Since 16th March, 2020 most of the countries started planning for partial lockdown for preventing the fast spreading of Covid -19. By 22nd March, most of the countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and in the USA , Australia etc called for total lock down. India was no exception. Almost all universities, colleges, schools and other workplaces faced the impact of lockdown. People including adults and children became extremely confused as there was no specific indication as when worldwide lock down would be lifted. Europe saw a rapid increase of the Covid-positive patients. USA joined soon. Many Asian countries including India could not afford to let people do their business as usual. Indian government called for a lockdown period for 15 days first. But before the finishing the of 2 weeks period, the government had to reconsider and extended the lockdown period till 3rd May, 2020. However, several State governments in India are considering for further extension because the numbers of Covid 19 patients are increasing. Schools and universities decided to conduct online classes with huge preference to Zoom. Adults and children shifted more to online entertainment because television industry came to a standstill due to lockdown as well. However, the tele industry did consider sharing old versions of the daily soaps.
While people went in lockdown, many took to internet to entertain each other : social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and digital and internet communication apps like WhatsApp etc soon saw a flood of user generated contents which are now hugely consumed by others. Not all of these user generated contents are actually for entertainment for all. There were several contents which were and are still being made specifically to target and harass women and girls. The first platform that started getting contents for gender harassment, especially harassment to women was Zoom app which was being used by most of the educational institutes and workplaces for holding online meetings, classes, webinars etc. In several cases it was seen that Zoom meetings were unauthorizedly accessed by unwanted persons who started posting harassing, sexually explicit comments, disrupted meetings with exposing private parts, showing masturbation etc. Soon Zoom authorities came with a pubic declaration that cyber security and safety measures of the platform were not strong enough to tackle such sudden huge use. Who could actually be held responsible for such unauthorized access then? The web platform implied that organizers of the zoom meetings and classes must take precautionary measures. But were we really ready and aware and to take such precautionary measures? Probably no. The Zoom app mismanagement actually led to four kinds online crimes :
Unauthorized access to the meetings
Data privacy infringement
Creation of sexually explicit contents
Making gestures etc to harm the modesty of women
While this is just one kind of offence, online harassment of women did not remain restricted to this only. Given the fact that during lock-down most of the stakeholders of criminal justice machinery including the police and courts and the web companies are working with limited man power and infrastructure facilities, perpetrators have taken this time to escalate harassment. The communication apps like Whatsapp, Facebook messenger etc are now flooding with online bullying. This is seen especially in the school and college groups. These platforms have become chosen platforms for throwing harsh, insulting, intimidating comments towards classmates, batch-mates and also towards the teachers, especially female teachers, colleagues and users. I myself had been targeted by some bullies and stalkers on Facebook messenger and Whats App as well.
Apart from this, the other patterns of online harassment which has raised to a maximum height during the Covid -19 lockdown stage, that came in my observation is creation of impersonating profiles on social media. We must however appreciate the fact that impersonation by using unique identities have been considered as an offence Under S.66C of the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008), which speaks about punishment for identity theft and says “whoever, fraudulently or dishonestly make use of the electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to rupees one lakh”
Several of such impersonating profiles are of the nature of revenge porn. some may also fall in the category of sexually explicit and voyeuristic contents , but may not have the mens rea as that of revenge porn ( the element of revenge taking mentality is not present), especially since these images may have been captured in the public places or may have been collected from other profiles etc. TikTok and YouTube are of no exception in this matter. People are restricted in their homes; they have taken to TikTok content creations which may include uploading contents including women doing different activities, that may have been captured in public places. Consider videos showcasing women cooking and sweating, eating at weddings, resting at home by lying down or in a leisure posture, women and girls walking on the roads, at college/school campuses, working in a working place etc: TikTok content creators may take such audio visual images, pickup any specific posture of women that may be consumed more by viewers and may upload such clippings with texts (sometimes sexually explicit) and background sounds that may be available on Tiktok or may be created by the users . One must not forget that TikTok was questioned earlier on their lack of due diligence for not taking down abusive contents earlier by Supreme court of India: Google Play services removed TikTok from their platform as well. But soon TikTok cleared all legal hassles and came back in android services again.  No doubt, the App is back again for being (mis)used to harm the modesty of women and infringing the privacy of women and children during quarantine time when the victims may feel more restrained to reach out to criminal justice machinery and the websites.
But we should not think that this is an exclusive problem of India only. I did get to hear about sudden growth of online harassment targeting women from different regions of the world: be it USA, Australia, South Africa, UK , Ireland or even our neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh or SriLanka .women, including working women, volunteers who may have come to different Asian countries from the US etc, health workers, law students and professionals, every where women are facing similar problems to reach out to criminal justice system to report crimes. Even if they may reach out, the police and the courts and the websites as well are not in a position to offer a quick help.
Several stakeholders may provide several suggestions to stay safe online and maintain the hygiene of the devices to save ourselves, especially women from rising level of cyber crimes during lock down period. But are we concerned about the mental health conditions and impact of victimisation of online harassment on women during lock down? Several women may be living with abusive partners, husbands who may have cheated on them, or even other women family members who may have been victimised online and who may in order to share the trauma, disclosed the victimisation to the former. Unlike trauma that may generate from physical harassments, online harassments during lock down may bring unique traumatising effects. Devices handled by women may be detained and they may not be allowed to contact anyone in case the harasser spreads his vicious net to reach out to husband or other male members of the family. Victim women may even go to the extent of self-harming too. They may even try to destroy the evidences of online harassment by deleting the contents from their phones if the harassment is in the nature of bullying or threatening message etc. In case of revenge porn content or in the case of non-consensual image sharing, victims may even try to block the profiles without saving the evidences. In several other cases, they may take up irrational coping mechanism like counter bullying or contacting the perpetrator asking him to take down the contents. they may even try to contact amateur hackers, which may prove extremely dangerous for them. Emotionally such women victims may become completely withdrawn and may even show aggressiveness as well.
What could be done in such situations as lock down in India has been extended for the third time. My opinion in this regard is as follows:
The police control rooms in each district must open a dedicated 24-hour service unit specially equipped with infrastructure and properly trained police personnel who may handle such digital harassment cases and evidences to receive complaints from the victims, especially women victims of online harassment.
Some types of online offences have been recognised by our domestic laws; some however have not received any focussed laws. But that does not mean that only offences that may contain complaints towards creating porn contents, threatening and defamatory contents etc, may be given priority and FIR may be registered for such offences which may fall within the meaning of cognizable offences. The police must entertain all complaints and must guide the victims in all cases.
Police may rope in NGOs, cyber crime and cyber law experts to create an expert committee in every district and metropolitan area to provide immediate counselling to the victim as how to save the evidences of online harassments and how to share the same with the police for the purpose of investigation.
Victims may get an immediate feel of relief when they are told that their complaints are registered. The police therefore must not neglect to look into each type of compliant. Such gestures from the police may prevent the women victims from committing self harm or from taking any irrational steps to saver their reputation and that of their families.
Courts and prosecutors must also consider extending their support whereby judicial magistrates may join such endeavours to support the victims. We should remember that it is only adults, but children may also be involved as victims as well as perpetrators. Unless the courts are extending supports through electronic mediums, it would become extremely difficult to win the trust of victims as well as general public for Criminal Justice machinery at this time of lock down.
Last but not the least, we must not forget that in cases of online harassment of women, web companies are the foremost liable sectors. The Due diligence clause must not be suspended due to lock down. The web companies must consider each and every take down request and reports on objectionable contents and must adhere to Indian legal understanding for restricting the access to such contents.
Indeed, the Lockdown period is a testing time for the entire human civilisation. But if we do not restrict unethical and illegal usage of information technology, the impact of online harassment may be more traumatising than the Covid-19 experience.
Stay safe, stay strong and do not misuse the Information and digital communication technology.
Couple of days ago my friend shared an alarming news
with me on Facebook about WhatsApp. It says that several cyber security think
tanks including Cyber Peace Foundation are now finding out how WhatsApp groups
are circulating child sexual abuse videos and how these contents are growing
is not an uncommon incident now. In 2015 from Centre for Cyber Victim
Counselling, we had done an empirical research titled “Harassment via WhatsApp in Urban and Rural India: A Baseline Survey
This research was conducted in three cities namely Tirunelveli, Kolkata and
Delhi with responders from the age group of 19-40. Even though this research
did not include survey on WhatsApp groups , but it did emphasize on personal
harassment or receiving of the sexually explicit images, harassing videos of
others etc. Some of the findings of this report are as follows:
stated that they are aware of the safety tools in WhatsApp and 42.7% said they
feel it is safer than other internet communication services. 41.2% stated that
they were not aware of the safety tools and 13.7% stated that they don’t feel
that WhatsApp is safer than other internet communication services. 1.5% did not
want to tell about their knowledge of awareness regarding safety tools in
WhatsApp and 11.5% did not want to tell about their feelings whether WhatsApp
is safer than other internet communication services. 24.4% stated that they
have heard about the safety tools in WhatsApp but have no direct knowledge
about it. 32.1% stated that they have heard about other internet communication
services, but they do not have direct knowledge, whether WhatsApp is safer
because they do not use other services.
answer to the question whether they had received any sexually explicit or
obscene images including videos/images of rape, sexual abuse of women or children
or men or LGBT people etc, among the 131 respondents, 11.5% stated that they
had received sexually explicit or obscene images, 51.9% stated they did not
receive such images and 2.3% did not want to answer. 34.4% stated that they are
not aware of being targeted with such images because they do not use WhatsApp
or have stopped using the services.
suggests that WhatsApp had been a “chosen platform” by predators since long.
WhatsApp has become more dearer to predators than other social media websites
like Facebook or Instagram especially for those including pedophiliacs or
persons who create and circulate abusive
videos including sexual abuse videos of women ? Let’s
have a reality check about WhatsApp here:
What is WhatsApp and how it works: As we had mentioned in the research report, WhatsApp
messenger was started approximately in 2009 in the US by Jan Koumand Brian
Action as a “better SMS alternative” (WhatsApp, 2014) and it is available for iPhone,
Blackberry, Android, Windows phone, Nokia etc. This app uses the user’s phone number
as the basic verification mode and it does not support calls via VoIP
(Schrittwieser,Fr¨uhwirt, Kieseberg, Leithner, Mulazzani, Huber, & Weippl,
2014). Some of the basic features of WhatsApp include status update, profile
picture update, uploading of address book (Schrittwieser, et. al., 2014),
options to create/join groups (Terpstra, 2013), updates about location,
uploading and circulating photos and videos and voice recordings. Typically
WhatsApp verification may include a three stage procedure which involves (i)
logging on to the download page of WhatsApp @ https://www.whatsapp.com/download/
and clicking on the chosen device icon and start downloading; (ii) the server
then sends a 4-digit PIN number by SMS to the prospective user’s phone by SMS
for verification and authentication (Schrittwieser, et. al., 2014), (iii) the
user copies the code to the WhatsApp’s application graphical user interface
(GUI) and after cross checking by the WhatsApp server the app gets activated on
the phone of the user (Schrittwieser, et. al., 2014). Once connected with
WhatsApp, the user can get the information about other WhatsApp users by simply
checking his/her phone address book or call log history or Gmail address book.
This is because WhatsApp may access the user’s contact list or address book to
keep track of other mobile phone numbers who use the WhatsApp services and may
store this information on the server (WhatsApp, 2014, see sub- para B in Para
3) to get people connected instantly, profile pictures of other users and one
WhatsApp user may get instantly connected to others through the server.
How do users create network on WhatsApp and how the
groups may be busted?
After downloading the app and activating the same, the
user may get connected to his friends or likeminded people by doing a simple
search in his phone address book. Other numbers with WhatsApp applications may
show up. Users may choose to circulate their messages in several ways through
By using broadcasting feature whereby a single text/audio visual message may be conveyed to a batch of people : The Boradcasting list may be created as below:
forwarding the message to maximum five recipients at one time. Now, this “forwarding”
may reach a wider recipient list if it is done in a group. WhatsApp group can be
created by any individual by going to
the chat tab and creating a new group. The image below may explain how groups
can be created on WhatsApp:
WhatsApp groups can be private or be public as well. Most of the groups who circulate images /contents of
sexual abuse including for self-gratification
or group gratification, may keep their group private so that the group may not be disturbed by any 3rd
party monitoring authority including the police. These group members generally
may have a mutual understanding and trust whereby the contents shared by them
would not be reported outside. The
members may necessarily download /save the sexual abuse/harassment
videos/contents in their own devices for
individual gratification or for unethical gaining by further circulation as
well. The end to end encryption by WhatsApp may make it more favorable for such
group members to widely discuss and circulate such contents.
groups on the other
hand are more open groups where people may join for discussions and it may not
necessarily private for those whom the admin/s have invited or made them join. Unlike
the private groups, public groups may be monitored if any third party monitoring authority joins the
discussion in disguise or any other group member decides to bring in the police
or other monitoring stakeholders. In both these cases, admin’s responsibilities
have been scrutinized by courts in India. The recent report suggests that the courts
have held responsible for allowing to
spread seditious, inciting messages. WhatsApp group members and admins have also
been booked for creating /circulating child sexual abuse materials for sexual
What if the group admin is an underage user?
It is important to know the age barrier about WhatsApp
users. There are infact not two, but three options given by WhatsApp. Lets check
minimum age criterion for European region including European Union countries is
other countries the, the minimum age criteria is 13 unless the domestic laws of
the said countries have fixed a higher age for using of WhatsApp.
both, a child can use the WhatsApp services of the parents if the parent allows
the child to use the services under his/her monitoring.
This in fact shows that a
child may use WhatsApp, may create his/her own profile and may create contents
him/herself for private or public sharing on WhatsApp with whoever he/she
What happens to the producer/distributor of the offensive
In broader understanding,
the child is legally permitted to create content which he/she thinks can be circulated. Now,
this has been a question for several courts : when a child is creating a sexting
content and circulating the same with fellow children (including his/her
boy/girl friend ), how the courts (and
the laws )would treat him/her ? Is he the perpetrator? Is he the victim? Or is
he a ‘child’ with no liabilities?S.67B of the Information technology Act,
2000(amended in 2008), Ss. 13 and 14 of the Protection of children from sexual
offences Act, 2012 clearly mention that “whoever’ creates, circulates, produces
etc contents depicting children in
sexually contents may be penalized. These cane be considered non-baliable, which
would suggest that the punishment can be heavier. Similarly, Ss. 67 and 67A of the Information Technology
Act, 2000(amended in 2008) also penalizes ‘anyone’ who creates, distributes
etc sexually explicit and obscene
materials. S. 354C of the Indian Penal Code also touches upon penalizing men
who private images of woman who would
not consent for sharing such contents with third parties . S.375 and 376 of the
Indian penal Code also touches upon capturing rape videos and storing or
circulating the same. These offences can also be non-bailable and can have
The contents that the children would have created also carries
significance: if a
child creates a sexting video or sexual abuse video or a non consensual porn
image/content or even a revenge porn content
and sends it to his friend/s, the recipient may decide not to receive the
content if from the look at the content or the text attached with it, the recipient
feels that it should not be opened or should not be further circulated because
it contains ‘bad stuff’. WhatsApp is
smart enough to have created limited policy guideline and security feature
whereby one can report his/her child who may be using WhatsApp without parental
guidance and the parents feel that the
child may be doing /victimized due to illegal /risky contents and
connections. It says
“If your underage child created a WhatsApp account, you can show them
how to delete their account. You can learn how to delete an account in our Help
Center.If you’d like to report an account belonging to someone underage, please
send us an email. In your email, please provide the following documentation and
redact or hide any unrelated personal information:
Proof of ownership of the WhatsApp number (e.g., copy of
government-issued identification card and phone bill with the same name)
Proof of parental authority (e.g., copy of birth or adoption certificate
for the underage child)
Proof of child’s date of birth (e.g., copy of birth or adoption
certificate for the underage child)
We’ll promptly disable the WhatsApp account if it’s reasonably
verifiable that the account belongs to your underage child. You won’t receive
confirmation of this action. Our ability to review and take appropriate action
on a report significantly improves with the completeness of the information
requested above. “
Removal /deactivating of the
said account is however at the discretion of WhatsApp especially when they
would not be reasonably convinced .
But in case the reporting
individual is not the parent of the
child who may be doing illegal stuff or
who may be a potential victim, WhatsApp suggests to contact the parents of the
For adult wrong doers,
WhatsApp has a typical formula which is followed by almost all social media
companies : they would suggest to block the number so that the user of that
particular number would not be able to contact the blocker unless the earlier is being unblocked . Here
is what WhatsApp suggests regarding how to block a number:
The producer/distributor of the offensive content has
been arrested. What about the offensive image?
The above information would
not serve much purpose for blocking /reporting of the content unless the same
is considered as an offending subject through
a police report. In such case, the said content may be made disabled from their
own server, but they would rather work like email or SMS and would not access individual
devices to dig out the offensive content to block and disable it. In such case,
even if the persons (owning the WhatsApp numbers and profiles) may be blocked, the contents may keep on circulating
unless these have been ‘ordered ‘ to be disabled from the server. This is how the objectionable contents float
from one device to another and reach out to millions after the original sender
may have deleted from his device to save himself or he may have been arrested
by the police.
Nothing but a police report
about the said content therefore could be the best answer for blocking the
content from being further circulated. But a few things can not be ignored when
this is suggested: the police must act accordingly to make WhatsApp delete the
content from its server and block the circulation whenever it appears on
WhatsApp from which ever device. But this may become a herculean task especially
when the police and the courts may
feel challenged due to lack of
infrastructure and proper laws. As long as this does not take place, WhatsApp
users have to be responsible enough to not to circulate such contents even if
they receive it from known or unknown numbers. Not to be forgotten, the police
may arrest individuals who may store child sexual harassment videos /images
unknowingly as well. But the unfortunate fact is this may not be the same for
adult sexual abuse cases. But if the users use WhatsApp responsibly, the problem
may definitely be address.
Please note : Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use information provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2019), ” WhatsApp reporting of women and child abuse videos: The common understanding vs the reality” 29th April, 2019 , published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com
Couple of days ago hundreds of WhatsApp user may have come across a small message with each of the messages that they may have received from their Whatsapp friends : the message indicated that from now onwards except the sender and the receiver, no one (not even WhatsApp) would be able to decrypt any message that is encrypted from end to end. A simple meaning of this is, when I send a message to one of my friends in WhatsApp, the algorithm key that I am using to encrypt my message can not be ‘opened’/translated/seen/understood /accessed by anyone other than that particular friend to whom the message is intended for and sent to. The sender may understand whether her message has been delivered to the intended recipient by seeing the double ‘tick’ sign and once they are blue in colour, the sender may assume that the message has been actually seen and read by the recipient. WhatsApp in its own version says “WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption is available when you and the people you message use the latest versions of our app. Many messaging apps only encrypt messages between you and them, but WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. This is because your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them. For added protection, every message you send has its own unique lock and key. All of this happens automatically: no need to turn on settings or set up special secret chats to secure your messages.” (https://www.whatsapp.com/security/). And how would we know whether the message is encrypted or not? Whatsapp says :
“To verify that a chat is end-to-end encrypted
Open the chat.
Tap on the name of the contact or group to open the contact info/group info screen.
Tap Encryption to view the QR code and 60-digit number.
If you and your contact are physically next to each other, one of you can scan the other’s QR code or visually compare the 60-digit number. If you scan the QR code, and the code is indeed the same, a green checkmark will appear. Since they match, you can be sure no one is intercepting your messages or calls.If the codes do not match, it’s likely you’re scanning the code of a different contact, or a different phone number. If your contact has recently reinstalled WhatsApp, or switched devices, we recommend you refresh the code by sending them a new message and then scanning the code.” (https://www.whatsapp.com/faq/en/general/28030015)
So what does it mean? A secured conversation? Respite from hackers? No disturbance from unknown persons? By now, internet has been flooded with write-ups, analysis and discussions on whether the encryption policy of WhatsApp is good or bad for its subscribers. Some says it was indeed needed because it would save subscribers from unwanted government surveillances, hackers and unethical profit makers who see internet as a place for easily available images which may be ‘sold’ to the porn market. Some opine that this encryption policy would make it impossible for the police to help the victims of cyber crimes including women and children. Before beginning any discussion on this, we must understand about encryption and decryption policies that is the centre of issues here. Encryption ( which means converting a data into codes which can not be simply intercepted ) is a necessary part of every internet/digital communication system and encryption policies may be framed based on the laws of the hosting nation (of the web company) and the company policies which is enabling such services. India does not have any specific Rules regarding encryption policies under the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008), even though S.84A of the Act authorises the government to implement Rules regarding this. Encryption is not complete without decryption which is a process of opening such encrypted data. Every data which is encrypted, must necessarily have the right ‘keys’ to be decrypted, otherwise the intention behind encrypting a data would have no meaning. Decryption however is defined by Information Technology (Procedure and safeguards for interception, monitoring and decryption of information) Rules, 2009 created under S.69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008). It needs to be noted that decryption policies are also generally guided by the laws of the hosting country. But at the same time, each web company must necessarily abide by the laws of the place of ‘business’ as well. This means that even if a web company has its own policies regarding encryption to provide extra security to its subscribers, it must abide by the laws of the land of the subscribers to enable the government for legitimate surveillance and also for tackling online crimes. We now know that WhatsApp is now the most chosen medium to generate messages or spread messages /text/images (including those which are ‘illegal’). Often in cases of civil/political unrest, one may note that the police administration may suggest for complete blockage of messaging services like WhatsApp. This again falls under S.69A of the information Technology Act,2000(amended in 2008) which authorises the government to issue direction for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource.
But when it comes to crimes against women and children, I see no positive development even after creating such extra layer of security. There are instances of approaching women in their private whatsapp numbers for harassing them, accessing private photographs (already available in other social media and circulating them either ‘as it is’ or the morphed version of the same, threatening and blackmailing women with such images etc. What is more disturbing is, even after the encryption policies are rolled out by WhatsApp, no attempt has been taken to initiate a proper reporting mechanism. In the recently held UNICEF India meeting on expert consultation of online child safety, I had expressed my concern in this regard as well. At the most what an offended subscriber can do, is to block the harassing ‘number’ and leave a group if he/she is added to it without his/her consent. The harassing WhatsApp profile may still stay at large with the private images and information of the victim to upload them in other social media including YouTube or adult sites. Similarly, if not blocked, the harassing profile may continue to send bullying, derogatory, demeaning, insulting messages to the victim ‘uninterruptedly’. So what is the use of encryption policy then? It actually provides a half baked solution, i.e, protection against hacking. It may probably encourage more sexting because such images and messages may stay comfortably and permanently with the sender and the recipient only. But again, if there is a case of jilted love affair, no one, not even WhatsApp encryption policies may prevent possible creation of revenge porn materials on the same platform and also on the web. But here one must not be misguided by the fact that in such cases, the police would not be able to help nab the criminal due to encryption policies of WhatsApp. In such situations again, the law takes the same course of action as is the case for any other social media crimes against women, with off course limitations when the harasser is situated outside the jurisdiction of India, even though Information technology Act has extra jurisdictional scopes as well.
It is however unfortunate to note that unlike several EU countries and Canada, our courts and government are unable to take strong actions against the web companies who are not complying with the local laws in matters of assisting the governments and criminal justice machineries to nab the criminal or in the investigation. There are lots of techno-legal issues which needs to be settled to achieve this in India, which includes proper training to the police, the lawyers and the judges. We have highest number of subscribers for WhatsApp, but awareness regarding safety issues is almost nil. Unless subscribers are made aware of the positive and negative sides of the technology that they are using, no policy, including this encryption policy may help reducing crimes online.
Let us spread awareness rather than defamatory ‘viral news’. Lets join hands to stop cyber crimes against women.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2016),“WhatsApp encryptions: does it really protect women and children from cyber crimes?”24thApril, 2016, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/
It had been months since I last wrote my blog on cyber crimes against women because of my other commitments. I had been travelling to Meghalaya, to Bhubaneswar and to Kolkata for attending seminars and workshops on cyber crimes as a resource person to talk on cyber crimes against women. Yes, all three included taking flights and then taking taxis to respective accommodations. This is the first time that I was continuously travelling with one or two weeks gap and I immensely enjoyed my journey with my new smart phone. On previous occasions I could never use the camera devices within the flight because I was not that comfortable either with the journey in the flights or with handling camera along with my books, papers and flight documents. I was a novice. But this time, I was smarter. I kept the mobile smart phone handy and could capture some wonderful moments in the flight. Well, and why not when I got the lyricist Illayaraja as my VIP co-passenger…..like all others, I too got a selfie with him and proudly circulated it among my friends (obviously after taking his permission). In all these three occasions I immensely enjoyed the learning sessions in other speaker’s sessions and I loved arguing about my understanding of laws related to S.66A of the Information Technology Act and other related provisions. I loved roaming around in the cities either by walking or by taxi. The most surprising for me was definitely the taxi system in Kolkata since I never thought like other cities Kolkata will also have luxury cars turned into taxis putting a great competition for our good and old Yellow taxis.
Then happened the Uber taxi rape case in Delhi with this unfortunate yet brave woman who was molested and raped by this rapist taxi driver who was driving the taxi operated by Uber.
No, I did not use any app for booking my taxies and it was quite new for me as well. I was still following the old rule of booking the taxi from the hotel or getting a taxi from the shopping mall by either directing talking to the driver or through prepaid taxi-counters. The Uber cab rape case made me think twice as what I should learn about using technology while travelling. Let me tell you, that the one and only “page” I follow for road safety is the page by Safetipin.com, even though I have never contributed to the site and I know the data thus provided in such apps for positive gain of the society, may be misused by miscreants as well. But Uber case was altogether very different. The cab was registered with the company who runs it from their head office in the US and through the mobile app, one can book the cabs in selected cities in India. What the customer generally gets to know is the number of the car, the photograph and cell phone number of the driver. This particular cab did not have certain basic security features including the name and photograph and the photocopy of the driving license of the driver. The victim was raped and as has been reported by the news media, the driver allegedly threatened to kill victim if she dared to report. Note that Uber was supposed to supervise whether the driver and the cab were well monitored through GPS . But in this case, the car did not have the GPS and the driver did not have any sign of it in his mobile as well. The victim however showed her smartness in using the smart-phone for taking photograph of the number plate of the car and using it as an evidence for lodging the FIR to the police. I can’t stop praising her guts as even after being molested and threatened, she was not cowed down by threatening and could click the image of the car, which was used as a vital evidence to nab the offender and also take action against the Uber . The company was also pulled in by the prosecution and Uber services were banned in couple of cities in India as they failed in providing proper safe services due to their lacklastering verification process. This can be a fine example of tort liability for every law student in India. But what the Uber cab victim could not do the other few women did in different parts of India; consider the Rohtak sisters whose video of hitting some boys because they were allegedly disturbing the two girls went viral in the internet. Even though later it was claimed by some that these sisters were not defending themselves, but actually beating the boys for public attention, it further created a trend among many to use smart devices for capturing the victimisation or post victimisation scenes. Consider the video of this young woman who was ‘protesting’ body touch by a co-passenger in the Indigo flight recently; the video went viral in the internet. It did not show the complainant, neither the act of touching or molestation, but the alleged harasser and some passengers who were ready to leave the flight. Again, this video claims further benefit of doubt as has been stated by the person who was being protested against. True, no woman can immediately switch on the camera devices to capture the moments of molestation if she is being touched or molested, but when a man or other bystanders take the video or capture images, that may have a better chance to defend the victim’s claim than this one.
This digital trend similar to “naming and shaming”, is the trend of “sharing, showing and shaming”. The newest of this trend is the circulation (initiated through WhatsApp ) of the images of some men who were allegedly raping a woman (and now the images are floating in the Facebook and other social media and news channel as well). Activist Sunitha Krishnan spread the images for tracing the rapists. I am not aware as how the rape scenes have gone viral from the rapists or the bystanders, but definitely if the allegations are real, then this is another case of rapists behaviour of what I call “rape while I tape”, meaning recording the rape for his own pleasure which is an example of extremely sick mentality. But my question is how far “sharing, showing and shaming” can be beneficial to victims, as well as the society? Not always it can be beneficial. It can be risky as well . I agree with Professor Danielle Citron, writer of the book Hate crimes in Cyber space, which I had the privilege of reviewing, where she discusses about risks involved in naming and shaming (pp.109-111). Similarly, in cases of “sharing, showing and shaming”, the victim woman may use her devices to record the traces of victimisation, but it further needs to be forensically proved and again, the burden of proof lies on the victim as well as the prosecution. The ‘perpetrator’ can always claim to be portrayed wrongly. Further, tell me how many of the police officials who may be contacted with such digital records taken by the victim herself, would believe the victims? I tell it from my own experiences of dealing with victims of crimes including cyber crimes, not many police officials are even able to safely record the images from the victim’s devices. It may bring further secondary harassment to victims when she is ridiculed by the moral police groups or supporters of the alleged harasser.
But brave women, I salute you for what you have done and wish that your struggle is rewarded. This reminds me of the hard truth again …… technology is a double edged weapon and it may not always help the women even when it is used with immense hope that it would actually help.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2015), “When technology can(not) save the brave women” “ 6th February,,2015, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/
When a young couple was caught on camera kissing and hugging each other in Kerala, and it was labelled as ‘immoral activity’ which India would not tolerate, started the online Kiss of Love campaign in Facebook. A brief research on this campaign would show that people supporting it are basically spreading the message against moral policing, which unfortunately has become very much ‘happening’ in India for past few years. In the Indian society moral policing begins right from our own homes. Consider a Twin or an adolescent child asking his parents about what is sex and you may in the very next minute, presume what answer he might get: either the (progressive) parents would tell him that this is nothing but a process of reproduction, or the (orthodox) parents would thrash him and ask him to stop speaking with his friends who are over enthusiastic about the subject, or curtail his TV timing. Rarely any parent would feel that the children of Technology era may find their answer in the internet without letting their parents even having a trace of it. our generation who were connected to our friends and relatives through landline phones and snail mails and our parents or grandparents could never have imagined that sexual gratification of oneself could be achieved by exchanging sexted photographs through phones; mostly grew up watching young couples doing such ‘immoral activities’ like kissing and hugging in shady places. Some of the much popular places of young couple of our generation in various metro cities were Victoria Memorial in Kolkata or Lal Bag garden in Bangalore or the Marina beach in Chennai . Other than these, bushy and lonely places in the colleges or Universities also provided excellent ‘private’ places for young couples. Unlike these days, couples did not have in- built camera devices with them to capture the private moments, but there were ‘spies’ (mostly engaged by the families), who would act as agents of moral policing by taking voyeur pictures only to either motivate the parents to forcefully stop the rendezvous or make a police complaint against the boy for harassing the girl. In some cases such acts of moral policing had also been used to defame the girl and her family. Many of such young couples may not finally make a strong couple and start a family. Even in this generation also, this observation stands true. There are umpteen amounts of resources available which may vouch that either the girl was emotionally overpowered by the boy, who wanted enjoy the forbidden pleasure; or both of them wanted to enjoy sexual stimulation by non-penetrative body contact which may include kissing, rubbing, hugging etc. For matured and older teens and young adults of extremely orthodox families, this may be the result of suppression of sexual fantasies. But could such activities like kissing be called ‘immoral’ when done in public places? While the Indian Penal Code gives a broader view on this in S.294(a) by stating that any obscene act done in public is punishable by law; for senior teens it may become even more risky with the existence of Prevention of children from sexual offences Act,2012. But note that none of these laws explain what is ‘immoral’ or what is ‘obscene’. However, there are some regional laws which have covered such subjects under the broader nuance of ‘nuisance’ in public; for example, Police Acts in many metro cities such Kolkata, Karnataka, Bombay police Acts etc, gives power to any officer to take action against any individual for exposing oneself indecently in public places or committing wilful nuisance in public places. While the word ‘indecent’ has also a broader connotation quite like the word ‘obscenity’ under the Indian laws, kissing in public with sexual connotation has been tagged as a subject of indecency due to these laws which were influenced by Indian culture as well as British colonial understanding of ruling the country. But our judiciary has shown an extra ordinary modern mind set when it comes to supporting these laws or police actions for arresting couples for kissing in public. Consider this one case in 2009 where the Delhi High Court refused to accept the case against a young married couple who were caught kissing in the metro station; the High court ruled that kissing by newly married couple in public place can not be called obscene(http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Kissing-in-public-by-married-couple-not-obscene-HC/articleshow/4066941.cms) ; or consider the case of Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty kissing case which attracted huge comments from moral policing groups. In 2007 Gere was sentenced to be arrested for kissing Shilpa on the dais where they were promoting AIDS awareness campaign by a Rajasthan Court. Subsequently the Supreme court quashed the order stating that there was nothing obscene in the act of Gere kissing Shilpa.
But then why such hype about kissing in public?
I am one who opposes the idea of publicising emotions, especially those with sexual connotation in public. 15 years back as a fresh law graduate when I arrived in Chennai, I had been a victim of such moral policing when I was ‘caught’ patting my the-then boy friend, now husband as I was appreciating him for one of his scholarly articles. I was warned not only by the parents of some adult women who stayed in the working women’s hostel, but also by the matron and other board members of the Hostel. They felt by seeing me other women would also pick up this habit. It was alarming for me as I understood Tamil Nadu is extremely orthodox when it comes to public display of emotion to your boyfriend or husband. But on the very next day I did get to see so many couples in the Marina beach doing a bit more than what I did. May be I should have been bold enough to confront the society. But the ‘damage’ was already done. I started realising the fact that if one publicly displays his/her emotions the protestors may warn or create a havoc not because they are propagating the so called ‘decent’ culture of India, but because they may also instantly feel the suppressed sexual desire to touch the ‘target’ and ‘experiment’ the same activities. My realisation was not born out of imagination. It was due to several write-ups about mob-sexual violence and sexual psychology of people who were brought up by families where sexual violence was considered as normal trick for ‘taming’ women. I was not bold and aware as the NALSAR university girls who fought back the people who were filming them when they were enjoying their farewell party at a pub (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/people/Wronged-girls-now-ready-to-fight-back/articleshow/19542082.cms). But now when I am aware, I am still a little rigid; but don’t fall in the strict group of moral police who would thrash the young couple. The public kissing campaign can neither get full support from me as my understanding says there may be some (rare) incidents where campaigners especially women may have to face unwanted harassment.
My understanding has one more reason. Consider some instances when young women receive some ‘smily’ and it is not to be smiled at all….. women receiving ‘kiss’ through apps in their digital devices has started becoming an alarming issue now. In the digital place too we have private as well as public place and when a stranger starts sending ‘kiss’ to a woman either in the public chat room or private profiles, it becomes not only annoying, but also frightening to the ‘target’. I have seen many women who had received such ‘kiss’ from strangers or little known acquaintances, start feeling extremely uncomfortable in the digital space. The signal is clear; if kissing in public place is not a ‘crime’ then why would sending a ‘kiss’ online be a crime? We need to understand that every revolution, every positive improvement has a side effect and it depends upon how the message is being interpreted by individuals. While kissing or physical touching by two lovers in public places especially in serene atmosphere or lonely places can be a sweet experience for them, the ‘scene’ may not leave a sweet memory for many. Digital place anonymity has posed a dangerous question on the safety of women and activities such as ‘kissing in public’ (even if it is between two lovers or if the kiss is not made with sexual connotation) may also have a darker shadow in the digital space.
We need more awareness and education regarding usage of digital space and the most important; we need to have better sex-education, health and hygiene education in the schools. Let us hope love spreads everywhere and in a very comfortable way not leaving behind any track to let hate or mischievousness destroy the beautiful feeling of human beings.