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Friday, September 2, 2016

Why mobile number portability services may prove to be an absolute hypocrisy for women? A dirty dark secret

I belong to that generation who have grown up with one landline telephone connection, just to realise that the same can become ‘just a set’ to support home internet connection for some, or a “life support” for senior citizens who love to feel nostalgic by such sets.  I have stayed in three major cities in three parts of India and finally decided to own a telephone number which (much to the surprise of my older generations) started ‘travelling’ with me to keep me connected with the world. Yes, we call it ‘roaming’. But the older generation still loves to call it mobile phone instead of ‘cell phone’ because (as one my grand-aunt once commented), ‘you need to be mobile while using it’. I gradually owned a smart phone and the SIM card changed its ‘place of residence’  from my ‘unsmart’ phone to smart phone . I also witnessed the era when roaming charges got reduced from a (shocking) exorbitant price to a nominal price which we were happy to afford.
Then came the announcement for mobile number portability system.  One of the telecommunication service providers define this in the following words “  Mobile Number Portability (MNP) is the facility for users to switch to any mobile operator in any Licensed Service Area (LSA) of INDIA, while retaining their existing mobile number . Sim card and all services on the mobile connection will change and will be provided by the new operator.”( see And how will the customer avail the services for ‘change of port’? The telecommunication regulatory authority of India gives a detailed guidelines regarding this @ .
One of the essential eligibility criteria is owning government authorised local residential information. This can be either the voter’s ID card, or the ADHAR card or the PAN card or the Ration Card which may have the local residential address of the customer. In case the customer has shifted from his own home, the requirements must be satisfied with the Rent Agreement, which may show the names of the genuine tenant ( the customer) and the genuine property owner (the house owner). However, in case the customer has shifted his jurisdiction from one city to another, he may necessarily need to show all papers which prove that he has shifted the jurisdiction.
I was fantasising the idea of availing mobile portability system especially because I shifted from one State to another and I was under the impression that I can still “own” the number  without paying roaming charges since mobile number portability also offers for change of geo-location of service area. In short I greedily wanted to localise my number, which has almost become my identity. I applied for mobile number portability only to realise a rude shocking truth. It is nothing but a hypocrisy especially for women who are not ‘single’.
          When one enters a new State he/she  can not be expected to change his/her government authorised identity proofs within one day unless he/she is a government officer who has been transferred from one post to another (you may still need to wait for getting your new id card); and if the person wants to retain the identity proofs because he/she plans to get back to his/her own home state, then it is only the rent agreement which may support his/her claim for ‘authentic identity’.  Most of the times, the house owners would prefer to rent out their properties in the name of the “Karta” (o, common ! forget about the recent judgment which says even women can also be heads of families. In such situations, Karta always denotes male heads of families) and not the “Katri”(women heads or spouses) in case the so called karta wants to be lenient enough to include his wife’s name. The reason is obvious: our society still can’t accept women as equal to men.  As such, if a woman who may or may not be working (I am excluding women  government servants), and who has travelled with her husband  to another State, wishes to avail the ‘digital magic’ called mobile portability system, she may need to rely upon rent agreement and needs her husband’s signature (and in some cases the physical presence as well) for all the formalities, reducing her existence as a mere presence  of the human body without any identity. Practically, she actually may need to denounce her ‘ownership’ over the digital identity and phone number that would be allotted to the new subscriber, i.e., her husband.  I really wonder, then what is the necessity of workplace identity cards, the biometrics and the (numbness of the) ADHAR number uniqueness if these are not needed  for causes such as mobile portability system?   Are women to be considered as fugitive criminals if their existing new workplace identity cards, unchanged passports or ADHAR cards do not match with the new residential information ? what may be other unique grounds to deny women the right to avail mobile portability system when they are otherwise eligible ? It is unfortunate to note that examples of terrorism or antisocial activities carried on with the cyber aide had lead to create some policies which do not support the concept of gender equality always.  No matter how much loving and supporting the husband may be, the rules will  always be the rules and the service provider  company would always remain ‘unanswerable’ to the wife or the dependant woman (in case she is the mother or daughter or sister of the man) even if she is highly qualified professional.
The dirty dark secret behind the glaring concept of mobile portability system: gender equality and gender empowerment remains an unanswered question as ever.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2016),Why mobile number  portability services may prove to be an absolute hypocrisy for women?  A dirty dark secret “published in   on 02.09.2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

Puberty photography: Are we sexualising our young girls?

Menstruation is a phase that every woman has to undergo no matter whether it gives her pleasant or unpleasant experiences.  For most Indian girls who are in periods, the experience may not be pleasant one. Even though it is actually a biological purification of reproduction system, socially the girl in puberty may be considered as un-pure.  She may be treated like a secluded dirty living creature. I would not have believed this until the day I saw a woman in her 30’s standing in her own portico in a hot summer afternoon. When asked as why she was standing in the hot sun, her answer was, ‘I have my periods’.  Against such social taboos, several activists have taken out vigorous campaigns, amongst which #HappyToBleed is foremost which was created to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene and also a protest against  restrictions on menstruating women to enter specific  temples . While I support such move towards creation of awareness regarding menstruation, my concern lies with a separate issue. Some societies in India celebrate the puberty of girls in special ways. Most mentionable of this is the south Indian culture of celebrating puberty. Several sociologists may provide explanations as why this particular occasion is celebrated with such pomp and gaiety.  The common ritual that is followed throughout the day ( a specific day is fixed after the girl ends her very first 4 days of menstruation), involves special pujas and  showering the girl with gifts , bathing of the girl with water mixed with herbs, feeding the girl with nutritious meals including fresh vegetables and fruits, adorning her with new clothes and ornaments which may symbolise that she is no more a little girl, but has “attended age” for reproduction, followed by a feast for relatives and friends. When I was invited for a puberty function for the first time, I was confused as what to gift; I carefully chose a Whisper packet and wrapped it in a gift pack, thinking this would be an ideal gift for the girl who has started her menstrual cycle for the very first time. But later, I was told that the right gift would be a  simple flower “gajra” for decorating her hair and a box of sweets. Stuffs like a pack of sanitary napkins or awareness materials including books or CDs on menstrual hygiene are not included as parts of gifts from women invitees except when the woman concerned is the girl’s mother or own aunt (but this may be a rare occasion).   Strangely enough, many families pay very less attention to make the girl as well as other female children aware of menstrual hygiene, even though this occasion could very well be used for this.  Some even call this as “pre-wedding ceremony” since in earlier times such ceremony would involve an implied announcement that the girl is ready for marriage. Some families lavishly spend for these ceremonies. However, notably, while this is a common cultural practice in south India, celebrating puberty in such a fashion would not be seen in some other parts of India including eastern India or northern India.  This puberty function is necessarily accompanied with something called “puberty function photography”. Some families, who can afford to hire professional photographers, document the whole ceremony. Several families have also created YouTube videos of these ceremonies.
While this is a completely  family affair and may be this could be taken as a positive note against menstruation taboo, one must also consider the other side of the coin. Many girls may not like the whole ceremony of publicising their biological developments. Some may not even like to be photographed as the “puberty girl”.  Some of the girls with whom I had interacted on this issue, told me that they felt extremely awkward because they felt that they were being sexually objectified. That is because the occasion is not a birthday or a wedding reception, but something which is “privately hers”.  What is most embarrassing for most of these girls is being photographed as a “puberty girl” by young boys who may be brothers or brother’s friends. These boys who may be in their pre adolescent age or in adolescence, may not have awareness about puberty. But the ceremony may only make them understand that the girl is ‘sexually ready’. I felt really sad when I saw a young girl in the midst of her puberty ceremony pleading with her brother and cousins to stop objectifying her and   shut the camera off. It was clear: may be the boys were clicking her to make their own albums of “puberty girl” to be shared later with family and friends, the girl could definitely understand that  she was being marked for her biological, rather sexual changes and she did not wish to be photographed for that particular occasion.
Does such photography have really anything to do with sexually objectifying a young girl? I have two contradictory opinions: if awareness campaigns like the #HappyToBleed campaign can create positive awareness about menstruation and can get good response from men, then why not publicise puberty photography? This can be used to spread awareness about puberty and reproduction among children in a very child-friendly way. But at the same time, I must say, our society is still not ready to handle progressive thoughts about menstruation of women and girls. There are umpteen examples of online harassment of women and girls by misusing their photographs. Amateur puberty photography of young girls (especially on occasions of ceremonial bath in their wet clothes) may attract unwanted attention from harassers who may make unethical use of such images.  The photographs or video clippings may also attract sexist comments from strangers if the said photographs or videos are made open for public viewing.  In such situations, instead of happy memories for a special occasion, the images may bring  huge trauma to the girl in question. Added with it, if the parents and family members of the victim are not aware of cyber ethics, the girl may face great hardships even for socialising with her friends through digital communication mediums or even for continuing her studies because no one would like to lodge a police complaint on these images . Even if some one does, he/she may have to face upheal task to make the concerned  police officer (in case he/she is unaware of the nuances of online victimisation, sexually objectifying remarks and laws regarding this) understand  what makes the offence and why.
I feel instead of encouraging the children to have a hand on amateur photography during the puberty ceremony, the families should consider teaching the children about menstrual hygiene and  role of puberty in every one’s life. Then comes the issue of teaching cyber etiquettes as what should be photographed, how the girl should be photographed and why it is necessary to take her consent before clicking her and also before uploading her images as “puberty girl”.  If the puberty function is arranged in this manner, I am sure, children may not only be made aware of reproduction, menstrual hygiene and sexuality through the unique learning method, they may also become crusaders against online victimisation of women and girls.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2016), “Puberty photography: are we sexualising our girls?6th June, 2016, published in

Saturday, April 23, 2016

WhatsApp encryptions: Does it really protect women and children from cyber crimes ?

Couple of days ago hundreds of WhatsApp user may have come across a small message with each of the messages that they may have received from their Whatsapp friends : the message indicated that from now onwards except the sender and the receiver, no one (not even WhatsApp) would be able to decrypt any message that is encrypted from end to end. A simple meaning of this is, when I send a message to one of my friends in WhatsApp, the algorithm key that I am using to encrypt my message can not be ‘opened’/translated/seen/understood /accessed by anyone other than that particular friend to whom the message is intended for and sent to. The sender may understand whether her message has been delivered to the intended recipient by seeing the double ‘tick’ sign and once they are blue in colour, the sender may assume that the message has been actually seen and read by the recipient. WhatsApp in its own version says “WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption is available when you and the people you message use the latest versions of our app. Many messaging apps only encrypt messages between you and them, but WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you're communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. This is because your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them. For added protection, every message you send has its own unique lock and key. All of this happens automatically: no need to turn on settings or set up special secret chats to secure your messages.” ( And how would we know whether the message is encrypted or not? Whatsapp says :
“To verify that a chat is end-to-end encrypted
Open the chat.
Tap on the name of the contact or group to open the contact info/group info screen.
Tap Encryption to view the QR code and 60-digit number.
If you and your contact are physically next to each other, one of you can scan the other's QR code or visually compare the 60-digit number. If you scan the QR code, and the code is indeed the same, a green checkmark will appear. Since they match, you can be sure no one is intercepting your messages or calls.If the codes do not match, it's likely you're scanning the code of a different contact, or a different phone number. If your contact has recently reinstalled WhatsApp, or switched devices, we recommend you refresh the code by sending them a new message and then scanning the code.” (
So what does it mean? A secured conversation? Respite from hackers? No disturbance from unknown persons? By now, internet has been flooded with write-ups, analysis and discussions on whether the encryption policy of WhatsApp is good or bad for its subscribers. Some says it was indeed needed because it would save subscribers from unwanted government surveillances, hackers and unethical profit makers who see internet as a place for easily available images which may be ‘sold’ to the porn market. Some opine that this encryption policy would make it impossible for the police to help the victims of cyber crimes including women and children.  Before beginning any discussion on this, we must understand about encryption and decryption policies that is the centre of issues here. Encryption ( which means converting a data into codes which can not be simply intercepted ) is a necessary part of every internet/digital communication system  and  encryption policies may be framed based on the laws of the hosting nation (of the web company) and  the company policies which is enabling such services. India does not have any specific Rules regarding encryption policies under the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008), even though S.84A of the Act authorises the government to implement Rules regarding this. Encryption is not complete without decryption which is a process of opening such encrypted data. Every data which is encrypted, must necessarily have the right ‘keys’ to be decrypted, otherwise the intention behind encrypting a data would have no meaning. Decryption however is defined by Information Technology (Procedure and safeguards for interception, monitoring and decryption of information) Rules, 2009  created under S.69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008). It needs to be noted that decryption policies are also generally guided by the laws of the hosting country. But at the same time, each web company must necessarily abide by the laws of the place of ‘business’ as well. This means that even if a web company has its own policies regarding encryption to provide extra security to its subscribers, it must abide by the laws of the land of the subscribers to enable the government for legitimate surveillance and also  for tackling online crimes. We now know that WhatsApp is now the most chosen medium to generate messages or spread messages /text/images (including those which are ‘illegal’). Often in cases of civil/political unrest, one may note that the police administration may suggest for complete blockage of messaging services like WhatsApp. This again falls under S.69A of the information Technology Act,2000(amended in 2008) which authorises the government to issue direction for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource.
But when it comes to crimes against women and children, I see no positive development even after creating such extra layer of security.  There are instances of approaching women in their private whatsapp numbers for harassing them, accessing private photographs (already available in other social media and circulating them either ‘as it is’ or the morphed version of the same, threatening and blackmailing women with such images etc. What is more disturbing is, even after the encryption policies are rolled out by WhatsApp, no attempt has been taken to initiate a proper reporting mechanism. In the recently held UNICEF India meeting on expert consultation of online child safety, I had expressed my concern in this regard as well. At the most what an offended subscriber can do, is to block the harassing ‘number’ and leave a group if he/she is added to it without his/her consent. The harassing WhatsApp profile may still stay at large with the private images and information of the victim to upload them in other social media including YouTube or adult sites. Similarly, if not blocked, the harassing profile may continue to send bullying, derogatory, demeaning, insulting messages to the victim ‘uninterruptedly’. So what is the use of encryption policy then? It actually provides a half baked solution, i.e, protection against hacking. It may probably encourage more sexting because such images and messages may stay comfortably and permanently with the sender and the recipient only. But again, if there is a case of jilted love affair, no one, not even WhatsApp encryption policies may prevent possible creation of revenge porn materials on the same platform and also on the web. But here one must not be misguided by the fact that in such cases, the police would not be able to help nab the criminal due to encryption policies of WhatsApp. In such situations again, the law takes the same course of action as is the case for any other social media crimes against women, with off course limitations when the harasser is situated outside the jurisdiction of India, even though Information technology Act has extra jurisdictional scopes as well. 
          It is however unfortunate to note that unlike several EU countries and Canada, our courts and government are unable to take strong actions against the web companies who are not complying with the local laws in matters of assisting the governments and criminal justice machineries to nab the criminal or in the investigation. There are lots of techno-legal  issues which needs to be settled to achieve this in India, which includes proper training to the police, the lawyers and the judges. We have highest number of subscribers for WhatsApp, but awareness regarding safety issues is almost nil. Unless subscribers are made aware of the positive and negative sides of the technology that they are using, no policy, including this encryption policy may help reducing crimes online.
Let us spread awareness rather than defamatory ‘viral news’.  Lets join hands to stop cyber crimes against women.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2016),WhatsApp encryptions:  does it really protect  women and children from cyber crimes?”24th April, 2016, published in

Friday, March 11, 2016

Risky private talks: what women must be aware of

Gone are the days when young women preferred to secretly seek information from friends, cousins or aunties residing in neighbouring houses about periods, sexual behaviour of men on nuptial nights or about pregnancy and related issues. Hush hush talks about delayed periods,  sex etc  slowly shifted to digital communication mediums and gradually women are now talking about these issues openly, breaking gender  based myths  that periods make women ‘untouchable’ or delayed periods may signify obvious pregnancy. This would not have been possible without the social media as a positive platform for letting women express their feelings and seek information from various groups , pages, websites etc. This is the main reason that social media is also called infotainment as well, which signifies information-entertainment. While this is the worldwide trend now, in India women are still gathering courage to speak about these issues openly on social media platforms.  For many women, it is still a matter to be shared either by phone calls or by way of Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail chat messengers, or by way of WhatsApp, Vibe, WeChat etc.  Often women may not only seek to gain information on these information by sharing ‘private secrets’, they may also like to know about fellow women’s sexual relationship with their husbands or boyfriends. There was this report by Porno-Hub which showed that women in India are no less porno viewers compared to their male counter parts ( Women, like men are inquisitive to know about the sexual behavior of other couples and truely speaking, there is no wrong is sharing such secrets.
But wait!
There are risks involved in sharing sex-secrets with other women even in closed groups.  The language used by women inquisitive to know about sexual behaviour of friends  may not always be comfortable for others; such communications are supposed to be ‘not serious’ and women may tend to use ‘sex jokes’ which are supposed to be exclusively meant for men. But do remember, women have equal right to expression: then where is the problem?  Many a times, women friends may pester each other to share private photos on WhatsApp or similar mobile messaging platforms. These are not typical sexting, but clearly photos in a compromising position with the male partners , or simple photos of embracing or hugging each other on bed . While the earlier may be extremely risky since it may attract legal liabilities of creating sexually explicit images and distributing the same (if not kept in the owner’s own possession for private viewing), the later may look perfectly safe to create and distribute. But when seen from the perspective of online safety of women, distribution of both sorts of images may be risky. This is because, the recipient of the message asking to share the photographs, may never know whether the message was generated by the friend whom she knew since her childhood or she is truly her best friend. The sender may be the adolescent child of the friend who helps the ‘cyber illiterate mom’ to send messages, may be her husband who wishes to monitor her and her friends or may be any other stranger who may have gained illegal access to the phone either physically or digitally. The caution note for sharing sex-secrets by plain texting is also similar. The information that is sent out may be misused if the same is shared with public by others who may want to harass or blackmail the sender of the information. It takes a few seconds to text a sex joke or share the ‘bed secrets’ with friends, but may take huge time to remove the unwanted information from public viewing and manage reputation damage. Women who may pester their friends to get indulged in such secret talks through digital communication platforms may not be fully aware of safety risks. It is therefore better to be aware than to be ‘less serious’ and ‘popular’ only to attract more danger for oneself and her friends. Let us keep our secrets to ourselves and let us enjoy real life socialising for the sake of online safety of us, the women.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2016), “Risky private talks:  what women must be aware of
11th March, 2016, published in

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The irresistible misogynist trolls in the social media

With another new year, I enter the 9th year as a blogger. In these 9 years I got to see emergence  of different sorts of crimes against women on the cyber space. While in India the most bothersome type of victimisation targeting women is definitely creating fake avatars in the social media or in the adult networking websites, one can understand that emergence of irresistible misogynist trolls in the social media also claims attention of every one now. Way back in 2013 in my article “Examining the scope of Indecent representation of Women (Prevention) Act, 1986, in the light of Cyber Victimization of Women in India”, published in National Law School Journal, 11, 188-218, I researched about fake avatars and trolls. These topics later found vital places in my Ph.D dissertation thesis only to remind me that these issues will never die until the victim lets them die a natural death either by ignoring them or by reporting the matter to the concerned authorities.
          Trolls find a unique place in social media especially in India because they are not ‘recognised’ by any laws in India as specific ‘offenders’. They feel ‘overpowered’ because of this to express their opinions in several threads, blog posts, media news clippings etc. However, they stand apart from other individuals who express their opinions because of their language in which they communicate: it is impolite, arrogant, hateful and often misogynist. There are different types of trolls who communicate their expression in such way. These may include workplace place trolls, information seeking trolls, lime-light seeking trolls, fan-club trolls, educational institute trolls, activist trolls racist trolls, political trolls, State sponsored trolls and also misogynist trolls in particular. The list may include many other types of trolls existing in social media and on internet in general. Misogynist trolls take to internet and social media to disrupt discussion about women, which may include discussions about welfare measures as well. One such example is this continuous publication of troll posts, which appeared in the official Facebook page of ministry of women and child development (MWCD) when the concerned minister Ms.Maneka Gandhi, announced for several welfare measures for women including the publication of Handbook on sexual harassment of women at workplace. While many stakeholders expressed their opinions in these threads in Facebook, misogynist trolls found their own way to entertain themselves by insulting others, especially women. Among these, one troll post which repeatedly targeted women, expressed anger on the issue of safety of women in the workplace, other expressed anger for the issue of special treatment of women . The bone of the contention was, if women can not endure workplace politics and back biting, which is often seen as ‘workplace harassment’ by researchers and activists, then it is best for women to stay at home and cook for their husbands.  Some women protested the troll posts. Some chose to ignore. But these troll posts started growing in number because no one actually banned them , but may have chose to block them personally. I noticed one such troll post and reported the matter to the Facebook as well as the Facebook page of MWCD.  Fortunately my report was accepted with a positive note from Facebook which removed the misogynist troll posts. But this may be a temporary arrangement for no one was booked for any ‘offence’ and as such, the opinions thus expressed in the FB page of MWCD  may not actually invite any penal sanctions because they are not targeting any particular individual, but women as a whole. Resultant, the troll posts are back in the same FB page in different forms, showcasing hatred towards women in different forms. Their omnipotent presence is felt everywhere even in Twitter or Google hangout and they are becoming more powerful understanding that using hateful words targeting women may make them more (in)famous to gain easy lime light.
          While S.66A of the Information Technology Act was in use, many people had used it as well as misused it. But hardly any one, including the police could properly use it for preventing such misogynist trolls or opinions. I being an ardent fan of positive use of S.66A argued for using it to prevent such misogynist opinions, racists’ comments, personal defamatory remarks etc on many occasions. Unfortunately  in many occasions, either victims were not ready to take the matter to the court and press for a good experiment of this law, or the police showed complete apathy to such issues, which they felt were trivial. Many activists suggested that trolls and bullies may be regulated under different provisions, and S.66A should not be made alive because of this. But I opine differently. In my recent article “A Retrospective Analysis Of Section 66 A:Could Section 66 A Of The Information Technology Act Be Reconsidered For Regulating “Bad Talk” In The Internet?” Published in Indian Student Law Review (ISLR), 2015(1), pp 98-128, I documented my opinions in this regard. But as I researched in this particular article, if misogynist trolls can not be regulated because their posts  may not give rise to threat to any particular woman ( as it had happened in the case of Elonis decision), it does not mean that they can grow with no fear of checks and balances. The moment troll posts step into defamatory posts, the victim can and should consider taking the troll to the proper authorities.
          But here again lies the problem of understanding: if the troll posts affect a more ‘powerful victim,’ say for example, a corporate house for any particular product of them, or a particular group of people, they may decide to take action against troll collectively. But if it is an individual victim, the apathy of the social media as well as the police may make the trolls more powerful.  When social media does not take any heed to the plea of the victim to prevent the troll from his activities, the troll may start posting more vigorously with a twisted message as how he remains literally ‘uncontrollable’. It is nothing but provocation to the victim to counter response so that the troll can counter attack.  Unless the police take a serious note by not considering this as trivial, the trolls may continue attacking their victims unless they get bored. It is expected that the concerned authorities, especially the MWCD may take note of the situation and implements regulatory provisions to control such disruptive activities in the name of free speech.
 Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2016), “The irresistible misogynist trolls in the social media”
8th February, 2016, published in

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How we were able to remove Facebook groups victimising women through creating "Fake Avatars": A success story

While 25th November is celebrated as international day for Elimination of all forms of discrimination of women, I got to see the internet being flooded with “orange the world” messages. This is the particular term taken up by the United Nations to spread awareness about elimination of violence against women and inspired by UN, many stakeholders use #Orangetheworld to express their concern, share experiences and vows to fight against all forms of violence against women. I follow the rest here. I have never opted for any particular app to show my solidarity with any cause including that of Nirbhaya rape case when many men and women opted for showing black spot in their profile picture, judgements on 3rd gender case which motivated many to opt for rainbow coloured profile or even the recent Paris attack when many opted for French flag colour. This year, when the UN first started their #orangetheworld campaign, the social media spread the colour. I changed both my Facebook and Twitter profiles to stand as one of the millions of ambassadors of the campaign. But did the Convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which advocates to stop violence against women, really prove beneficial to women especially for online violence cases? We need to consider the issue again and again. 
Couple of days ago a responsible citizen contacted me showing some Facebook links. These were of groups where adult women’s photos were randomly selected, posted and they were made to be “fake avatars” by adding extremely vulgar, indecent sexually explicit comments. These women were picked up mainly because they looked beautiful and had attractive physical structures which were enough to motivate these perverts. Some photos indicated that they may have been parts of promotional photos of television serials or modelling contracts; some were taken from beauty pageants as well. I was not contacted by any women or any of these victims or any women’s group.  The person who alerted me was a man and I salute him. When he came across these groups, he tried to report the groups, the images and the posts attached to the images which actually made these photographs typical fake avatars, rather sex-items. Facebook did not take any action. The main reason for this was, these victims were not children and Facebook did not recognise these posts as offensive. Here I must recall my meeting with child right activists, women’s right activists and transgender right activists at the meeting on Porn Panic Ban conference organised by Point of View and Internet Democracy last month at Delhi.  I was invited to speak about indecent representation of women on internet and I shared information about my work. I used this opportunity to learn about other’s experiences as well.  I got to know more details about the recent sensational case of Manikanta Prabhu, who was arrested for creating Facebook group with images of children and posting violent, sexually explicit messages about these children. This case and the case that I recently dealt with, are quite similar with only one difference: in my case, the victims are adults and in the other, victims were children. The noted child right activist who was incidental in moving the courts and making the accused get arrested in the later case, told me that Facebook refused to recognise the harmful language that were being posted targeting these children because these were mostly in vernacular language. The activist had rightly approached the court against such action of the Facebook.  While dealing with the case relating to adult women, I took note of the experience shared by the activist and mobilised support to report these groups as Facebook may respond to larger volume of reports. However, our  collective attempt remained unsuccessful.
It was only later that Facebook officials responded to my reports and mails and made me understand how to report such indecent representation. While from my side, such groups and posts were reported as 'harassing', seeing the images and the language of the posts, the post reporters who came up to support me, reported the same to Facebook as ‘nudity’. But ‘Nudity’ may have a completely different meaning as per Facebook ‘offence vocabulary’. Here lies the difference between Indian understanding of the term nudity and digital technological as well as western understanding of the term nudity. As such, the volume of the report grew basing on reports on 'nudity' and not 'harassment'. As the officer from Facebook had told, these posts which present indecency in their overall presentation must be reported as ‘harassing’.  I feel extremely happy to say that finally these groups as well as the offending comments were restricted and were taken off by Facebook. This would not have happened unless Facebook considered my reports and again, renewed reports. This should be therefore noted that while Facebook or any other social media may not respond to reports positively, we need to understand the offence- related perspectives of the social media as well. However, it is an obvious fact that social media including Facebook and Twitter need to improve their own understandings and policies in such issues.  When we speak of ending violence against women in all forms, we need to understand that all stakeholders must act together to bring out a fruitful result.  I am anticipating that such groups may resurface on Facebook again because Facebook or any social media in that case, does not and cannot bar any individual from coming back to create another new identity with yet another set of false information.
Let us be prepared to fight such online harassment against women in a positive way.  
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2015), “How we were able to remove Facebook groups victimising women through creating fake avatars: A success story
, 26-11-2015, published in

Friday, November 6, 2015

Porn panic: how festive-dressing styles become responsible

Come autumn and it is the festive season every where in India.  Daily soaps are regularly interrupted by new advertisements about every usable stuff and the fashion magazines  get flooded by what a teenager should wear, how a woman should carry her saree or in what attire a man should look most ‘desirable’ to women. Nonetheless, each of the States in India have their own dressing style, but when it comes to metro style and casuals, especially for festivals, girls and boys, men and women never disappoint style makers of Bollywood and the Mumbai serials. This Durga puja was a special one for me as I got to see Kolkata in Durga Puja after a long time. The city has not changed its traditions, but digital habits of people have. Visitors to puja pandals , especially young adults visit the pandals not for seeing the different themes or idols, but for taking selfies with “Durga and her children”.  Too many flashes, ‘click’ sounds of camera phones  do make a disturbance for those who want to enjoy the Puja in its real meaning. With the changing of the time, these were bound to happen. But what worries me is the gross violation of privacy while clicking selfies, doulfies (couple-selfie) or even clicking of the general Puja  pandals.  In earlier days, capturing images in the Puja pandals was treated as ‘eve teasing’ if someone intentionally clicked images of girls and women by continuously  disturbing them, making them to look at the photographer  without getting their permission and against their will (to be photographed). Even though this had proved to be dangerous for many girls and women, their harassment would not have been as ‘large scale’ as it may be now. It is because not only the girls and women can be clicked anywhere, in any position, their images can travel to many persons, many unwanted sites and to many unwanted persons within minutes. The hard truth is, even the selfie taker girls and women may also be victimised if their selfies land in unwanted places on internet.
 In this connection, I must mention about the conference on Porn, Panic, Ban held at Delhi on 28th and 29th October, organised jointly by Point of View and Internet Democracy project. I was invited as a resource person and speaker to speak on indecent representation of women on internet. My lecture was largely based on my article titled “Examining the scope of IndecentRepresentation of Women (prevention) Act in the light of cyber victimization inIndia”. In this conference, I and other speakers raised our concern regarding voyeurism. Precisely, in any public festival, women and girls may be the chosen targets for such voyeurs who have mania for clicking women and girls from odd angels. These images are either uploaded in the social networking sites for personal sexual gratification, creation of ‘sex-groups’, or even revenge porn.  We do know how a couple  of months back, the images of children clicked and uploaded on Facebook had created a vicious network of people who turned these young children into ‘sex-items’ for them on Facebook . The photographs of these children were also clicked in public places. Saying this I want to emphasise on the fact that everyone, especially women and girls in the present age must be cautious about their safety not only in the physical world, but also on internet.  In my previous article titled “Online Victimization of Andaman Jarawa Tribal Women: AnAnalysis of the ‘Human Safari’ YouTube Videos (2012) and its Effects.” Which was published in British Journal of Criminology in 2014, I had shown how absence of proper laws prohibiting photography in public places enhance the possibilities of online victimisation of women more. Same opinion goes for young girls and boys as well.
The festival dressing styles for women and girls not only encourage the fashion makers to decide for the next style statements, but also encourage the perpetrators to get armed with cell phone cameras to ‘capture’ their prey for their own corrupted minds.  It may be impossible to think about curtailing private rights to capture images at Puja pandals or any festival gatherings, but this becomes a necessary need for saving women from being indecently represented on internet. Along with that, I agree with some concerned police officers who are of the view that neither men nor women or children should opt for those attire, which not only make themselves feel uncomfortable, but also may make them victims of unwanted harassment.   Plainly speaking, public places ( except where it is designated to be a bathing place), should not be considered as platforms to experiment attires or style statements which may attract unwanted harassment. It needs to be understood that while one may dress according to one’s own choice, one can not expect everyone to have same views about him/her in his/her chosen attire. While its true that perpetrators and perverts may target women and girls and even men in any attire, but still then, in my own experience I have seen that perverts do target specific people, who in their view is the 'sexiest'. True, its their problem and not ours.  
 Let me explain this with an example from my own childhood. At a wedding we got to see a famous movie star who came in attire which was the latest fashion statement at the early 90’s. He wore a see-through shirt. While he ( note that this particular person is a man and not a woman) managed to attract the attention of every young people who loved watching him on screen, there were people who were not exposed to such see through garments in real life. The popular actor did also managed to hear one such person shouting at others ‘look the man is wearing plastic sheet to show off his hairy chest and plump midriff’ . It was truly a hilarious moment for many of us youngsters who were ‘forced’ to look at the actor once again and scrutinise his body structure. But remember, the late 80’s and early 90’s did not have cell phone cameras and smart phones and hence his picture in his latest style did not become viral in the other way with the odd comment ‘pasted’ to his picture.  But this can happen now. Nonetheless, if this happens to anyone now, only the true victims would know what the pain would be like.  Social media would not take down such fake avatar with nasty comments if the victim is an adult, because such posts would obviously carry the question of First Amendment rights versus right against being victimised by indecent representation; clouds may take such images and the comments to numerous unwanted sites and it would become literally impossible for the victim to remove image of hers in her own favourite attire which may have become ‘hot favourite’ for others for sexual gratification. For this women and girls need to be more aware. No, my concern is not for making women and girls feel that they should not opt for uncomfortable dresses in the name of fashion only; my concern is for women team among the organisers. Stand up for protesting any violation of rights of women and girls and this could be done when women members in the Puja organising committees or volunteers from civil society members take active steps for spreading the awareness against voyeuristic activities. 
 With Kali Puja and Diwali approaching, the government, the police and also the puja organisers and civil society at large must decide to take such steps which may create awareness among people to prevent such sorts of victimisation of people. 
  • Children, do not click unwanted photos of others, because this may violate other’s privacy. 
  • Young adults, restrain from using your cellphone cameras as ‘spy-cam’, because if you are capturing somebody secretly, remember, you are not only violating other’s rights, but some one may also do the same to you and you may have to face  legal actions and harassments as well. 
  • Especially to girls and women: beware while taking selfies and storing it in the clouds or sharing it with others. You may never know how your favourite selfie can become an item for adult sites and an indecent representation of yourself.

Wish you all a very happy and safe Diwali.

Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2015), Porn panic: how festive- dressin styles become responsible, 06-11-2015, published in