Express News Service
Neeta Mehta (name changed), a resident of Siliguri, West Bengal, was being blackmailed by her ex-boyfriend Dhruv, a resident of Ghaziabad. He had posted her nude photographs on a website, and shared her phone number for sex-related chats. Completely harassed, the girl didn’t know what to do.
Azra Khan (name changed) from Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh, had a similar experience. Some miscreants uploaded her photographs on a social media website, and were misusing these. A panicked Khan couldn’t even disclose it to her parents “as they are conservative and would withdraw my name from college and never let me get out of home”.
Such cases of cybercrimes are happening with alarming regularity, but the victims often keep quiet out of guilt or social prestige, which emboldens their perpetrators. “We get to know plenty of such cases wherein victims keep suffering as the nature of the case is such that they fear coming out openly with it. The police are not much helpful either,” says Ramanuj Mukherjee, Co-Founder, LawSikho.
To help such victims, he has launched Coalition Against Blackmailing, an initiative that has over 200 lawyers and law students from across India on board, fighting cases on behalf of the victims of blackmailing on a pro bono basis.
“In the Siliguri girl’s case, after we lodged an FIR with the police, the accused initially begged the victim to withdraw the case and later offered money. But the victim refused. We are now waiting for the police to arrest him,” says advocate Heena Joshi, who works with LawSikho.
“Our main problem is the laxity on the part of police. Often, we have to approach higher authorities to make police act. In the Vijaywada case, we had to seek help from the PMO,” she adds.
“I have been writing about online blackmail and revenge porn on blog.ipleaders.in for a while now. I realised that this kind of crime is growing rapidly, often targeting the most vulnerable, adolescents and the very young who don’t discuss this with anyone out of shame. I felt compelled to do something to stop it. The young lawyers and law students who have participated in the process are very proud of the impact they are making. We hope to change the perception of lawyers in society with these pro bono initiatives,” Mukherjee avers.
Earlier, he had started an initiative to provide legal recourse to people duped in the name of oxygen cylinders and medicines as the second wave hit. “We initially made a WhatsApp group, but now seeing the number of lawyers who are wanting to be part of this initiative we are in the process of making a website for a wider reach,” he adds.
“More lawyers should take up such cases on pro bono basis as it will deter criminals. It is very important that criminals fear law. Anyone being blackmailed, facing revenge porn, and getting stalked, can approach us,” says Joshi.
All articles related to blackmailing and revenge porn on iPleaders blog carry helpline numbers. So far, 10 complaints have been received from Siliguri, Vijaywada, Delhi, Kolkata and Kerala. “A significant number of complainants are men being blackmailed with a screen recorded video. They think it’s their fault because they had indulged in sexting, and criminals are taking advantage of that,” says Joshi.
Significantly, the Vijaywada case has reached its logical conclusion – the two accused have been arrested by the police.
(Names changed to protect identity)