First it was sexual harassment at workplace. Next comes the slanderous campaign on the Internet. For this former employee of auditing firm KPMG, life has become hell since 2007. Now Aditi (name changed) is fighting with the Mumbai cyber police who are doing little on her 2012 complaint seeking action against websites which hosted offensive comments against her.
Trial yet to begin
While the sexual harassment case led to the arrest of a KPMG partner in 2007 and filing of a charge sheet in December that year, the trial is yet to begin. She feels the defamation in the cyber realm is an extension of harassment at the workplace. She had to wage a fight to ensure that the defamatory comments were removed by the Department of Telecom after a magistrate’s order in December 2012, three years after her complaint. The cyber police are yet to complete probe into a first information report registered against Google, a website 498a.org and an individual whose comments appeared on that website.
In September 2007, after a Mumbai daily revealed her name while reporting on the sexual harassment case, she was subjected to verbal abuse on the Internet. She filed a complaint with the cyber crime cell on October 9, 2007. While the comments were removed from public view soon after, they started appearing on other sites like 498a.org and Save the Indian Family (SIFS). She wrote to Google, which removed the links to websites like 498a.org. Later, when the comments reappeared, Google wrote to her saying it cannot block the URLs.
A second complaint was filed with the cyber police station at Bandra in 2010. The police closed the earlier complaint terming it a civil one, without informing her, stating that the accused was not identified. Aditi claims that this is a blatant lie as her 58-page complaint had given details of the websites that carried the comments. She filed a fresh complaint in April and May 2012 against Google and Nabble, on whose websites the offensive comments reappeared, after which the links were removed from Nabble. She sent a legal notice to Google for not deleting the links.
Thanks to the extensive cyber defamation, now she finds it difficult to get a new job and she is now being termed a ‘legal terrorist’. “I am only fighting for my right to dignity but such baseless slander with no action by the police created lot of problems,” she says.
Police can block websites
Under Section 69 A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, the police have the power to block offensive websites, but they did nothing. She was made to file yet another complaint in May 2012 on the same issue. The defamatory comments were removed by the DoT after the Chief Metropolitan Court passed an order in November 2012 directing Cert-In (Computer Emergency Response cell under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology) to block 10 URLs. The police finally registered an FIR only in November 2012 against an individual whose name and email ID appeared with offensive comments on nabble.com, , unidentified persons who wrote abusive remarks on google.com and 498a.org. They were charged under Section 500 of the IPC and Sections 34 and 66 A, B and C of the Information Technology Act. She filed a query under the Right to Information Act on the progress in the case, to which the police replied in January 2013 that they could not give any detail since it would impede investigation. When The Hindu contacted Senior Inspector N.K. More of the cyber police station, who is investigating the case, he declined to comment on the case.
Police claim they cannot make headway since 498a.org and other sites are not responding to their summons. However, The Hindu got detailed email responses from 498a.org and an organisation called Rakshak Foundation which is connected to it. Piyush Singh, a volunteer from Rakshak, in response to emailed questions, called from the U.S. and admitted that the cyber police had sent them a letter in July 2012. They called up the police last year to clarify that they would forward the police complaint to 498a.org.
Investigations reveal that 498a.org is connected to Rakshak and a link on 498a.org marked ‘donate’ takes you to Rakshak saying: “We need your help and support to keep actively helping falsely implicated and stressed families for free. All Donations are made to Rakshak Foundation (registered NGO at California, USA), which supports 498a.org. Rakshak Foundation is 501(c)(3) certified and hence the donations are tax-exempt. Rakshak Foundation’s EIN # is 71-1033875.”
A phone call to a number listed on the 498a.org website in Mumbai elicited the response that they were volunteers only to help people and all administrative decisions were taken by Rakshak Foundation in the U.S. Mr. Singh said that Rakshak collected funds for 498a.org since it was a website and not an organisation. Rakshak started public policy research in 2006-07 and found out about 498a.org.
However, a volunteer from 498a.org who wished to remain anonymous, said in an email interview that the website was not connected to the Rakshak Foundation. The website relied on volunteers to help those who are aggrieved by the misuse of 498a. Since 498a.org is a website, donations used to be collected through Rakshak. “Rakshak is not funding us. 498a.org and Rakshak are not connected.”
At least this volunteer has not seen emails from the cyber police seeking information and said 498a.org does not have any interest in defaming anyone.
Aditi had managed to obtain a lot of details on her own, including the people who had founded Rakshak. Her poser to police: Whether a website registered outside India can carry out activities in India through volunteers and get away without complying with the law of the land?