By Roli Srivastava
MUMBAI, Dec 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - "Flash mobs" of young women have taken to the streets in southern India to protest against the online trolling of three hijab-clad college students who danced in public to promote an HIV awareness campaign.
A video of the three women dancing on a street in the southern state of Kerala wearing hijabs and jeans was widely shared on social media last week, attracting some abusive comments from critics accusing them of being anti-Islam.
As the comments piled up, "flash mob" dance protests erupted across the state with girls in colourful headscarves dancing to a popular Malayalam song to defy the trolls.
"We decided to defy the religious groups that were trolling the girls by organising more performances," Jaick Thomas, head of Kerala division of the Students' Federation of India (SFI) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The majority of the students who came forward to participate in the flash mobs were Muslims, and most of them girls. They took part wearing their hijabs."
Police at the weekend charged six people for criminal intimidation, fanning communal tension and for indecent representation of women in relation to the online comments, Jaleel Thottathil, deputy superintendent of police, Malappuram district, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
No arrests have been made so far, he said.
The flash mobs were organised in 14 districts of Kerala - among India's most progressive states with a literacy rate of 94 percent - including Malappuram district at the same spot where the three women had first performed.
"Fundamentalists across religions believe they have the power to question us, but we are thinking individuals and our ideas and beliefs are changing," said Khadeezath Suhaila, 25, who participated in one of the protests.
Countless women in India suffer abuse on social media, ranging from obscene messages to rape threats, and the Indian government this year announced it would launch an 'I am Trolled' app to help women report offenders.
(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)
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