By Roli Srivastava
On a busy afternoon in the southern Indian city of Visakhapatnam last month, a young man raped a destitute woman on a pavement. Many pedestrians walked by as he forced himself on the woman, but a few paused - to record the rape on their smartphones.
The police seized one cellphone - of the person who alerted them to the crime - but found he had already shared the video on social media, officers in Visakhapatnam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Women's rights campaigners in India said countless rape videos circulate online with few of them reported to the police.
"I receive a dozen rape videos a day from people who are afraid of reporting the crime themselves," said Sunitha Krishnan, a rape survivor and founder of the charity Prajwala.
As the country strengthens anti-rape laws and activists demand better safety for women on the street, public transport and in the workplace, sexual violence in India has moved online.
Krishnan lodged a petition in the Supreme Court in 2015 against rape videos circulating on social media, seeking action from the government and social media giants to end the menace.
Last month, the court asked the Indian government to report by December on the steps it will take to allow the safe and anonymous reporting of videos showing rape and child sexual abuse - as the country witnesses a surge in social media use.
"I had submitted nine rape videos to the Central Bureau of Investigation (India's top crime-fighting agency). The investigation into these videos brought to light how big the problem is," Krishnan said.
More than 750 cases related to obscene and sexually explicit content posted on the internet were registered with the India police in 2015, government data shows - but the official figures fail to reflect the prevalence of the crime, campaigners said.
In 2015, 35,000 rape cases were registered in India, an increase of 40 percent since 2012 when the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi sparked a national outcry.
"We have (now) taken precautions (to stem sexual violence) but given the scale of digital sexual violence, I am not sure how effective they are," said Asha Bajpai, professor of law at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.
VIDEOS FOR SALE
Mobile internet users in India account for nearly 95 percent of the 400 million internet users in the country, which is the world's second largest smartphone market, according to studies.
And with 241 million active users, India has the world's highest number of people on Facebook and is the biggest Whatsapp market with over 200 million users.
"We don't have data (to link rise in smartphone numbers with rape videos) but plenty of anecdotal evidence," Anja Kovacs, director of the New-Delhi based Internet Democracy Project told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"When I speak to people who work on these issues, technology is involved in almost all the cases, particularly in gang rape cases where it (recording of the crime) is very common."
Local media in India often carry reports of rapes that were recorded on mobile phones and circulated on Whatsapp. Last year, gang rape videos were found to be up for sale in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
"While sex or rape videos on Whatsapp are circulated to defame or threaten, many make these videos to sell them to porn portals," said Kislay Chaudhury, whose cyber crime agency advises Delhi police and has a helpline for victims of online sexual violence.
When activist and rape survivor Krishnan received a gang rape video on her cellphone two years ago, she retched. She then got the video edited - removing the woman but retaining images of the eight rapists and uploaded it on YouTube to shame the attackers.
Two years on, however, she is hopeful that circulation of rape content on social media will become more difficult.
Responding to her petition against rape videos, India's Supreme Court has made recommendations drawn up by a court-appointed committee including staff of Facebook and Whatsapp.
The court asked internet companies to provide technical support to law enforcement agencies investigating such crimes and to ensure warning messages pop up for key words people use to search for rape videos and child sexual abuse online.
It has also suggested a central body where all the complaints can be registered.
"There will be a good amount of deterrence to circulate offensive videos. This is the beginning," Krishnan said.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday criminalised sex between a man and his underage wife provided the woman files a complaint within a year.
The court said the exception in the rape law that allowed a man to have sex with his minor wife aged between 15 and 18 was arbitrary and violated the Constitution. It also said the Exception 2 in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code was contrary to the philosophy of other statutes and violated the bodily integrity of a girl child.
Discrepancy in laws
The rape law and the protection of children from sexual offences act (Pocso) disagreed on the age of consent.
Section 375 of the IPC says sex with a girl who is below 18 is rape but Exception 2 allowed a man to have sex with his underage wife even without her consent.
Under Pocso, the age of consent is 18 years.
The exception was also contrary to the child marriage act that puts 18 as the age of marriage for girls and 21 for boys.
Why government defended the exception
The government had defended the IPC exception in the Supreme Court, saying the provision was meant to protect the institution of marriage.
India has 23 million child brides and criminalising the “consummation of the marriages” as rape would not be appropriate, the Centre had said during a hearing in August, opposing a petition that wanted 18 to be the age of consent for all girls.
It also said child marriages were a reality in India where economic and educational development was uneven. “The institution of marriage must be protected. Otherwise, the children from such marriages will suffer,” the Centre said.
What activists say
An NGO Independent Thought, which contested the exception, told the court in August that the inconsistency had split girls below the age of 18 into two categories.
“One, those who are not married and for them, the age of sexual consent is 18. Then there are those who are married and a husband can have sexual intercourse with his wife if she is above the age of 15, irrespective of her consent,” it said during a hearing.
The petition called for uniformity in defining the age of consent. The NGO’s counsel Gaurav Agrawal said Section 375 (2) IPC was arbitrary because it discriminated against a girl child who is married off before 18. The rape law made even consensual sex between a man and a minor girl an offence. “Then why should a girl of the same age suffer,” he had said.
Accepting the argument, the court on Wednesday struck down Section 375 (2) of IPC.
Published on The Hindustan Times on October 11, 2017
India’s top court ruled Thursday that privacy is a fundamental right of every citizen, in a landmark judgment that could affect the country’s mammoth identity card system.
The verdict was in response to many petitions filed in courts questioning the validity of assigning a biometric identity card to every individual. The government has made the identity card mandatory for all citizens to receive welfare benefits, but human rights groups raised concerns about the risk of personal data being misused.
“This is a very progressive judgment that endorses and protects the fundamental rights of the people,” said Soli Sorabjee, a leading lawyer and former attorney general of India.
The ruling overturns two earlier decisions by smaller benches of the Supreme Court, which said privacy was not a fundamental right. On Thursday, a nine-judge bench of the court unanimously ruled that the right to privacy is intrinsic to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.
The decision is viewed as a setback to the government’s efforts to make the ID card compulsory. The government will now have to convince the court that forcing citizens to give their fingerprints and a scan of their iris is not a violation of privacy.
The opposition Congress party welcomed the decision, saying the verdict is a victory for individual rights and human dignity.
The verdict “strikes a blow on the unbridled encroachment and surveillance by the state and its agencies on the life” of each citizen, party president Sonia Gandhi said in a statement.
Rights activists hailed the verdict as a win for individual freedom.
“The right to privacy that the court has defended today is essential to ensure individual autonomy, and is closely linked to the exercise of several other rights, from what people say online to whom they love and what they eat,” said Asmita Basu of Amnesty International India.
Published on AP on August 25, 2017 .(apnews.com/12c1222843d24573a74388c3f68d1f69/Top-court-says-privacy-the-fundamental-right-of-every-Indian)
Press freedom in India suffered a fresh blow on Monday when the country’s main investigative agency raided homes and offices connected to the founders of NDTV, India’s oldest television news station. The raids mark an alarming new level of intimidation of India’s news media under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The story is a bit tangled, but here’s the gist: The Central Bureau of Investigation says it conducted the raids because of a complaint that NDTV’s founders had caused “an alleged loss” to ICICI, a private bank, related to repayment of a loan. In 2009, ICICI said the note had been paid in full. Not really, the investigators said: A reduction in the interest rate had saddled the bank with a loss — hence the raid.
That doesn’t wash. India’s large corporations regularly default on debt with nary a peep from authorities. In fact, even as India’s state-owned banks are holding bad debt of about $186 billion, Mr. Modi’s government has hesitated to go after big defaulters. But suddenly we have dramatic raids against the founders of an influential media company — years after a loan was settled to a private bank’s satisfaction. To Mr. Modi’s critics, the inescapable conclusion is that the raids were part of a “vendetta” against NDTV.
Since Mr. Modi took office in 2014, journalists have faced increasing pressures. They risk their careers — or lives — to report news that is critical of the government or delves into matters that powerful politicians and business interests do not want exposed. News outlets that run afoul of the government can lose access to officials. The temptation to self-censor has grown, and news reports are increasingly marked by a shrill nationalism that toes the government line.
Through all this, NDTV has remained defiant. Last year, its Hindi-language station was ordered off the air for a day as punishment for reporting on a sensitive attack on an air base, but it stood by its reporting, insisting that it was based on official briefings.
Praveen Swami, a reporter for The Indian Express newspaper, warned on Twitter that Monday’s raids were “a defining moment,” adding: “The last time this sort of thing happened was during the Emergency,” a reference to the strict censorship of 1975-77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency and ruled as an autocrat. Sadly, Mr. Swami’s warning is warranted. The Central Bureau of Investigation said on Tuesday that it “fully respects the freedom of press.” Even if that’s true, the question still outstanding is whether Mr. Modi does.
Published on The NY Times on June 7, 2017.