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Protect yourself in cyberspace

Thursday, October 04, 2018

An Online Safety Summit discussed gender-based abuse and sexual harassment of women in cyberspace and women to use legislation to deal  with the menace. Ronita Torcato reports

We are reluctant to provide our personal information for Aadhar cards but we spill the beans on social media. Aren't we a strange species?  Holding up a mirror to beauty spots, warts and all, women professionals at an Online Safety Summit organised in Mumbai on Saturday by ShethePeople TV and powered by UN Women expressed concern about the growing connect between physical abuse and violence online.   And a very good thing it is  too, this growing awareness considering that a crime takes place  every two minutes in  India, which also has some of the highest statistics of sexual harassment globally: India ranked third in the number of online bullying cases reported in 25 countries, in a survey conducted by Microsoft Corporation. More than 50 per cent of women and youth in major Indian cities have suffered from online abuse.

We've probably done  worse in the 18 years since the Information Technology Act of 2000 was passed since many cases of online  harassment go unreported. Which is why Amnesty International India launched a campaign on the issue  on March 21 this year. Red Dot Foundation (Safecity) which aims to make cities safer by encouraging equal access to public spaces for everyone, especially women,  had collaborated with UN Habitat to host the Urban Thinkers Campus in Mumbai in August on the theme of resilient, inclusive, women-friendly cities.

At the Summit last week, the general consensus was that online violence needs to be taken seriously. The public and women  in particular can file police FIRs and take legal action against cyberbullying, including removal of bogus profiles and defamatory content and responding to email abuse.  But even savvy, educated professionals could be unaware that India already has laws that  can be used to deal with online abuse.

Knowledge about various laws in place to protect us from online abuse is the key to the empowerment of women.  On October 2 Gandhi Jayanti, the ADC ran a front page banner story  about a woman who drank poison due to police  apathy. At the  Summit, Abha Singh, a former civil servant now an advocate practicing in the Bombay High Court said, "The police must be accountable. Training is required for the police  themselves,   especially at the  lower level, who don't know how to tackle the problem of online gender abuse."

The Safety Summit spotlighted identity exploitations, financial risks, and emotional harassment, as well as the need for awareness, knowledge and education, policy and law enforcement. It is also presented an opportunity for professionals to listen to  evolving approaches and solutions by an expert panel of speakers which comprised a battery of  psychiatrists, authors, feminists, lawyers, activists, social workers and cyber experts.

These included Anjali Chhabria, psychotherapist, Avnita Bir, Principal, R N Podar School, Aabha Singh, lawyer, Supreet K Singh, Director and COO of Red Dot Foundation- Safecity, Audrey D’Mello of Majlis, Tara Kaushal, author of Why Indian Men Rape,  Dr AL Sharada of  Population First, Akancha Srivastava, a campaigner against cyber harassment, Puneet Bhasin, Advocate and Cyber Law expert,  Hrishikesh Kannan, radio producer, Jency Jacob, founder of fact-checking portal, BOOM, Rakhee Chhabria, Founder, TeachersHelpTeachers, Bharti Dekate, Founder WorldReady, Uma Subramanian, Founder, Aarambh India, Nandita Shah,  Co-director, Akshara, and Madhuri Sarode, transgender activist. Moderators included Shaili Chopra and Kiran Manral of ShethePeople TV.

Safecity's Surpreet Singh moderated the panel  titled ‘Gender abuse online: What are the parameters, triggers and how do we change the dialogue?’ Not going to the police station is not an option. We need to use the  law and checks and balances available.

What needs to be addressed, as  the panels agreed, is speedy implementation of the laws in conjunction with measures to rectify the  inequity which stems in part from patriarchal notions of ownership (of  women). As a panelist said, "Women should not be told to not put pouty pictures, let’s have men change their mindsets."

Audrey D'Mello, Program Director, Majlis, said abuse is  triggered by anger and anonymity among other  things. She said  that girls, especially those from marginalised sections of the society, had a sense of identity, when it comes to using social media. “They cherish the internet. They will never tell their parents about online abuse in the apprehension their mobiles will be confiscated. As a result, these girls were most vulnerable."

Not just women. Teenage suicides have doubled and  one in five children experience cyberbullying. Educationist  Avnita Bir said, "We run technologically savvy schools. Education is all about building trust and relationships. Young people must be warned  about unsafe elements that seem to be safe.  There are so many  young people  engaged in sexual relationships and no one  is talking about it.   Students are creating sleazy, malicious pages about their teachers using morphed pictures even in 2 tier and 3 tier cities."

“Boys should be educated about consensus and  respect suggests Dr AL Sharada while taking note of the "over-marketing of beauty products. When you deconstruct the  advertisements you find they don't want women with a  mind of their own. Why are so many against feminism  when it's a   liberating, democratic thing? Sadly, we are misprojecting feminism."                                                                                                                                                           

Among the most vocal was feisty author Tara Kaushal who said, "Misogyny is the law enforcement arm of patriarchy which wants women to be silent in the first place and families perpetuate this. Women's empowerment causes insecurity in men."

Psychiatrist  Anjali Chhabria observed, “We constantly try to look like someone else, and imitate their lifestyles. When that  doesn’t happen, we get depressed and instead of going offline, we spend more time on the internet to make ourselves feel better. We need to use the virtual space as well for good mental healthcare.”

After all, online threats affect real lives, and disturb peace of mind. The obsessive use of social media can result in  low self-esteem and anxiety. And women in particular are vulnerable to online security breaches, gendered abuse and sexual harassment. One of the panels addressed fake news on social media which not only spreads false information but also tends to harm the gullible who believe the lies embedded in fake forwards. Stressing the need for people to cross check all the news they consume, Boom Fact Check website’s managing editor, Jency Jacob quipped, “WhatsApp is not your news media.”

Offences like intimidation, insults, trolling, harassment, and   defamation in cyber space are punishable under  the 2008 amendment to the IT Act as well as  the Indian Penal Code. Cyber crimes are punishable up to three years with a fine.

Section 67 of the IT Act mirrors Section 292 of the IPC  which criminalizes the sale of obscene publications and also provides effective remedies against certain kinds of online abuse. Section 354D of the IPC criminalizes cyber-stalking,Section 354C penalizes cyber-voyeurism, Section 354C  addresses non-consensual dissemination of consensually recorded private acts.

A cyber offence can be reported to Cyber Crime Units in an Indian city. If a cyber cell is not available, one can file an F.I.R. at the local police station.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Cyber Crime Investigation Cell Office of Commissioner of Police office, Annex -3 Building, 1st floor, Near Crawford Market

Contact +91-22-22630829, +91-22-22641261



CYBER CRIME CELL, 3rd Floor, Police Commissioner’s Office Near Court Naka, Thane West, Thane 400601.

Contact +91-22-25424444



Short takes              

  • At a Summit last week, the general consensus was that online violence needs to be taken seriously. The public, and women,  in particular can file police FIRs and take legal action against cyberbullying.
  • Knowledge about various laws in place to protect us from online abuse is the key to the empowerment of women.
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