Picture this: you are checking your mail and a somewhat puzzling message from an unknown sender catches your eye. Curious, you click on it, and your world implodes. The man who’s written it has hacked into your account and stolen intimate photos and videos you once sent your boyfriend. But it’s not just this criminal violation of privacy that startles you; it’s the blackmail that follows. He asks for more lewd images of you. If you don’t comply, he’ll send the images to your family, friends, colleagues, anyone you know. Inform the police, he warns, and his revenge will be swift. You have 24 hours. What do you do?

If you are Taruna Aswani, you would do the unthinkable. 

This gutsy young woman turned the table on her blackmailer by explaining her predicament in an honest, empowering Facebook post. “I choose to stand up to this man,” she wrote, “instead of cowering to down to his requests. I do this so that other women may take a lesson to stand up to bullies and low-life(s) like this and may get the confidence to stand up as well.” She also posted the hacker’s details, asking people to help expose him. 

Taruna had everything to lose. A 26-year-old who had moved from Mumbai to Maryland just six months prior was settling into her new life. She had started working as a physical therapist, and was in a long-term relationship. She put it all on the line, risking humiliation on the big www. 

But her gamble paid off, drawing immense support from the online community and news portals. The hacker backed off, caught off-guard by her bold, decisive move. 

Her supporters have launched their own search for the cyber bully, and have traced his IP address to the US. The Maryland police department and the FBI are yet to make any headway, but the fact that they’re on it is a moral victory. 

Amongst thousands of comments on her post, Filipe Cordeiro’s summarizes just how commendable Taruna’s decision was. “Your action showed that this kind of absurd won’t work anymore,” he wrote, adding, “You took a huge step towards change. From now on, your name is among the list of my personal heroes. Thank you.”

If Taruna’s inspired people, she’s earned her share of detractors too. Swapnil Mohan Tapase, for example, summed up their sentiments with, “First of all I would have given a tight slap to the girl and her boyfriend, because everyone including the police had said never send your private pictures to anyone on social sites…that b*****d should be punished, but this couple should pay some penalty too!”

But such admonition hasn’t dulled Taruna’s resolve. If anything, it’s made her more determined to take on her hacker. Perhaps her brand of boldness is best captured on her Facebook cover photo, which features a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn: You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. 

Not only did she become India’s first transgender principal, pushing the boundaries of societal limitations, she also introduced her community to the existence of actual opportunities and choices. 
When Manabi decided to contribute to the world of education and bring in her expertise, she hadn’t even considered her gender or sexuality to be a parameter of deliberation. And even now, she continues to wear it as just another aspect of her unapologetic, charming personality. We can only hope that someday stories like Manabi’s won’t be anomalies in our society, but mere documentations of reality. 

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