A United Nations Human Rights Council report released on Sunday, March 10, noted that women human rights activists from minority and indigenous background in the country are more prone to physical attacks, death threats and smear campaign on social media.
Citing the examples of Indian women human rights activists like Soni Sori and Rana Ayyub, the report maintained that women human rights defenders are often subjected to online harassment, violence and attacks, which include threats of sexual violence, verbal abuse, sexuality baiting, doxing (a practice in which private information about a person is shared online by others) and public shaming.
The UN report authored by Special Rapporteur Michel Forst, stated that former Tehelka journalist Rana Ayyub was particularly targeted on social media for her religious background. It said, "In April 2018, Indian investigative journalist Rana Ayyub was subjected to an online hate campaign and death threats when she was misquoted on Twitter. She was threatened with sexual violence on social media and subjected to misogynistic vitriol and hate speech for being a Muslim woman. A deepfake pornographic video manipulated to include her face was circulated. She was doxed and bombarded with sexual messages. Her reports to the police were not taken seriously, and the perpetrators are yet to be brought to justice."
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The report added that women activists working for tribal rights who have waged struggles against big corporations and well-resourced government authorities are often implicated and harassed by police. The case of Soni Sori, a Chhattisgarh-based women right activist who was subjected to brutal physical and sexual violence for raising her voice against the atrocities committed on tribal communities also found mention in the report.
It said, "In Chhattisgarh, India, for example, adivasi schoolteacher Soni Sori continues to be slandered, harassed and intimidated by the police for her activism. In February 2016, she was the victim of an acid attack by unidentified assailants who warned her not to complain about the Inspector General of Bastar District and threatened her daughter. In 2011, she was arrested on eight charges. She was acquitted in seven of them and granted bail in connection with the eighth. While in custody, she reported being tortured and sexually harassed."
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The report added that Sudha Bhardwaj who has been fighting court cases related to tribals in Chhattisgarh too became a victim of smear campaign which ultimately resulted in her arrest. The report noted, "Sudha Bhardwaj, a lawyer who assists adivasis, dalits, workers and farmers, endured a vicious smear campaign and was arrested on August 28, 2018, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Her house was raided, her personal items seized, and she has been placed under house arrest."
Globally, the report claimed that apart from militarisation and fundamentalist groups, globalisation and neoliberal policies have led to economic disempowerment and power inequalities that affect the rights of women. Similarly, the powerful states like USA are adopting polices which are detrimental for women activists working for reproductive rights. It argued, "Restrictive donor policies have also had a distinct impact on women defenders. For example, the policy of the United States of America entitled “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” (known as the global gag rule), which was introduced in 2017, requires NGOs receiving funding from the United States to certify that they do not engage in certain abortion-related activities, including counselling, referrals and advocacy on access to safe services. The policy has had an adverse impact on women defenders working on sexual and reproductive rights, HIV, sexual orientation and gender identity rights and sex workers’ rights."