‘It Hurts, It Pains:’ A Christian Dalit Activist On Combating Online Violence, Losing Faith In Dravidian Politics (Article 14)

A Christian Dalit activist, Shalin Maria Lawrence, has spoken out against the caste shaming and body shaming she has experienced for drawing attention to crimes against Dalits in Tamil Nadu under the DMK and the “hate politics” of the BJP. Blaming the online violence on supporters of the two rival parties, the Chennai-based activist spoke with us about the trauma she had endured and her loss of faith in the Dravidian politics she once regarded as the most progressive in India.


Delhi: “We are getting you into grave trouble. The damage you are going to face this will be enormous and irrevocable. And you should indeed pay this price.” 

“The pee on photo campaign is going extremely well. Soon I will send you the link for a live video of men and women urinating on the picture in the attachment.”

“It seems you have not killed yourself yet we have assigned people to closely watch you and your family members.”

“Whatever you have done is going to affect the baby girl in the future terribly. And she needs to live like scum. Everyone will start to treat her like a maggot.”

These were a few of the over two dozen emails sent to Shalin Maria Lawrence, a Christian Dalit activist from Tamil Nadu, author of three books, and a mother to a three-year-old girl, and Manoj Liyonzon, her husband and a lawyer, from March 2021 to February 2022.

The death threats and obscene messages, Lawrence suspected, were because she was speaking against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their “hate politics” targeting minorities. The messages had traumatised her, but she was not surprised at having received them.

The Dalit activist hadn’t been able to come to terms with the online attacks that she said were from supporters of the party in power in Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), because she was drawing attention to the crimes against Dalits in the state.

“I’ve been getting hate from both the BJP-RSS and the DMK,” Lawrence told Article 14, referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP.

“If it is the BJP and RSS, I can understand. They are right-wing and conservative, and this has been part of their politics,” she said. “What shocks me is that a left party like the DMK, which I believed were the torch bearers of social justice, is very cruel towards Dalit women on matters of caste.”

Earlier this month, the Network of Women in Media (NWMI) stated that Lawrence was “facing a high volume of targeted harassment on Twitter and Facebook over the last year, specifically from handles associated with the DMK and the BJP.”

The collective said that “rather than engaging in introspection or at least combating her with facts and figures, or ideas, they have taken to coordinated attacks, combating her with demeaning languages including casteist slurs, body shaming her, slurs based on religion, and making scurrilous charges against her character and integrity. They have also targeted her close family members.”

A study by the Washington DC-based International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in February 2023  underlined the escalating attacks against women journalists, with Indian Muslim columnist Rana Ayyub being one of the most brutally targeted in the world.

Lawrence said that it was only after she quit her job as a marketing professional in 2016 and changed track to writing and activism, did she learn how endemic discrimination against Dalits was in Tamil Nadu, its underreporting by the vernacular media of the state, and the indifference of the state, whether it was DMK, of which she was a lifelong supporter, or its rival, the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), in power.

“As soon as I ask something of the government. They will say go to UP,” said Lawrence, referring to India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh, a bastion of the BJP, which is trying to make inroads into the southern states, including Tamil Nadu…

This story was originally published in article-14.com. Read the full story here

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