KARACHI: Delhi police were on Tuesday investigating an online chat group that made light of gang-rape and caused a backlash on social media over trivialising sexual assault, with one teenage boy questioned.
An Instagram chat group called “bois locker room” was the top trending hashtag on Twitter India, with many tweets using screenshots from the group to highlight derogatory comments made about women, sexism or victim blaming.
Sexual violence against women has become a major issue in India since the 2012 gang-rape and murder of a woman on a bus in New Delhi that prompted tough new laws, but implementation has been poor and the attacks shown no signs of let-up.
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“Based on the information online and our technical investigation, we identified a boy and apprehended him,” Anyesh Roy, deputy commissioner of police in the Delhi Police’s cyber crime unit told.
“We took relevant details from him and he was handed over to his parents,” he added. “We have seized his mobile phone.”
He said investigations into other people in the group chat were ongoing relating to breaches of various laws including transmitting obscene material and insulting the modesty of women.
On Monday, the state-run Delhi Commission for Women issued a notice to the police requesting action be taken against the members of the chat group, and sent another notice to Instagram seeking details of the group’s members.
A representative for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said it did “not allow behaviour that promotes sexual violence or exploits anyone, especially women and young people”.
Action is taken against any content that violates the platform’s community standards, the representative added.
In India one woman reported a rape every 15 minutes on average in 2018, according to government data, underlining the country’s dismal reputation as one of the worst places in the world to be female.
India in March hanged four men convicted of the 2012 bus gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old student, a case that put the international spotlight on sexual violence against women in the country.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of gender experts in 2018 rated India as the world’s most dangerous country for women.
Twitter backlash said the attitude to women had to change.
“For this locker room story that got out, there must be thousands more around ... dangerous masculinity and sexism will still exist,” wrote Twitter user @justyashgoyal.
“Objectification of women must stop and it can only be done by educating youth,” wrote another Twitter user @tripathiharsh02.
Making strict laws is important but changing people's psychology is just as important.— Harsh Tripathi (@Harsh__Tripathi) May 4, 2020
Objectification of women must stop and it can only be done by educating youth.#boyslockeroom pic.twitter.com/7ciKHR6V5o
What causes such behaviour?
Pawan Duggal, chairman of the International Commission of Cyber Security Law, says that the social media is not to blame.
"Instagram cannot say they don't know this was happening. They have to cull out such content voluntarily. The police can go after them if they fail," he said, adding that this group was the result of India being "too soft" towards intermediaries like social media networks.
Duggal, says his organisation has noticed a "massive increase" in the number of children visiting pornography and other "dark web" sites during the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus.
"In the last 40 days of the lockdown, there have been massive sociological and psychological changes in society with children being indoors and not sharing their online activities with parents," he said.
He added that while they don't have scientific data, the commission had observed a rise in this trend - visits to pornography sites and sexual fantasy groups - during the lockdown.
However, senior psychologist Dr Roma Kumar, said such groups existed even before the lockdown, but said the unusual situation could make them more prevalent.
Duggal said authorities had to send a strong message, and that the law had to "come up with a very strong hand" against the members of the group to discourage such behaviour from recurring.
There has been a lot of outrage and abuse directed at the members of the group already, with many people publicly calling for them to be arrested.
The names and Instagram handles of the members have also been made public on social media platforms.
However, Dr Kumar said that going after the members of the group in public on the internet was counterproductive and would not solve the issue in the long term.
"The aim is not to damage them. The aim is to get them out of this kind of behaviour," she said, adding that these chats were typical of the kind of high-risk behaviour that children of this age indulged in.
"The problem also is that with the internet, children are much more exposed to this kind of content, and they think that this is desirable behaviour. The only thing that can help is prolonged counselling so that they can see what they did was wrong," she said.
"Going after them will only make them more angry and defensive, and will not solve the issue. We want these boys to reform and become better members of society."