Unknown Number: The Pestering Phone of Valley – a Photo Essay

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The newsy Cyber Police Station of Kashmir was in the middle of a grim exchange yesterday after an educator from Doda asked its chief to intervene in the ‘growing’ harassment cases. The exchange motivated a young multimedia journalist from Srinagar to canvas the case of eve-teasing in shades and shadows.

Aamina Altaf

Even before Sabbah Haji of the prominent Haji Public School of Doda would alert the Kashmir Cyber Cell about online harassment, many dispatches were sent and alarms were raised to check the unknown numbers, time and again.

But even as the system in place promises support, the incorrigible stalkers seem to have a field day.

The question Sabbah Haji asked—‘What is the procedure to get your department to go after the lukkhas [stalkers] annoying the hell out of us?’—is what many girls are asking to end their harrowing nightmares.

Thousands of girls actually face anguish and harassment, Sabbah wrote. “Certain your extremely farsighted and powerful department can help us out. A thousand cases per day guaranteed.”

Even as the cyber chief forwarded the helpline number, Sabbah replied, “hello, this is the number girls have been calling on. Repeatedly. Call not going through or NO RESPONSE.”

As a small window of the larger unaddressed menace in Kashmir, this recent online exchange once again highlighted the gravity of the phone harassment cases in Kashmir.

While some of us might still love to stay in denial about it, the phenomenon of creepy calling has indeed derailed the lives of many women in Kashmir.

As a young photojournalist, I’ve seen cases where girls can’t even talk about these daily harassments.

Most of them have been raised in such a manner that they don’t even think it right to report these cases to police.

However, there’re instances, where girls break down, alone, in their bolted rooms, over this shrilling torment.

Some even tried to end their lives.

Many of those who overcome the assault come to nurse eve-teasing battered minds.

And then, there’re some who’re still caught in their dreadful past.

A teenager girl from Srinagar would tell me recently how her college-time incident is still defining her everyday routine.

A guy used to text her, repeatedly, asking for a friendship, failing which would force him to come to her college.

“Even as I blocked him, his threat unsettled me,” the girl, now a teacher, says.

“Whenever my phone would beep, I felt so scared and couldn’t share it with my parents. It was so embarrassing for me to share it with them.”

Now, she says, she’s afraid of picking up calls from unknown numbers in front of her family because “I’ve that fear in my mind.”

Phone harassment intends to annoy, harass, or threaten in cloak of anonymity.

Such calls are known to make indecent or obscene comments. 1 in every 5 women in India, as per a research, receives sexual and inappropriate calls and SMS.

In Kashmir, even as the now active cyber cell is encouraging people to come forward and register these unknown numbers, the ‘culture of denial’ continues to play a shield.

“What would you do when your friends and family advise you: Ignore these things [phone harassments] and focus on work?” says Sehrish, a banker from Srinagar.

“It’s like, our elders have faced it and lived with it. And, we’re only supposed to follow suit. In case we don’t, and raise a cry instead, we’re considered as some disobedient types. I mean, seriously, what would you do?”

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