December 3, 2021 10:58 pm

Online Stalking On Rise: How Kashmiri Women Are Tackling It 

By Tabia Masoodi

Srinagar: With another Instagram notification, Sama made a face and threw her phone away in anger.

This time, another ‘hi’ flashed on her cellphone screen. The message added to the pile of other such previous “hi, hello and u there” texts—catching dust in her Instagram message requests.

Being a photographer by passion, Sama uses her Instagram account to showcase her art. And as her account is public, she tends to get these messages more frequently. Some of these guys don’t stop at one message or just a simple ‘hi’.

“There was this guy who texted me a year ago asking whether I’m the person he thinks I’m,” says Sama. “I usually don’t reply to these DMs [Direct Messages] but he texted me every 2 minutes asking the same.”

Annoyed by the said person, the only option Sama had was to block him. “He was constantly nagging me and it was affecting me after a point.”

Along with the thousands of conveniences and ease that social media brings, online harassment is its major disadvantage.

Several young Kashmiri women told Kashmir Observer that sometimes these messages have a pattern. “There was this guy who used to message me once in a month and it continued for six months,” says Tabish, a final year student.

In the face of this virtual stalking, Aasima Akhoon, a 17-year-old girl from HMT, Srinagar feels that social media can really unsettled life of a girl.

“Certain people make fake accounts and send wrong messages to random people and even to your relatives posing as you,” says Aasima. “This is worrisome.”

For Aasima, these random messages become distressing when they state that the person has seen something or has something serious to talk about that can affect her personal life. “Even though after a point I’m aware that it’s just a façade, it still worries me.”

Another sufferer of these unsolicited messages, Sahiba believes that harassment in the virtual world is as traumatizing as it is in the real world.

“It starts with a simple hi but if they don’t get a response they start abusing,” says Sahiba, who’s of the opinion that abuse affects equally irrespective of it being online or offline.

These cybercrimes surged after the Covid associated lockdowns. Between February and April 2020, the incidents of cybercrime doubled in keeping with information from National Commission for Women (NCW).

The commission received 412 cases of cyber abuse from March and April 2020. 96% of those court cases have been from girls, which ranged from abuse, indecent exposure, unsolicited obscene pictures, threats, malicious emails claiming their account was hacked, ransom demands, blackmail and more.

On an average, Kashmir’s Cyber Police Station receives 2 to 3 cases in a day.

In 2020 alone, the cyber cops received 150 complaints from women between the age group 18-30. The records reveal that four of these cases were serious crimes in which the first inquiry report was lodged against the accused.

But even though there’s an established cyber cell and a number of NGOs providing help in such cases, a lot of women are unaware of these avenues. And in some cases, if a woman is aware of the avenues they tend not to ask for help.

“I’m sure there are girls who haven’t or aren’t talking about it out loud because they’re taught silence over such matters,” says Sama.

While most of the women prefer to keep it to themselves, there’re women like Sahiba who approached the avenues present there for help. “I’ve asked for help once. It was regarding a fake account.”

Sahiba thinks that it’s important that every girl nips the evil in its bud.

These young women of Kashmir believe that the only solution to this problem is awareness and strict actions against the offenders. They reckon that there should be a proper direction and method on how to make social media a safe space for women.

“Women should be made aware of the use of privacy policies on these platforms,” Sama says.

“Awareness programmes should be held frequently on this subject. We shouldn’t always wait for any accident to teach us something.”

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