In order to curb crime against women and to crack down on child pornography and content that depicts morality and sexuality of women wrongfully on social media, the centre has come up with a centralised helpline portal to receive complaints. In simpler words, if you come across any rape video or child pornography you can directly report it on the portal.
Last month, after working on the portal for more than a year, the Ministry of Home Affairs launched a centralised online portal www.cyberpolice.gov.in and helpline number ‘155260’ to receive complaints pertaining to child pornography and rape/gangrape (CP/RGR) content.
It is a welcome move that can help in curtailing the innumerable number of crime against children and women that are not reported but is visible on social media. In the past, there have been many incidents when rape accused made a video of the shameful act first and then without any fear of getting caught, posted and circulated it on social media.
Rape videos on sale
According to reports, the state of Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh, is among many states where online abuse without any shelf life becomes an extension of offline abuse. Rape videos are being sold at Rs 100-1000 a pop every day in the state. The price of these rape videos depends on the nature of the crime. The rate card varies from Rs 50-150, higher the cost of the video, severe is the crime or the “exclusivity” of the clip which are 30 seconds to even 5 minutes long.
When the crime is visible to all, the accused remains safe under the veil of government negligence. The overdue launch of this helpline system is a victory for all women, and most importantly it is a result of the struggle of Hyderabad-based activist, who is indeed responsible for this change.
The battle she fought
Anti-trafficking activist Sunitha Krishnan, who runs Prajwala, an NGO in Hyderabad, launched the campaign called “Shame the rapist” on Feb 6, 2015. She started this campaign after she received videos of gang rape through her WhatsApp, in which the accused were seen boasting their crime.
Later, she posted the video of the incident on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, hiding the identity of the victims. She also posted an appeal on the social media saying, “Some sick pathetic human beings are sending videos of rape on ‘WhatsApp’. If any of you are getting such videos, please report. We will use the same tool to shame and punish the rapists.”
She then wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India, submitting the nine videos that she received in just 24 hours from the beginning of her campaign. The videos were from a different state and had both young and adult victims.
Court’s intervention on the matter
The same year, the social justice bench of the Supreme Court with Justice Madan Lokur and Justice U.U Lalit took suo moto action on the circulation of rape videos online. The court then set up an expert committee with representatives from the Central government, Google India, Yahoo India, Microsoft Corporation (India) and Facebook. The committee was set up to find technological solutions to block offensive videos of rape and child pornography on the Internet.
Accepting the recommendations of the Supreme Court-appointed committee in 2017, the Court asked the Centre government to create an online portal and hotline number where anonymous complaints could be filed against those responsible for uploading such offensive videos. The court had also asked Yahoo, Facebook Ireland, Facebook India, Google India, Google Inc, Microsoft and WhatsApp to file their replies on the steps they have taken to block videos depicting sexual offences against children. Surprisingly, none of the companies complied with the court’s orders. In May this year, the court asked the companies to submit their response with Rs 1 lakh fine for not responding to the court order.
The threat of social media
In the time of technological advancement, the nature of an overwhelming boom of social media can be harmful. Trolls and abuses from anonymous accounts on social media are becoming a threat to the safety of women. In past few days, we had a spurt of trolling incidents against women on social media. Actor like Swara Bhaskar, Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi was recently abused. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was trolled for doing her duty, and even women journalists and activists were not spared, by these masked perpetrators.
Considering the way technology is growing, it is necessary to at least keep a check on these digital platforms to curb online harassment of women. After struggles of many women activist like Sunitha, the Ministry of Women and Child Development recently said that they are ready for amendments in the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 (IRWA). The act may likely help in discouraging the portrayal of women in an indecent manner on digital platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook and others.
Till now, indecent representation of women in advertisements, writings, paintings and sculptures were prohibited under the law. But, with the proposed amendment, new forms of communication such as the Internet, multimedia messaging, cable television, over-the-top (OTT) services and applications such as Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Chat On, Snapchat and Instagram will also be brought under the ambit of the prohibition. The amendment will also change the definition of circulation of content. It will now include publishing, licensing and uploading digitally. The draft bill also proposes the enhancement in the penalty for violation of the act.
The Logical Indian Take
Whether the new bill serves in the interest of women in our country or leaves their bodies and sexuality controlled in the name of morality remains a question. However, the act will widen the scope to tackle the crime, given the increased harassment of women online.
The magnitude of the troll or the rape and death threats sometimes depends on the audacity of the abuser. Women across religion and political affiliations come across this blatant sexist, racist and homophobic abuses that belittle and humiliate them.
It is true that crime against women is increasing. it is not an understatement because now the offence is not just physical. That is why there is a need for more campaigns like “Shame the rapist”. There are many more fighters like Sunitha who can bring the perpetrators hiding behind a computer or a cell phone screen in front of the public eye.