Let’s just get this out of the way first and clear up any doubts: it is never acceptable to threaten someone with rape. Under any circumstances.
Cyber-bullying is a reality that many have faced following the explosion of social media. For celebrities, this is a daily reality that is peppered through the comments section of their Instagram and Twitter posts.
Bollywood actress Ananya Panday’s cousin, model Alanna Panday, is the latest celebrity victim who was considered an easy target by an online troll. Someone believed the budding actress “deserved to be gang raped” after she posted a picture of herself in a bikini.
After maintaining silence, the 25-year-old finally took to Instagram and revealed details about the threat.
“This happened months ago, I wish I had spoken about it sooner, but waking up and reading things like this just became normal to me — it’s an everyday part of my life. Here’s 1 per cent of what I have to wake up and read everyday [sic],” posted Alanna. “I’ve had a woman comment on my post saying I deserve to be gang raped because I posted a picture in a bikini. She then tagged my mother and father in the comment to make sure that they saw it too. I wish I had a screenshot but I was so shaken when I saw it I blocked her immediately and Instagram deleted the comment.”
If the threat of gang rape wasn’t horrifying enough, Alanna’s post contained further revelations.
“When I went to her profile to block her I saw that she was married and had a daughter a little younger than me. I don’t understand how you can wish that upon someone else’s child,” she added.
The question Alanna raises is a valid one, but it also underlines the sheer hatred that simmers in society today. Social media has made it easy for many to activate their couch activism mode at a moment’s notice, while the perceived anonymity appears to embolden the moral police that disguise themselves as your friendly neighbourhood patrons.
Alanna’s mother Deanne Pandey, who is a published author, also took to the comments section of her daughter’s post to lend support.
“This is the same person who sent me messages saying I am bringing up my daughter in the wrong way and I should be ashamed .. that you are influenced by Bollywood so that’s why you wear less clothes. She also said you have no assets .. so you wear these clothes for attention. She said a lot more as it’s all on your previous Instagram post .. her nasty comments,” Deanne posted.
In a second post on her Instagram, Alanna also slammed people for body shaming her.
“Not being skinny does NOT mean you have an eating disorder. I know I’m not perfect, I still LOVE my body. Stop body shaming women,” she said. “I have to wake up everyday and read the nastiest comments, comments from people that don’t know me as human. What’s worse that waking up to hateful comments about my body everyday, is that it comes from other women. I didn’t choose this body I was born with it. Am I less of a woman cause i’m not “curvy”?”
The abuse Alanna has been subjected to is not a new development in the world of celebrities.
Last week, South Indian actress Meera Chopra was subjected to rape and death threats after she merely stated during an interactive fan session that she didn’t know Telugu star Jr NTR and wasn’t a fan.
The response, unfortunately, didn’t go down well with the veteran actor’s fans who took it upon themselves to pepper her Twitter timeline with threats, while one user morphed her face on to the body of an adult star.
Chopra herself admitted she received close to 30,000 abusive tweets in a matter of hours.
“This cyber bullying needs to stop. I can be anybody’s fan in the world, it’s my choice. They (Jr NTR fans) threatened me with gang rape, throwing acid on my face, murder and even wished that my parents die of Covid. All this when I hadn’t said anything hurtful,” Chopra told Hindustan Times in the aftermath of the online abuse, adding, “Social media has become such a scary and toxic place.”
The issue is far from being limited to a single country or culture. American singer Selena Gomez has also publicly spoken about being trolled and abused on Instagram over the years, despite being one of the most followed person on the platform.
In an interview with the New York Times in 2017, Gomez spoke at length about the cyber-bullying she’s been subjected to. “I delete the app from my phone at least once a week. You fixate on the [negative] ones. They’re not like, ‘You’re ugly.’ It’s like they want to cut to your soul. Imagine all the insecurities that you already feel about yourself and having someone write a paragraph pointing out every little thing, even if it’s just physical.”
Singer Demi Lovato, who has been victimised online through the years, had penned a letter for Seventeen magazine urging young people to stop tormenting others.
Her words resonate even today, as she wrote: “When will people understand that verbal abuse is just as serious as physical abuse? How many precious lives will it take to put an end to the hurt caused by cyber abuse? I think that some people use bullying as a way to fit in, and I’ve noticed it’s not just the “cool” kids doing it anymore.
“Sitting behind a computer gives people a sense of anonymity, but everyone needs to realize that words — even the ones they write online — have a strong power to hurt people.”
In a powerful essay she wrote for Elle on her 30th birthday, singer Taylor Swift stated she had finally learned to deal with the cyber-bullying and the threats.
“I learned that disarming someone’s petty bullying can be as simple as learning to laugh. I’ve come to see that bullies want to be feared and taken seriously,” she wrote, adding: “It would be nice if we could get an apology from people who bully us. But maybe all I’ll ever get is the satisfaction of knowing I could survive it, and thrive in spite of it.”
These are wise words to live by, but still does not excuse criminal behaviour in any form. It’s high time it stopped.