Trigger Warning: Mention of sexual harassment
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has sent the country into utter disarray. In the past few months, the discovery of new mutant strains, post-recovery complications, and the dire lack of medical resources coupled with an exceedingly negligent and incompetent government has only worsened the situation. As India reports more than 3 lakh active cases each day, infected patients gasp for breath while their family members frantically search for oxygen cylinders, medication, and hospital beds.
In these appalling circumstances, many citizens (mostly younger people) have felt the need to take action. Since April, many youth-led initiatives and support groups have been working tirelessly to provide patients and their family members with the resources they require.
I have personally been heading one such support group consisting of high-school and college students, which gathers and documents medical resources. The work has been extremely strenuous so far, as it involves tracking down leads and resources which keep changing in quick succession. It also involves sharing my personal contact number with a multitude of people in various groups, while calling up hundreds of suppliers and medical centres each day to verify leads and check their availability.
Needless to say, I knew the risks when I decided to circulate my personal number on the public domain; perverted creeps would see it as an open invitation to ‘slide into my DMs’. Nonetheless, a part of me thought that this is a greater good that people are collectively working towards, and maybe (just maybe) they would think twice before harassing or pestering other people. I guess I was painfully mistaken, since that was clearly not the case.
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Amidst a flood of texts coming in each second, there were several unwanted messages and repeated missed calls from strangers, which I conveniently ignored. After all, a “hello dear” or “are you single?” text cannot hurt you if you choose not to engage with the sender.
However, it did not stop there; I started getting calls at 2 a.m. from men, asking me how much I charge for one night. Some also took the liberty to send me half-naked selfies and pictures of their nether-regions for my inspection.
My method of dealing with these degenerates was simple: report and block. It worked for a while, until I heard reports from other women in my group, complaining that the situation was way out of hand than I had expected.
Many of the younger girls in the groups, even minors, were being approached by these men. They were being hounded by similar calls and unsolicited obscene pictures all throughout the day. These predators were going to the extent of asking for their home addresses, and even where they go to school or tuitions. Even when we started to weed them out from the groups one by one, it was not enough.
What came as the first real shock to me was that even the patients’ family members were not being spared. Even in these hauntingly pathetic times while desperately searching for medical resources to provide to their loved ones, women are facing rampant cyber harassment. Shasvathi Siva shares her experience of the same in this VICE article, which went viral a few weeks back.
“I woke up to find a grand total of seven men video calling me at the same time. I couldn’t even hang up for a second to block these numbers before another call would come by. Five minutes into feeling horrifically flustered, I silenced my phone, kept it aside and waited. It took some time for it to stop,” she recounts.
It is repulsive, but more than that, disheartening to see these men behaving in the way they do, especially in these times when our country has been flung into this abysmal state. It goes on to show that even in the midst of a pandemic, some men are unable to show an ounce of basic decency. Matters like these constitute sexual harassment, and should not be taken lightly under any circumstances.
Social media has not remained quiet about this issue, either. Prominent activists and public figures took to Twitter to raise awareness about this deplorable issue, some even clarifying in their messages that the given contact number belongs to a ‘male’ friend.
Unfortunately even in this crisis some men can’t stop themselves from behaving like bastards. They find phone numbers of ladies included with the requests for help & make lewd calls. I’ll try my best not to circulate numbers of ladies but it may impact how people can help.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) April 26, 2021
2 vials of the following medicine required at #Chennai Apollo Greams road for a friend’s father.
He is critical.
Please help and call +919003680705
Friend is male. Please don’t send irrelevant messages. pic.twitter.com/qVDNx8waU7
— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) April 22, 2021
The question that arises is: how do we deal with this sorry state of affairs? Would the solution be to discourage women from sharing their numbers publicly in order to save themselves, even if they want to help others in need? Why do women need to beg on social media, pleading these men to stop harassing them?
Ever since I've opened my dms for covid help, I've received pleas; and I've tried as much as possible to send resources, and I've helped so many people. But since yesterday I've got about 4 dick pics which is absolutely pathetic. We're trying to help- tbh I'm disgusted and done.
— ✨Harshhhhh✨//‼️hri stan‼️// 🇵🇸 (@ayoitsharsh) April 23, 2021
tw // harrasment
WTF? I gave my number to a few patients in need to be able to provide them w resources and I found out thay my number is being circulated? I GOT 15 DISGUSTING TEXT MESSAGES INCLUDING D*CK PICS AND CALLS. PLEASE PLEASE DON'T DO THIS I BEG.
— charm | arnav dayyy (@charmjournals) April 23, 2021
However, all hope is not lost; online services such as Doosra seek to protect your identity while making calls from your personal number. It is tragic that the onus has to lie on women to protect themselves from harassment, rather than on society to reprimand these men for being misogynistic and narcissistic creeps.
It should be kept in mind that sending unsolicited pictures is no trivial offense that can be overlooked. Such acts can be punished under Section 67 of the IT Act, which criminalises publishing obscene content in the electronic form, making it punishable by law. These acts can also be booked under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), for “outraging the modesty of a woman”. These are trying times, and we certainly do not need further undesirable distress to make it worse for us.