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The text on that meme read: “Everyone else is like omg Trump is great or omg Trump is evil, and I’m just over here like 54% of women ejaculate during rape.” This seemed inviting enough for members of the secret Facebook group to start an “It’s not rape if…” quotefest in the comments section, with examples ranging from ‘It’s not rape if she’s wet’ and ‘It’s not rape if it’s your uncle behind you’ to ‘It’s not rape if she’s below 10’. Even ‘It’s not rape if she’s dead’ among 30 other comments.
It was led by men, but women too participated in the said quotefest, which happens quite often in this group over memes. Nothing is off-limits as a genre here: gender, religion, race, caste, politics. The secret group (don’t even bother looking for it) limits membership to only 2002 people, as according to its first admin, 23-year-old Rahul Chopra*, “It’s a perfect number.” Chopra even put out a post this year, asking group members to share their favourite 2002 Godhra riots moments.
At the time of filing this story, the group that was created in late 2016, had 2,150 members. They're in their early to late 20s, all with jobs and many from army backgrounds, sharing and revelling in memes about self-harm, disability, cancer, rape, religious murders, paedophilia, sometimes rape-incest-paedophilia rolled into one. A recent one plainly said: ‘When you gotta go to the bathroom, but your nephew clogged it’ with an image of a dead baby in a toilet, blood spilt all over the place.
Even victims of sexual assault claim they “enjoy” the content of this group. 25-year-old Anjali Kapoor* told me she was assaulted in a car in New Delhi when she was 17, but was lucky enough to have jumped out before the three men holding her could initiate rape. “It was winter, so I was wearing a lot of clothes and they couldn't take them all off. That was one thing that worked for me,” she told me.
“I don’t take rape lightly,” she added. “But a very popular meme after the Nirbhaya case were examples of how boys impress girls in different cities, and that in Delhi, you have to carry a rod to impress girls. I found that funny when 90% of people will find that offensive, and this is why we have closed groups.”
This group is an offshoot of bigger closed groups, where members were complaining the meme-ing was getting soft. “I was posting a lot of anti-religious stuff on larger groups, like Jesus getting his nails done,” Chopra said. “It was against all religions, really. I hated every religion, but then I started getting reported, got death threats, and my account was suspended a few times. So I started this group with people I trusted and who had the same demented sense of humour as me.”
Secrecy and trust is paramount in building such communities, so admins screen everyone who is referred to join the group. They even screen the referee, and check their past group activity using insights. Those who report a lot, or are offended easily, are chucked out. Some even mistakenly report to the admins. “We take this (moderation) shit very seriously,” Chopra said.
When added, it is expected of members to not get offended, and if they do find something offensive for even their standards, to just scroll past it. In February this year, a member who reported some memes was immediately barred from the group. The admins then put out an announcement stating: ‘Just a reiteration in the light of recent circumstances. We created this group for deranged assholes with questionable humour who find gore/vile/racist memes hilarious. Things you can joke about: cancer, self harm, disabilities, appearance, religion, sexuality, suicide, rape, weight, race. Things against the spirit of the group: whining and reporting. If you can't appreciate, just scroll past the meme or exit the group. There's no place for cunts who stoop down to reporting.’
The friend who had added me to the group (I got on it because I wanted to write about their meet-up, but that never happened), has always insisted that there’s no point being offended by shit on the internet. It’s not real life. That everyone has a different threshold, and that we can all be civil if it feels like ours has been crossed. “Why would I be angry at something on the internet?” Kapoor asked. “In real life, if someone called me a slut or a randi, then I’ll be offended. Like, you don’t have the right to question my character. As long as it’s not a personal attack, it’s fine.”
One member told me that coming to the group and sharing such memes has became a way of finding people with similar thresholds. “What’s the most offensive meme you have?” is apparently a new-age ice-breaker, and works as a social lubricant. An admin claims he made a friend using that line at a party last week, which led to a newly-minted member of their community.
“We share jokes amongst each other and not with the subject of the meme,” Chopra said. “The community aspect comes from a mutual appreciation of a peculiar quadrant of humour.”
Can you have strict boundaries between what you find funny and how you are as a person, though? Clinical psychologist Dr Kanan Khatau Chikhal, who for 16 years has been analysing human brain rewiring, says, “People who enjoy such imagery are extremely aggressive and destructive. If you find merriment in a child dying in a bathroom, you should get help. We should try to reach out to them for help. This is not normal.”
The definition of ‘normal’ is something which gnaws at members of the group. Chopra, during our conversation, referred to his humour as “demented” several times, hinting at a complex self-awareness. “Everyone has a different joke of normal, and they think their version of normal is the normal,” he said. But when does this “demented humour” normalise acts which shouldn’t be? Personally, as I was scrolling through their page for eight months, I realised that I was reacting with levity to situations one would normally be outraged at.
Kapoor argued saying that the such memes don’t normalise anything, as they’re mere jokes. “I’ve been through near rape. But even I sometimes post a rape joke. It doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about women, or that I will rape someone. Like, I wasn’t offended by memes on Nirbhaya, but was offended by memes on Asifa.” Her logic is that Asifa was just a kid, and the imagery being used in memes on her weren’t okay, as opposed to Nirbhaya memes which came after a long time of the incident, and never used her name or picture.
“If you are so offended by a rape meme on the internet, why don’t you help women on our roads who are constantly eve-teased?” she retorted multiple times.
Kapoor just scrolled past the Asifa memes, a little dinged but "not enough to be offended”. “Coming to these groups, I would have a good laugh, banter somedays and move on,” she said. “In a way, they had become an escape. It was a nice way of meeting similar people.”
*Names changed on request.
Follow Parthshri Arora on Twitter.