Cyber harassment prevalent in the city

By: Jayashree Narayanan, Hina Fatima Khan, Sanat Sinha, Shadab Nazmi

Sabreen Haziq , a graduate student of Delhi University, vividly remembers how last year, she started to receive calls and messages from an unknown number. “Some random guy would start calling me from a private number, make derogatory remarks and threaten me at times”. Because she did not report this incident, it aggravated to such an extent that a white Honda city car started following her wherever she went. Yet she did not report it and to avoid him, she stopped going out and switched off her cell for a month. Then the calls and the chase stopped.
Such instances of cyber harassments are increasingly becoming common in India. A nature-wise report of the complaints received by National Commission for Women (NCW) from January 2011 till October 2013 shows an increase in the number of reportedcases from nine in 2011 to 27 in 2013.
Cyber stalking does not have any one exact meaning but it can be meant as ‘threatening,online communication which is a blatant intrusion into an individual’s privacy, where the stalker attempts to establish relationships with their victim without their consent’.With the advent of modern technology, such a crimeis a recent phenomenon, with women generally being the targets.
“There is at least one case getting reported every day from the South west Delhi areas of JNU, Chattarpur, Mahipalpur and IIMC. Women in the age group of 18-30 years get continuous calls from unknown numbers (most of them are done by relatives) and they report directly to 100 helpline number and we put this case under section 509 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). Sometimes, we threat the perpetrators as a warning but at times, they get rough on us, thus we take firm actions,” says Amar Singh, Sub Inspector at Vasant Kunj police station.
Presentlyvictims of stalking can file complaints under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which says that whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, or any such misbehavior shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
H.S Gill, former Assistant Commissioner (ACP), Delhi Police, says that once a complaint is received, the inquiry begins with retrieving the call details of the victim or any form of communication through which the harassment has been perpetrated. This is then cross-checked for allegations. In case of private numbers where the mobile number is not visible, “the nodal officers of telecommunication companies like Airtel, Idea, Vodafone in Delhi circle become directly answerable to the Police which help in nabbing the offenders”.
Another way to nab the perpetrators is through surveillance by phone tapping technologies. He recalls an incident around six years back when Sonia Gandhi,Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), got death threatsfrom a young boy in Kolkata. But no case was filedagainst him due to lack of evidence. “Even though, lack of evidential data still posesa threat to cases being solved, the technological expertise has definitely gone up in the last two-three years.” He adds that new and unique ways of cyber stalking and cyber-crime have gone up tremendously. The self-reported demographic survey by Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA) mentions the total cases for 2012 as 394 in comparison to 305 cases for 2011.
Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar, Member of the NCW in charge of cyber-crimes against women mentions, that “these crimes have become too complex and more high-tech because of improvements and access even in villages.” The motives range from denial of relationship proposals to revenge thereof.
“I get several friend requests from strangers on Facebook. When I don’t add them, they send me messages in my inbox and threaten me to add them. Since it’s the social media, I don’t really care but when it started to become incessant calls/texts from strangers, I reported this to the police station. By the time, they trace down the perpetrators’ phone number, he has already changed into a new one. It’s difficult and time consuming,” says Neha Rustagi, an English honors student at Kamala Nehru College, Delhi University who eventually changed her phone number.
The greatest issue with the internet and technological progression is the concept of anonymity and virtual presence.The social media can be regulated by implementing private settings to avoid such incidences but cyber-harassment is still unleashed. Text messages have gone through evolution and many social media like Whatsapp, which provides free text messages to users, has also been a major source of cyber stalkers and the number of such cases is growing further.

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