Friday, February 6, 2015

When technology can(not) save the brave women

It had been months since I last wrote my blog on cyber crimes against women because of my other commitments. I had been travelling to Meghalaya, to Bhubaneswar and to Kolkata for attending seminars and workshops on cyber crimes as a resource person to talk on cyber crimes against women.  Yes, all three included taking flights and then taking taxis to respective accommodations. This is the first time that I was continuously travelling with one or two weeks gap and I immensely enjoyed my journey with my new smart phone. On previous occasions I could never use the camera devices within the flight because I was not that comfortable either with the journey in the flights or with handling camera along with my books, papers and flight documents. I was a novice. But this time, I was smarter. I kept the mobile smart phone handy and could capture some wonderful moments in the flight. Well, and why not when I got the lyricist Illayaraja as my VIP all others, I too got a selfie with him and proudly circulated it among my friends (obviously after taking his permission). In all these three occasions I immensely enjoyed the learning sessions in other speaker’s sessions and I loved arguing about my understanding of laws related to S.66A of the Information Technology Act and other related provisions.  I loved roaming around in the cities either by walking or by taxi. The most surprising for me was definitely the taxi system in Kolkata since I never thought like other cities Kolkata will also have luxury cars turned into taxis putting a great competition for our good and old Yellow taxis.
Then happened the Uber taxi rape case in Delhi with this unfortunate yet brave woman who was molested and raped by this rapist taxi driver who was driving the taxi operated by Uber.
No, I did not use any app for booking my taxies and it was quite new for me as well. I was still following the old rule of booking the taxi from the hotel or getting a taxi from the shopping mall by either directing talking to the driver or through prepaid taxi-counters.  The Uber cab rape case made me think twice as what I should learn about using technology while travelling. Let me tell you, that the one and only “page” I follow for road safety is the page by ,  even though I have never contributed to the site and  I know the data thus provided in such apps  for positive gain of the society, may  be misused by miscreants as well.  But Uber case was altogether very different. The cab was registered with the company who runs it from their head office in the US and through the mobile app, one can book the cabs in selected cities in India. What the customer generally gets to know is the number of the car, the photograph and cell phone number of the driver. This particular cab did not have certain basic security features including the name and photograph and the photocopy of the driving license of the driver. The victim was raped and as has been reported by the news media, the driver allegedly threatened to kill victim if she dared to report.  Note that  Uber was supposed to supervise whether the driver and the cab were well monitored through GPS . But in this case, the car did not have the GPS and the driver did not have any sign of it in his mobile as well. The victim however showed her smartness in using the smart-phone  for taking photograph of the number plate of the car and using it as an evidence for lodging  the FIR to the police. I can’t stop praising her guts as even after being molested and threatened, she was not cowed down by threatening and could click the image of the car, which was used as a vital evidence to nab the offender and also take action against the Uber . The company was also pulled in by the prosecution and Uber services were banned in couple of cities in India as they failed in providing proper safe services due to their lacklastering verification process. This can be a fine example of tort liability for every law student in India. But what the Uber cab victim could not do the other few women did in different parts of India; consider the Rohtak sisters whose video of hitting some boys because they were allegedly disturbing the two girls went viral in the internet. Even though later it was claimed by some that these sisters were not defending themselves, but actually beating the boys for public attention, it further created a trend among many to use smart devices for capturing the victimisation or post victimisation scenes. Consider the video of this young woman who was ‘protesting’ body touch by a co-passenger in the Indigo flight recently; the video went viral in the internet. It did not show the complainant, neither the act of touching or molestation, but the alleged harasser and some passengers who were ready to leave the flight. Again, this video claims further benefit of doubt as has been stated by the person who was being protested against. True, no woman can immediately switch on the camera devices to capture the moments of molestation if she is being touched or molested, but when a man or other bystanders take the video or capture images, that may have a better chance to defend the victim’s claim than this one.   
This digital trend similar to “naming and shaming”, is the trend of “sharing, showing and shaming”. The newest of this trend is the circulation (initiated through WhatsApp )  of the images of some men who were allegedly raping a woman (and now the images are floating in the Facebook and other social media and news channel as well). Activist Sunitha Krishnan spread the images for tracing the rapists. I am not aware as how the rape scenes have gone viral from the rapists or the bystanders, but definitely if the allegations are real, then this is another case of rapists  behaviour of what I call “rape while I tape”, meaning   recording the rape for his own pleasure which is an example of extremely sick mentality.  But my question is how far “sharing, showing and shaming” can be beneficial to victims, as well as the society? Not always it can be beneficial. It can be risky as well .  I agree with Professor Danielle Citron, writer of the book Hate crimes in Cyber space, which I had the privilege of reviewing, where she discusses about risks involved in naming and shaming (pp.109-111).  Similarly, in cases of “sharing, showing and shaming”, the victim woman may use her devices to record the traces of victimisation, but it further needs to be forensically proved and again, the burden of proof lies on the victim as well as the prosecution. The ‘perpetrator’ can always claim to be portrayed wrongly. Further, tell me how many of the police officials who may be contacted with such digital records taken by the victim herself, would believe the victims? I tell it from my own experiences of dealing with victims of crimes including cyber crimes, not many police officials are even able to safely record the images from the victim’s devices. It may bring further secondary harassment to victims when she is ridiculed by the moral police groups or supporters of the alleged harasser.

But brave women, I salute you for what you have done and wish that your struggle is rewarded. This reminds me of the hard truth again ...... technology is a double edged weapon and it may not always help the women even when it is used with immense hope that it would actually help.
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),When technology can(not) save the brave women" “ 6th February,,2015, published in