Poshan

Home »  Magazine »  Society  »  When Love Turns Into Revenge, Sex Is Pornography

When Love Turns Into Revenge, Sex Is Pornography

Jilted love, extortion or plain perversion, any of which can turn your filmed private moments to porn

When Love Turns Into Revenge, Sex Is Pornography
Illustration by Sajith Kumar
When Love Turns Into Revenge, Sex Is Pornography
outlookindia.com
2017-07-01T10:53:25+0530

Kavita Lal, 33, is just back from another long, tiring day at court. A hint of a smile plays on her lips today—it’s been months since that shadow lifted from her face, months since that horrible day when she felt she had been stripped in public. Nothing perhaps will put her back together like she was, before she broke to pieces. Nothing will entirely heal the lesions, except maybe time. But a kind of justice is in sight. After a long-drawn pol­ice investigation, her husband, on the run for months, is finally in custody. The case proceedings have started at the Surajpur District and Sessions Court. Today Kavita can do without her ‘happy pills’, as she calls her anti-­depressant medicines, which she has been on to ever since her ordeal star­ted. Instead, she plans to couch down with the re-runs of her favourite ­Hindi serial, Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi.

Surajpur, if you were wondering, is a small town in Chhattisgarh. Which is a good enough indication of how deep the digital life has seeped into India. And how that essential unreality—of people living their lives more online than ‘off­line’—is affecting real lives. And how it’s melting away old, unwritten codes of how to live decently, which we all breathed in from the air, almost. The crime for which Kavita’s husband is being tried is no ordinary one. It’s something that would render normal human trust impossible. Their most intimate moments together had been recorded. And once they were turned into digital data—almost all human feelings leached from those moments—they became a mere video inventory on a porn site. If you still aren’t mortified, imagine yourself in that situation—your most private moments aired on X-rated sites and soc­ial media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp.

Why did he do it? The first reason: the essential companionship wasn’t there. It was a marriage on the rebound. Reason two: she refused to submit to his ever-inc­reasing demands, for money and sex. “When I said no, he started posting our videos on WhatsApp messages to my friends, family, posts on social media, and later videos on porn sites,” says Kavita.

Almost all of those ‘shamed’ on the int­ernet are women. Yes, it’s become a common enough phenomenon for it to qualify as a trend. They even have a catchy phrase to describe it: revenge porn. A phrase that opens the doors to a dark world where scorned and vindictive lovers post nude, morphed or private photos or videos of their partner without their consent in order to shame them.

There’s something terribly tragic about love that has gone stale. Men have used various ways—from public lashings to sulphuric acid—to get back at women who have tried to fight back, to say no to abuse. But the digital world has altered the terms. Everything now needs to be recorded, and cellphones camera in every pocket makes it possible. And when love turns into its negative, that data its­elf turns into acid. There has been an exp­losion of such cases recently, cutting across social strata and regions. Which means it’s got little to do with class, and more with the implicit value attached to a woman: a detachable part of male honour. Detachable, and tradable.

Data from the National Crimes Bureau, as of July 2014, shows there has been a 104.2 per cent increase over the previous year in the number of cases under the category described in classic officialese: ‘transmission of obscene content in electronic form’. In the intervening three years, the cases have shot up to an unbelievable frequency. “Five years ago, the number was as low as one a month. Now I get two-to-three cases per day,” says Rakshit Tandon, a cyber security expert.

Jai Ram, who heads the cyber cell in Hyderabad, says at least 15 cases of rev­enge porn are reported every month now. The cyber city recently had a case where all normal definitions would fail: a man live-streamed sex with his wife on a porn website without her knowledge. It wasn’t revenge, the site had ­promised him money.

Illustration by Sajith Kumar

The concept of revenge porn first burst into public attention in India in December 2004, with the DPS MMS scandal.

The concept of revenge porn first burst into public consciousness in India in December 2004, with the Delhi Public School MMS scandal, in which a grainy video shot on a mobile phone, of a teenage boy and girl from DPS engaging in oral sex, was circulated on the internet. It was a first, a sort of warning, telling us what the digital world was capable of doing. But then, everyone dismissed it as a one-off scandal, a case of raging adolescent hormones. Sadly, it seems to have set the benchmark: the phenomenon has only grown, along with the rapid advent of the digital, and touches everyone from celebrities to the girl next door.

The recent MMS clip of Sri Lankan cricketer-turned-politician Sanath Jayasuriya and ex-girlfriend Maleeka Sirisen, which went viral, was reportedly leaked by Jayasuriya himself—as an act of revenge. A probe has been initiated by the Sri Lankan authorities. Around the same time, it was reported that the Twitter account of popular RJ and playback singer, Suchitra Karthik, was hacked and sexually ‘explicit’ photographs of actors, including those of Tamil star Dhanush, were leaked online.

The intriguing part is how the digital media logic comes down like a decree—whatever you do has to be recorded. So before men turn rogue, and while they presumably still care for the one they are being intimate with, they are still recording the sex. Revenge only happens later, if things go wrong. Recently, a law student met a boy on a dating website. He turned out to be a hotel manager. Sure enough, when she told him it was only a “one-time thing” and she wanted out, the videos went up on many porn forums and websites. Another girl refused to get back with her boyfriend, and an old Skype chat went on to Whatsapp, and it’s still trending on certain sites. The list goes on.

Stray cases? Think again. All those who have a direct experience have cautionary words to offer. “This is when more than half the cases go unreported,” says Debarati Halder, advocate and cyber-victim counsellor. And Vivek Ranjan Rai, who’s the Noida cyber cell in-charge, says most victims don’t want to report cases for fear of social scandal. “There are very few cases in which the parents know, and even lesser when they support the child,” says Nitish Chandan, a cyber security analyst and founder of Cyber Blog India.

Naturally, what most victims want is for the content to be removed. Sometimes it gets more complicated—and gender equations go topsy-turvy. Sakshi Dubey, 24, came across a fake Facebook account that had been created in her name, and her nude photos were uploaded on it. She discovered that it was her female neighbour, who had an eye on her boyfriend. Sakshi only asked for an apology. “The police scolded her. Her parents came to me to apologise and I forgave,” she says.

Online infamy is at least confined to the computer-literate. Going through long court proceedings can be excruciating, so it’s no surprise that victims of revenge porn hesitate to lodge a formal complaint. “Cases could take years to close, and all the while the victim lives with the torment of the episode,” says Prashant Mali, a cyber crime advocate.

Mamta Kharbanda, 31, and her sister were both victims out in Mumbai. Her sister’s ex-boyfriend made fake acc­ounts of the two on Facebook and posted nude photos of the sister, and morphed photos of Mamta, along with their numbers and vulgar messages. He also sent e-mails to their families inf­orming them of their daughters’ ‘bad deeds’. The case went to trial in the Andheri sessions court three years ago. It still drags on and the Kharbanda sisters now wonder if they did the right thing by knocking at the courts. “He never comes to the court, only his lawyer comes to ask for an ext­ension,” says Mamta. “He is leading a normal life, rec­ently got married and now has a child. He has even got a new job in a top IT firm,” she adds angrily, wondering why employers don’t do a background check.

Or look at Vinupriya, just 21, from Elampillai village near Chennai. She ended up as a suicide statistic. You could blame the usual police delay, and rightly so, but it’s a familiar story. A boy in the neighbourhood started harassing her. When she ignored him, he put out morphed nude photos of her on Facebook. Her father reported it to the Tamil Nadu’s cyber crime cell. They told him it would take at least 10 days to remove the photos. The boy, meanwhile, continued to post more pictures. Vinupriya couldn’t take the torment anymore and hanged herself. “If the police had acted immediately, not giving a chance for more photos to surface, my daughter would not have committed suicide,” says the distraught father, Annadurai.

Kaushal, 23, a student from Haryana, shared her private photos with her ­boyfriend. They landed online, on a fake Facebook account.

Kaushal Tiwari, 23, a student from Haryana, shared her private photos with her boyfriend. They landed online, on a fake Facebook account in her name. Kaushal took the brave step and reported the matter to the Police. The boy went missing, and even though the fake acc­ount is down, there has been no attempt by the police to trace the perpetrator.

Of course, taking down content, once it’s up there, is very tough. Mainstream websites like Facebook and WhatApp have proper policy, but porn sites, whose domiciles are difficult to trace, and which have no reporting feature, are an entirely amoral world. One needs to first give direct and formal notice, personal or from the court, for them to take down content. India does have a Computer emergency response team (CERT) since 2015: it has the authority to block content, or the entire website altogether. “But the fact is, even after taking it down once, revenge porn can never be taken off fully,” says Chandan. That’s because porn sites draw content from websites using Internet bots, and put it up. “And usually there are multiple videos, so taking down one could still leave the possibility of the victim being blackmailed with another,” says Halder. The same content can also be uploaded again after it’s taken down from one site.

Illustration by Sajith Kumar

Why do they do it? Is it only bec­ause it’s so readily possible to do so, that perhaps, the internet is its own organism, which frees individuals of the thought of consequence? After all, in a moment of anger/vengeance/perversity (what not!), all one needs to do is tap the send or post button. And there it is, out of your own system and out into the digital landscape, everyone’s territory, violating the victim’s space a thousand times over.

“Most victims have irregular sleep patterns, hallucinations, and depression,” says Sameer Malhotra, director, mental health and behavioural sciences, at Max Hospital. The blame shifts to the victim. And their only recourse, as Malhotra says, is the ‘happy pills’.

Women who find themselves turned victims are often asked, ‘Why did you let him take a video?’ It’s a difficult question. In happier times, the guards are down, and couples do many things for a lark.  

Taking note of the increasing cases of revenge porn, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, headed by Maneka Gandhi, is exploring ways to bridge the gap between existing provisions of the IPC and the IT Act to deal with the issue. Several states in the US, and countries such as UK and Brazil among others, have laws relating to revenge porn. “In India, there is no specific law. And although as lawyers we fit our cases in the existing sections of 66E (transmitting images ­depicting the private parts of a person) and 67A (transmitting material containing sexually explicit acts, etc, in electronic form) of the IT Act, and IPC Section 354B, 354C (sexually explicit images of a woman taken without her permission and circulated online); a separate law for cyber crime would be simplify the justice process,” says Mali.

These provisions can be resorted to by victims of non-consensual pornography, but they fall short of addressing the complexities of such cases. For instance, Section 354B punishes a man who ass­aults a woman with the intent to disrobe her or compel her to be naked. This may not aid the victim of revenge porn since the act is often consensual. “There is Section 499 of the IPC for criminal defamation. But the biggest gap in jurisdiction is a complete lack of anything on the creation of such content. The present laws only talk about transmission and publication,” says Chandan.

The maximum punishment for revenge porn is five years. But in most cases, lawyers are able to secure bail for the offenders.

Social media sites, with their policies against such content, can only remove it after it has been uploaded. Even if the videos are on their sites for a day, they have been shared many times over or downloaded. Ranjana Kumari, who is on the advisory board of both Facebook and Twitter India, says the platforms are now working to make their content more secure. Given the millions of users, it’s not an easy task. Kumari says training the police to deal with such crimes will also help. Recently, Hyderabad Police launched a video campaign to spread awareness of such crimes.

Currently, the maximum punishment for revenge porn is five years, with a fine of Rs 10 lakh. “In most cases, lawyers are able to secure bail for the offenders,” says Tandon. “Sterner punishment will certainly act as a deterrent,” says Chandan.

Others like Mali point to the fact that in many cases “the accused are regretful of their impulsive act and have not thought through the repercussions of their ­actions,” adding that in many cases, counselling is required.

But for victims like Kavita, it’s a whole life at stake. And the knowledge that ano­ther life too could fall victim to this.


By Stuti Agarwal with inputs from G.C. Shekhar in chennai and Dola Mitra in calcutta

(All names have been changed.)

Subscribe to Outlook’s Newsletter

Next Story : Brush Dipped In Passion
Download the Outlook ​Magazines App. Six magazines, wherever you go! Play Store and App Store
THE LATEST ISSUE
CLICK IMAGE FOR CONTENTS
Online Casino Betway Banner





Advertisement
Advertisement