case when crackers were burst at her wedding in India.
Of course, the trolls came out from under the bridges to accuse her of hypocrisy, claiming things like she was so into method-acting that she was preparing for the next Diwali advertisement where she would urge people to not burst crackers again.
However, the trolls soon got acerbic, claiming things like she was a "nobody" in Hollywood, and that she was not smoking but "showing her in-laws and White friends how it feels like during Diwali."
And things got progressively worse from there. Look through the comments on Twitter, and you will come across some that call her everything from a prostitute to quite a few words that can at best be deemed unparliamentary.
As someone pointed out to Tehseen Poonawala, Priyanka Chopra was being trolled not for smoking but for her apparent hypocrisy.
However, that trolling did cross its limits when her character and womanhood were dragged into the debate. I mean, why comment on when — or whether at all — Nick Jonas will divorce Chopra when that is not even the issue?
Such kind of gender-based aggression on social media has been a common denominator, especially against women in public life. Actresses time and again hit out at people who make obscene remarks against them.
However, there seems to be no abatement to the flow of such off-colour remarks that, at times, even threaten physical violence to women.
And that is the problem here. A certain section of social-media users is using the garb of gentle ribbing to rip into the personal lives of women who are in any way in the limelight.
The malaise needs a quick remedy in the form of suitable action against those who indulge in such behaviour, and that needs better implementation of the already-existing social media laws in the country, which are currently being misused by political parties as a tool to silence dissenters and naysayers.
Use the laws how they were meant, and keep the discussion civil. Also, besides punishing those who threaten physical harm or something similar, educate them as to why what they did was wrong. Only then will women be safer on social media.
[The author teaches journalism at St Joseph's College (Autonomous) in Bengaluru. The views expressed are personal.]