The slow action is part of a larger pattern, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Authorities are quick to blame government critics, she says, but “hate speech and violent actions by government supporters are rarely prosecuted.”
Social media companies, with the ability to remove offensive posts and stem misinformation, are not filling the void. “Tech companies remove content based on their community guidelines and local laws. In this case, both have been violated,” says Krishnesh Bapat, researcher at the Center for Communication Governance Digital Fellow at the Internet Freedom Foundation in Delhi. “GitHub, to my knowledge, does not proactively remove content. It only does this after receiving a complaint and took longer in this case. GitHub did not respond to a request for comment on its policies.
In India, almost all forms of online harassment fall under the general category of cyberbullying. India’s Information Technology Act 2000, commonly referred to as the Cyber Security Act, governs online abuse. The law was intended to combat e-commerce, but was adjusted in 2008 to also cover cybercrimes. Harassment can also fall under the country’s general criminal code, Nappinai says, which can help protect victims in serious cases.
Still, some say the country’s online laws need to be overhauled. Anushka Jain, an attorney at the Internet Freedom Foundation, believes the digital world has changed too much for the law to be effective. “Certain of the provisions of the [Cyber] Act have become redundant and unable to address currently lingering issues and rapidly evolving changes and threats,” she says. The government, she adds, needs a holistic approach to cyberpolicy, including tougher laws.
In addition to harassment, Muslims in India also struggle with misinformation online. For example, last September ID Fresh, a halal-certified food company owned by a Muslim family, faced a large-scale disinformation campaign on social media claiming that the company was mixing cow bones and calf rennet to increase the volume of ready-to-use products. – cook the dough and urge “every Hindu” to avoid the products. The company faced a boycott and saw its sales plummet; he had to launch his own campaign in response to set the record straight.
So far, there seems to be little movement to change the situation from tech companies or the Indian government. This left little recourse for victims like commercial pilot Hana Mohsin Khan, who caught on Twitter to express her anger when she saw his picture at the January auction. “Muslim women have once again been targeted. Again, there will be no action,” she wrote. “We are caught in an endless cycle of anger and anguish. All. Only. Day.”
Safina Nabi is a South Asian freelance multimedia journalist based in Kashmir.