Both men and women vulnerable to online harassment in India

Amidst rising online harassment victims seek strict action


January 17, 2023

/ By / New Delhi

Both men and women vulnerable to online harassment in India

Four in 10 men and women in India fall prey to online harassment through various social media platforms

Across India, online harassment has become a familiar part of the internet nowadays. Four in 10 men and women in India fall prey to online harassment through various social media platforms. Government data says that online harassment has risen five times post-pandemic. The victims demand strict action against harassment.

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On Monday, Delhi Police registered case against unknown persons for making lewd comments about daughters of renowned Indian cricketers, Virat Kohli, M S Dhoni and Rohit Sharma on social media.

Several high-profile celebrities, notably cinestars in India have had to face constant trolls and threats as do journalists like Rana Ayyub who has reported being threatened of bodily harm by trolls through various social media handles.

While the harassment faced by the celebrities is highlighted almost every day, millions of ordinary Indians have to live silently with online harassment that goes far beyond mere threats on Twitter or Facebook. Thousands fall prey each month to various forms of online harassment through emails, posts, texts, images, comments or streaming videos.

And it is not just the women who are targetted, men are also equally vulnerable. Subhash Naik is a 35-year-old progamme manager working with a private firm in Ratnagiri, about 450 km south of Mumbai in Maharashtra. Naik says he, too, has been a victim of cyberbullying and harassment.

“A few months back, I received an obscene text from an anonymous number through WhatsApp, which I didn’t respond to and ignored at that time. For the whole week, I continuously received the texts and then I received a morphed image of mine. I was shocked to see that and did not know how to react as I thought it was going to ruin my whole life if it went viral. As I was clueless and afraid I replied to that number asking the reason behind doing it and revelation of his/her identity,” Naik tells Media India Group.

“I have never been so helpless when in response to my reply, that anonymous person asked for a huge amount of money. I did not have any idea what to do when that person started blackmailing me saying transfer the amount or I will circulate your images. For that whole month, I was depressed and also left my job as I did not want to step outside my home. Finally, I gathered the courage to file a complaint at the cyber police station,’’ says Naik.

Fortunately for Naik, the police managed to track down the perpetrator and arrested him, thus saving Naik from further trauma and prevented the blackmail from materialising. But not everyone is as fortunate as Naik.

According to the data from the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2022, there was a 36 pc increase in cyberstalking and cyberbullying cases in India. It also shows that women and people from the LGBTQIA+ community who have access to digital platforms had faced a disproportionate range of abuses, ranging from trolling to threatening or harassing phone calls.

For both men and women, online harassment is a serious problem that poses a threat to life and affects their mental health. Either a person can be a victim of online sexual harassment or face serious abuses such as threats of physical harm.

Aaliyah H, a 23-year-old woman from Srinagar who graduated from Kashmir University last year, too, has been a victim of online harassment. “Two years back, I received an online invitation from a videographer to collaborate with him for a promotional video. After the shoot was done, he took a few pictures and posted them online. Soon, the pictures were widely circulated on various social media platforms. Until that time, it was fine but when I started noticing that many social media accounts were impersonating me. My picture was all over Fake IDs on Facebook, Instagram as well as on YouTube serving as a thumbnail or clickbait for vulgar videos,” Aaliyah tells Media India Group.

“I realised that it was high time for me to take a stand against the way my picture was being used. It was affecting my reputation and mental peace as well. I could not talk to my family about it because it would have risked many things for me. Therefore, I talked to some of my close friends and filed the complaint through an online portal, though it took almost a month to take note,” she recounts.

However, despite the complaint, the police failed to take any action, says Aaliyah, adding that she had to visit the Cyber Police Station in Srinagar several times to find out what had happened to her complaint, but the police refused to initiate action, she says.

“After filing the report online, the cyber department asked me to visit their office in Srinagar which I could not do as I was out of the station at that time. The cyber department was not cooperative and at a point, I felt I would commit suicide because I tried to plead with the department to help me either catch the person or have the video removed,” Aaliyah adds.

When she saw that the police were not taking her complaint seriously, Aaliyah tried to reach out to the social media platform directly to try and get the video deleted. “I tried to reach YouTube through email so that I can report my query to them but as per their community guidelines, I did not have the copyright over the pictures. The guidelines clearly said that the photographer has the rights. Therefore, I tried to convince the person who had taken the photos to file a copyright violation to YouTube which he always ignored saying you should have known the consequences before putting the pictures online as anyone can use them,” she says.

“Despite the police complaint and complaint to YouTube, some of the accounts are still using my pictures. I feel helpless sometimes and wish that the laws were stricter regarding these matters,” recounts Aaliyah.

There certainly has been a rise in incidents of harassment in India. According to a report by the National Commission for Women in 2021, cases of online harassment had increased by five times since the outbreak of the pandemic. It also said that there were numerous of complaints on the NCW helpline during the lockdown but the number of complaints with police authorities saw a decrease due to the uncooperative nature towards the victim in most of the cases.

The rise in cases has led to calls for stricter laws. However, lawyers believe that the problem is not with the laws, which are adequate, but in their implementation or enforcement, which is lax.

“To curb the online harassments, there are remedies and punishments provided under the law but they are not put in force in most of the cases when a victim files a case as a result of that the victim feels hopeless and helpless. These online applications are not safe in any way and have become a source of crimes. People are vulnerable when it comes to this kind of harassments. Like Tinder, if a person meets online there, you do not know who are you talking to and later leads to heinous crimes,” Jitendra Jha Kumar, a Supreme Court lawyer and managing partner of the Jurists, law offices tells Media India Group.

“There are many children who use the social media accounts and emails of their parents, but parents are not aware what they are doing online or how their children are falling prey to the sexual abuse online,’’ says Kumar.



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