Chennai: One fine morning Krithika (name changed), a bank employee, was woken up by a desperate call from her close friend. The information shared was scary. All her happiness and excitement on her recent promotion disappeared in a matter of seconds. That call was followed by many other worried calls from her well-wishers. What everyone wanted to inform Krithika was some of her half naked supposedly morphed pictures doing rounds on WhatsApp and social media.
After moments of shock and helplessness, she mustered courage and filed a police complaint. Finally, when the culprit was nabbed, it was none other than her male colleague. It was sheer professional jealousy that prompted her colleague to download her pictures and morph it and circulate it online. It is just an instance where technology becomes a bane and a tool to harass people especially, women.
With Infosys techie S. Swathi's gruesome murder, stalking, both cyber and physical stalking have been discussed widely. Police claimed Ramkumar befriended Swathi on Facebook and had stalked her online and offline before hacking her to death at a suburban railway station. With this incident, more women are coming forward to file complaint against such cases. "Recently added IPC section 354 D defines cyber stalking as repeatedly approaching and monitoring a woman digitally through call, mail or message which the woman doesn't like. And the law says, a victim is always a woman and harasser a man", says Debarati Halder, an advocate and Cyber Victim Counsellor.
In most cases, the stalker would be a person known to the victim. When a relationship turns sour, the 'aggrieved' person sometimes resorts to different means of harassment. Seven out of 10 women DC spoke to said they were victims of various kinds of online harassment. But only two of them had filed a complaint with the police. Social stigma attached to such cases makes women silent sufferers or they leave the platform where they are abused. Changing phone number or deleting profile from social media are the easiest solution many victims resort to. "The silence of the victims only empowers the culprit", added Debarati.
"On an average, we get four to six petitions a week. Most victims do not want to file an FIR but get rid of the menace. In such cases, we have to leave the accused after giving a stern warning", says an officer of city Cyber Crime Cell. Also, the rate of conviction is very less in registered cases because most websites are based abroad and there are no common international laws to share digital evidence, he said.
Although many are of the opinion that taking precaution is better than cure, instances of police and courts advising women not to upload pictures on social networking sites and WhatsApp do not go down well with many. While pointing out the recent comments by high court advising women not to upload pictures online and a police officer in Salem issuing dos' and don'ts for women, senior advocate Sudha Ramalingam lamented that when well meaning people put negative ideas like this into the heads of ordinary people, it sets the clock back and pushes women away from all spheres further. "Sexual offences are very rampant within the families. So, does that mean women should not go home?", asks Sudha angrily.
The main reason why men feel empowered to stalk a woman is because of the silence of women and inaction of police, says Piyush Sethia, a social activist from Salem. Pointing to the recent suicide of Vinu Priya he said, "If police had acted on time, a life could have been saved". In most cases, instead of taking action the victim is advised to be more careful and mostly women are rebuked by the family and society, he added.