When a Class 9 student from a Santacruz school uploaded her selfie on a social media site earlier this year, little did she think it would lead to months of harassment by a nameless, faceless person on the Internet.
The man, who was arrested after the student finally filed a police complaint, had created morphed images from her selfies, and then used them to threaten and sexually harass her online.
As stalking moves online from the real world, the Mumbai police has revamped its school outreach programme, Police Didi, to also teach children how to keep safe from harassment on social media. The Police Didi campaign was introduced in 2016, after several cases of sexual harassment at schools cropped up across the city. The original campaign saw women police officers speak to school and college girls about “good touch and bad touch” and teach them how to speak up against it.
“It is no longer just about good touch and bad touch, but also about good friend and bad friend on the Internet,” said Dr Rashmi Karandikar, deputy commissioner of police (port zone).
“If the Santacruz student was aware of how to handle cyberstalking and harassment, she would not have had to go through the ordeal for so many months,” said a police officer who investigated the case. “She would have known to tell her parents right away and stop the harassment.” As the police department started getting more and more cases of cyber harassment and stalking, the commissioner of police, Sanjay Barve, instructed his senior officers to incorporate cyber awareness in the Police Didi campaign. The women officers not only go to schools and colleges now, but also visit residential societies and slums across the city. “As every one has a smartphone, the risks cannot be ignored,” said a senior IPS officer, requesting that he not be named. “Parents give their children mobile phones to make their lives convenient and ensure their safety, but they do not teach their children how to deal with the exposure of being online,” the officer said.
Teens, especially, are quick to panic. “They are not aware of how to react to a situation in cyber space, and they often land in trouble,” said Vinoy Kumar Choubey, the joint commissioner of police (Law & Order). “Our aim is to make teenagers aware of the hazards of social media,” said Choubey adding that cyber-safety training has become a key topic in the upgraded Police Didi initiative.
How were the Police Didis trained? “More than 200 women police personnel (including officers and constables) from all 94 police stations in Mumbai were given training by cyber experts, child psychiatrist and consultants. These women would in turn train their colleagues at police stations before they visit schools, colleges, residential societies, chawls, slums,” said Dr Rashmi Karandikar.
Dhwani Vakhariya, a cyber expert who was among the experts involved with training the police, said, “Nearly 54% of cybercrime cases in India were related to cyber-stalking, and of that 35% to 38% porn uploaded on the web was related to children or teenagers.”