CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER
In my blog sometimes back I wrote about privacy issues in regard to sharing selfies in social media @ http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.in/search/label/selfie . I myself am a selfie fan but as I said in my earlier blog, I am concerned about the privacy issues and I avoid sharing selfies publicly. I broke this rule when I started campaigning for a novel cause: for spreading awareness regarding wearing helmet. I created a hashtag #selfieinhelmet and put my own #selfieinhelmet in Twitter and Facebook to invite my friends and general public to share theirs. Till now, I haven’t received much success except a few women friends of mine who wear helmets despite being conscious about their hairstyle. I shared my concern with almost all the news media Tweet handles I follow, some celebrities and my friends. Many of them retweeted, shared #selfieinhelmet. I am still awaiting for people to share their real #selfieinhelmet. But while doing this, I came across another novel idea : #selfiewithdaughter to boost the campaign for raising girl children by families especially in northern Indian regions where daughters are still considered as ‘burdens’ to the families. Started by Sunil Jaglan, the sarpanch of Bibipur village in Hariyana to strengthen the Central government’s save the daughter campaign, #selfiewithdaughter became immensely trending issue when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited all parents, especially fathers to share their #selfiewithdaughter . Social media like Twitter and Facebook was flooded with selfies of proud fathers with their lovely daughters. Women also started sharing their selfies with daughters and finally I got to see many #selfiewithduaghter with both the parents lovingly sharing the space with their daughters. It was a wonderful feeling indeed. But at the same time, many including I myself felt that the #selfiewithdaughter ‘movement’ must be guarded with a note of caution : we all know the presence of paedophiles, women abusers and pranksters in the social media and how they may work to collect images of girls and women to make illegal and unethical money from porno industry. I shared my thought by Tweeting “#selfiewithdaughter may not always b safe in#socialmedia” through my tweet handle @DrDebaratiH . Within a few minutes I got to see the highest trending topic changed into Kavita Krishnan, and #selfiewithdaughter came down to the second position. The power of social media is amazing! Why an individual activist should be pulled up in social media by hundreds of Tweeteratties amidst this beautiful campaign of save the daughters? Because Kavita opined her concern about privacy of daughters. But her words were harsher than anyone else and it directly targeted the Prime Minister himself. From her Tweet handle @ Kavita_krishnan she Tweeted “careful beforesharing #selfiewithdaughter with #LameduckPM. He has a record of stalkingdaughters”. Nonetheless, many did not like her post. This was nothing to do with the present #selfiewithdaughter campaign apparently, but it was in relation to (as the news media tells) an old allegation where controversy brewed up when apparently a particular political leader was audiotaped conversing with police officers for tracking a particular woman under the direction of “saheb” (Narendra Modi, the then chief Minister of Gujarat). Personally I could not fully agree with Krishnan for her this particular statement made in relation to #selfiewithdaughter campaign. She had used her right to speech and expression to opine her concern from political perspective; but I understand that it may have an underlying concern regarding breaching of privacy of women and girl children in the social media. But I felt her concern could have been shown more neutrally keeping the political issue aside. However, we need to remember that she has every right to express her thoughts in her own ways. But this very thought of her attracted trolls to diversify the campaign of #selfiewithdaughter and bring Krishnan in (dirty) limelight. Several people started speaking about raping her, calling her names and inviting others to join them in targeting her in their online trolling. News media immediately started flashing the Tweets targeting Kavita Krishnan as well. To some, the real purpose for #selfiewithdaughter became mockery of main issue.
The question is, how far people can be ‘free’ to express their opinion especially if it is a death threat or rape threat or calling a woman with derogatory names? The courts in our country in many landmark judgements have repeatedly said that political satires, political criticisms etc may not always fall in the restricted speech category as these are essential to keep a healthy democracy alive. In this connection, I would very much look forward to see the court’s reaction if anyone wants to stress upon the issue that Krishnan herself is also liable to justify her statement of calling a certain political personality a stalker of girls. But I reiterate, the underlying holistic concern in her statement which is related to the safety of girls and women and also the possible online abuse of the girls due to large scale sharing of the images in the ongoing #selfiewithdaughter campaigning must not be ignored. Coming to the derogatory comments targeting women, I would not be surprised if some trolls raise their voice stating that if Krishnan can call the PM a ‘stalker of girls’ then why she cannot be targeted with remarks which they feel, may describe her best! Here comes testing of the level of maturity of a healthy civil society. I would rather refer to my previous blog post on Elonis Decision by the US Supreme Court, regarding which scholars and activists like Chemaly and Franks stated that “…….the ruling suggests that the determination of what constitutes threat rests with the speaker and not his audience.”(See See Chemali & Franks, Supreme Court may have online abuse easier, published on June 3, 2015 @ http://time.com/3903908/supreme-court-elonis-free-speech/?xid=tcoshare). Agreed that this case was about a man who did not take name of the estranged wife whom he was actually targeting, and in Krishnan’s case, she had received direct threatening comments, our courts in India still needs to take their own decisions on rape threats, derogatory comments against women in the social media especially when the issue presents sharing opinion on such issues involving large scale public awareness campaigns slightly tinged by political propaganda. But when seen from the perspective of targeting a particular woman (irrespective of who she is and why did she attract the trolls) with derogatory comments, I must say, I condemn such abuses. May be the protesters against Krishnan’s comments could have considered to limit their thoughts to pointing out why she is wrong in this particular context, or why #selfiewithdaughter should go ahead ignoring her remarks. But people should restrain from subjecting women to ‘online entertainment’ by posting rape threats or calling her derogatory names which lowers the morals of a woman. The same thing continues to happen with many other female activists, journalists and writers who stand up and express their concerns through their own ways. But unfortunately the police and the courts remain almost always silent. Even though our laws (The Indian Penal code, Information Technology Act, Indecent representation of women (prohibition) Act etc.) do speak about prohibitory provisions, none of them actually touches cyber bullying or trolling in the cyber space and in particular, bullying or trolling with death or rape threats or derogatory comments targeting women. S.509 IPC do condemn word, gesture etc harming the modesty of women, but it does not cater the need fully. It is understandable that even if there are laws which broadly or narrowly touches the issue of abuse of women in the cyber space, there needs to a positive network to execute the effect of the law; this includes the willing and trained police officers, the lawyers and courts who would be compassionate to the cause and the social media who are willing to pull down direct threat messages once they are alarmed by the victim as well as the criminal justice machinery. Above all, it is the victims who should come up to report and cooperate with criminal justice machinery and face the challenge in proper way by not encouraging others to indulge in counter trolling or bullying.
Let us hope the civil society wakes up with this understanding that if freedom of speech and expression comes with a duty to exercise the same for the benefit of the society and not for causing harm to others, especially women.
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