This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Priyasmita Dutta. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How Internet Has Become A Ground Of Unsolicited Sexual Gaze During Pandemic

More from Priyasmita Dutta

Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment

Due to the raging pandemic, the lockdown that was imposed globally compelled students to shift to digital spaces to continue their education. A mobile phone with an internet connection is an ocean of exploration opportunities. In India, parents were restrictive of their children’s free access to mobiles from a very young age but now, the situation compelled them to act otherwise.

Digital literacy wasn’t a necessary conversation until more and more people had to start using digital media. There is, however, no major parental lock system on social media, and with today’s smart and advanced generation, it is even more difficult to restrict them from selective digital spaces such as Instagram and Facebook.

Young individuals aged between 10-15 are impressionable and vulnerable in terms of forming their unique personalities. With free access to social media, they heavily consume content that isn’t completely unfiltered and true — like celebrity styling, photoshoots and other major media representations. Young girls and boys try imitating such content and not having enough wisdom, fall prey to an unforgiving sexual gaze.

The onus is not on them to ‘protect’ themselves, but perpetrators must be held accountable. Under the Information Technology Act, (IT 2000), online harassment is used as an umbrella term to describe the use of the internet to harass, threaten or maliciously embarrass another party. It can be in the form of verbal, sexual, emotional or social abuse and aimed at a person, a group of persons or even an organisation.

Children who receive lewd comments from older people on social media should be encouraged to call them out. This should fall under digital literacy and must be propagated institutionally to children, especially girls who survive such situations.

In a recent incident at Christ University, a student shared her account of how a proctored examination invigilator sent her messages that were uncomfortable, unprofessional and of harassment through digital media. The student had requested additional time for her paper submission to which the proctor responded, “Another 3 mins, baby.”

Her account soon gained momentum as more students started opening up about how their cameras were asked to be lowered to ensure no one was availing to malpractices, but students felt they were being subjected to voyeuristic pleasure.

A complaint was filed against the proctor in question but the University, with a poor grievance redressal space, dismissed their claims on the vague lines of justifying his ‘intention’ to be ‘caring’ and ‘kind’. This lack of acknowledgement and student-friendly spaces in campuses are complicit in creating these unfortunate situations.

Christ University, which has a disappointing history of sexism and harassment on campus, must proactively advocate for students’ safety and well-being,  both on-campus and digitally. “We did not want proctored examinations in the first place and after 3 weeks of constant dialogue, our HOD was successful in moving the Centre of Examination to comply to our cause. We took a submission-based test,” said a Semester 3 student of Masters in English, Christ University (a friend shared her personal experience under the pretext of maintaining anonymity).

The media is also responsible for enabling such propositions with tabloid and paparazzi culture. Celebrity children are given extreme media attention, exposing them to criticism about their body, appearance and fashion sense — things that should not be of national concern. ‘Star kids’ face a violation of their privacy and experience, something that no child should go through. There is a constant gaze of a heterogeneous mass that, of course, includes unsolicited sexual gazes of older individuals.

Recently, 17-year-old British actress Milly Bobby Brown made a public statement regarding ‘Media Sexualisation’ and began a very important conversation that addresses the need to sensitise social media from paedophilic or hebephiliac gazes.

The Indian Penal Code has some provisions to protect against cyber-harassment and young children must be intimated with the same. Here are some laws that youngsters should be made aware of to maintain digital safety.

Online Harassment Under The IPC

woman sitting for a protest with a placard saying 'Shamed'

Sending obscene material (photos, pictures, films, messages) to a woman through social media is an act of sexual harassment under the IPC. Showing or sending a woman pornographic or sexually explicit material without her consent is a form of sexual harassment under Section 354A of the IPC. The perpetrator of such a crime can be punished with three years of imprisonment or a fine or both.

What Protection Is Available Against Online Stalking?

The IT Act, as amended in 2008, does not explicitly provide any provisions against online stalking.

In most cases of online stalking, Section 72 (penalty for breach of confidentiality or privacy) of the IT Act is employed. If a person, without the other person’s consent, discloses information about them online in any form of media, they are liable to be punished for a period of up to two years or fine of one lakh rupees, or both.

Having mentioned that, we must open conversations to address digital safety. The prevailing laws of the land need immediate reformations to tackle the rising cases of digital harassment. Now that students are using digital spaces more than ever, cybersecurity must be updated and institutions must take relevant actions to intimate and update the students.

Having more effective and functioning grievance redressal cells of cyber police and social media platforms can also help in combating this digital peril. Blocking a particular account is a momentary solution as that very account can further harass other individuals. Parents and guardians should also be open to discussion with their children regarding cybersecurity.

The digital mode of communication is here to stay and it is time we take action against harassment and call out perpetrators to send out a stern message against cyber harassment that violaters feel is a haven given its ambiguity.

You must be to comment.

More from Priyasmita Dutta

Similar Posts

By Siddharth Mohan Roy

By Kulwinder Kaur

By Himanshu Yadav

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below