More and more women are being subjected to phone harassment in the cities

If mobile phones on one hand have offered solutions, resolved issues and made our lives simpler, they have also, on the other hand, added to our woes. Women, in a society like ours, stand to be more vulnerable in this regard. People are being harassed by callers.

Perhaps citing the example of 25-year-old banker Uttara Dubey (name changed) can explain it better. For a whole month, she was subjected to mental harassment by a man who just wouldn’t stop calling her. “He would call at any time of the day and say obscene things. The problem is that women usually don’t react instantly. That’s what I did, thinking he would stop. I simply scolded him but, no, he misunderstood me and started bothering me even more. That’s when I told my parents and my father took him to task; and he eventually stopped.” says Uttara. But throughout, she didn’t report it to Delhi Police’s anti-obscene and anti-stalking cell launched in 2010, under the Crime Branch, because she “didn’t want to unnecessarily blow it out of proportion.”

But not every woman chooses to tolerate things like Uttara did. According to Joy Tirkey, Additional DCP (Crime Branch), while the cell registered 20,014 complaints last year, this year by June itself, the department has handled 10,512 complaints. It’s difficult to get through to the two helpline numbers 1096 and 27894455 because they are perpetually busy. “It has become difficult to handle so many calls. Not even for a minute can we keep the receiver down,” says a lady inspector who is part of the cell. Thus, two more lines will be operational to handle the non-stop calls. It doesn’t take much to realise that the phenomenon of obscene calls or harassment over the phone has been steadily increasing.

As a first step, obscene SMSes and the errant number is forwarded to the cell’s helpline. Additional CP (Crime), Ashok Chand says, “Most of these are cases of random dialling. We recently came across a case where a guy just started dialling randomly and the call got connected to a girl in Chennai. And then he started to trouble her. Initially, we simply admonish them, but there are people who don’t stop even then. And that’s when we take serious action. We have made some arrests as well. Recently we arrested a 42-year-old man who was harassing not just one but many women.”

A serious hitch is the reluctance on the part of women to take the matter forward, and formally register a complaint. “They just forward us the number and want us to scold the caller verbally and not take it forward because that also means revealing your identity,” reveals the women helpline operator.

But do most of these men know that even calling up somebody over and again against that person’s wishes, sending blank or obscene text messages amounts to a crime? “Yes, most of these men know that, but even then they do it. Women should just come forward and report these incidents. And even if they can’t reach us on these numbers, they can simply walk into our office. We are quite accessible,” says Mr Chand.

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