By Ila Ananya
Late last year, we learnt from an investigative report done by Al Jazeera that rape videos were being sold in Uttar Pradesh (UP). They were called “local films” or “WhatsApp sex videos”, shot on mobile phones and sold for anywhere between Rs 20 and Rs 200.
Now, a few months later, Hindustan Times has reported that some mobile phone recharge shops in UP have been selling the phone numbers of women to men who come and ask for them.
Apparently, this came to light after the police-helpline 1090 was flooded with complaints from women about calls from men — reportedly, out of more than 6 lakh complaints registered by the helpline in four years, 90 percent of them have to do with women being harassed by men over the phone. According to government data, of the total 6,61,129 complaints registered by the helpline from November 2012 to December 2016, around 5,82,854 complaints were related to harassment over the phone.
According to Hindustan Times, the phone numbers can be sold at as much as Rs 500, while the prices start from Rs 50. Sometimes the recharge store owners help the men to purchase SIM cards under a fake identity so that they could be used to call the women. According to the police, only three recharge store owners have been booked.
The Ladies Finger, as part of our Ready to Report series, had previously written about a woman reporter working at Khabar Lahariya in Banda, UP, being harassed, along with other female colleagues by a man called Nishu. Nishu would call them all up one by one, often from different numbers, always knowing where each of the reporters were and what they were doing. None of the women knew how he had got their number. It took the police months to actually do something about Nishu.
This isn’t surprising though, because strangely, as in what Hindustan Times found, the recharge store owners have also only been booked for helping people buy SIM cards under a fake identity. The police have done nothing about the men harassing women after purchasing their numbers, and no action against the recharge store owners for selling personal information.
And while the police claimed not to know anything about rape videos being sold because they were unable to verify their “authenticity”, why has no action been taken in this case of recharge shops selling women’s phone numbers? According to the Hindustan Times, the police officials say the “jails will overflow” if people trading in mobile numbers are to be booked — but this is certainly not an excuse.