I am writing this piece from an island in Maldives. There is no connectivity, so I am far from the cyber world and consequently cyber bullying. In this mahaul, let me begin by applauding Women in Cinema Collective for their effort to roll out the ‘No To Cyber Violence’ campaign.
I have always been a film buff. When I re-watch old films which were the staple of my growing years, I watch them with a changed lens. The ‘bullying’ and ‘harassment’ of Meena Kumari and Dilip Kumar films seems innocent fun compared to Emraan Hashmi and Mallika Sherawat stuff watched by millions worldwide. The latter presents harassment on a platter to curious and vulnerable youth. They think, ‘why not emulate the stars and wait for new kicks and thrills?’
That era was 60 years ago. Let us look at its latest avatar, cyber bullying. We all know that it is harassment or bullying executed through digital devices like computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. The platforms where cyber bullying can occur include social media, chat rooms, and gaming platforms where people can view and participate in the sharing of content.
We also know what it comprises of. You post, send or share negative, nasty or false information about another individual to cause humiliation and shame.
It’s the anonymity that the internet provides which makes the perpetrator safe and the victim helpless. Women are its prime targets especially women in films, in visual and in print media. Women in cinema have been the butt of cyber bullying. Old aphorisms of ‘loose morals’ ‘indecent exposure’ are now replaced by psychopaths who hide behind cyber anonymity to commit the most heinous crimes against women. We have read stories of youth, girls and boys, committing suicide when caught in a vortex of cyber desperation.
We don’t understand the gravity of the problem until it happens close to home. A young student came to me for help. She had been receiving rape and death threats. So traumatised was she by the online bullying and trolling, that she dared not enter her apartment alone. Anxiety, depression and fear were written on her face.
Increasing availability of affordable data services and social media presence in India has witnessed an alarming rise in cyber bullying. According to research conducted by Symantec, nearly 8 out of 10 individuals were subjected to different types of cyber bullying in India. Out of these around 63% faced online abuses and insults, and 59% were subject to false rumours and gossip, all to hurt their self esteem. The study ranks India as the country facing the highest cyber bullying in the Asia Pacific region, more than Australia and Japan. From the moment they wake up and check their phone or to the time they go to bed and shut off their devices, it is abuse all the way. One looks with mild tolerance at the old days when bullying was confined to the school playground, but now it is incipient anger all the way.
The mass consumption of the internet and social media has created a dilemma. While it has been a social equaliser, reaching the masses and democratising information, it is also used to spread hatred, false information and twisting democracy into a mobocracy.
So what’s to be done?
The poet Allama Iqbal’s Persian couplet comes to mind. ‘Pas che bayad kard ai aqwaam e sharq’….meaning, ‘What shall we do now, O people of the East?’
The demon of cyber bullying is about to devour us; it is both malignant and benign. But as women in cinema grapple with cyber bullying, its malignancy is becoming rampant. So in order to combat the problem, it is important to remember that it is not a matter of women fighting for women, as is most often the case in every gender related issue. It is equally men fighting for a malaise which will make zombies or vegetables of their children unless curbed and curtailed now. It is important to actively participate in people’s lives, especially those of youth, ask questions about what they are doing online and keep the lines of communication open. Victims find it easier to cope with cyber-bullying if they receive support from their loved ones.
Cyber bullying can be reported at the cyber crime cell of any city, regardless of the place where the act was committed. Cyber bullying or cyber defamation of any kind is considered a cyber crime and the laws covering them come under the Information Technology Act. We, women and men of this country have to join forces and to quote the poet Dylan Thomas, ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’
My best wishes to WCC for this much needed initiative.
Syeda Hameed is the founder trustee of the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia(WIPSA) and the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation and a former member of the National Commission for Women (1997–2000) She also served as the Chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu until January 2015. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2007, for her contributions to Indian society.
For more information on how to combat cyber crime or to get legal assistance, readers can visit https://medium.com/stopdigitalviolence .
Stop Digital Violence is an initiative of our campaign partners, Women’s Business Incubation Project.