Hyderabad: Since the Disha rape case, WhatsApp groups in the Telugu states have been flooded with messages listing police helpline numbers, most of which are fake. Both the Hyderabad and Cybera-bad police have themselves tweeted and issued press releases warning the public against such messages.
For instance, many reported the number 9969777888. The messages circulated on WhatsApp and Facebook claimed women using taxis and autorickshaws could send the vehicle’s registration to this number and their ride would be tracked. Some versions even asked women to share their live locations on WhatsApp.
The number became so popular that on December 3, Hyderabad police had to tweet that it was “Fake News”. Today, calls to this number are met with “this number no longer exists”.
Another number widely shared is 7837018555. Mes-sages claim Telangana police is offering free rides to women who are unable to find transport between 10 pm and 6 am. This turned out to be an initiative of Ludhiana police in Punjab. It was circulated in Maharash-tra the same way. Cele-brities such as author Harinder Sikka of “Calling Sehmat” fame shared these messages on Twitter. The Ludhiana police received over 3,000 calls within a few days, ultimately forcing them to tweet a clarification.
The “free ride” concept was so enticing that a popular English daily also reported on December 4 that a pilot project "Women on Wheels" was planned by Hyderabad police which would pick up and drop women at night.
However, inspector general (Women Safety) Swati Lakra told Deccan Chronicle that no such “free ride” service exists.
“The reporter did not confirm with us. We don’t have any such service. However, women who are in distress can always call 100. The police will make sure the women are transported out of any distressing situation,” she said.
Another number circulated is 9833312222, claiming to be a WhatsApp “Nirbhaya helpline.” It was later reported that it is a helpline number started in 2015 by the Government Railway Police (GRP) for Mumbai. Today, it does not exist.
There are legitimate messages as well. A popular message claimed that one could call 7901099445 in distress on the city’s Outer Ring Road. This number is correct.
Pratik Sinha, editor of AltNews, a fact-checking website, said such messages get circulated anytime there is a major crime. “Emotions are often high in such times. After the (Disha) rape case, messages of fake helpline numbers were circulated across the country. This has been a consistent pattern when it comes to misinformation,”he said.
It was impossible to know who wrote the first falsified message. “But these messages did originate somewhere, and the emotions are feeding their virality,” he said.
Ms Lakra advised caution and warned people against hoax messages.
“Indeed, we have seen a lot of misleading numbers on social media claiming to be “Nirbhaya” helplines and what not. I advise people to simply call 100, an easy-to-remember number, in times of distress. For other numbers they should refer to official police websites,” she said.