"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” They attribute those words to Albert Einstein. Whether he said them or not, the words have never rung truer. Not if the latest reports are to be believed. Apparently, the price of gaining easy access to a young girl in India is `50, if she’s average looking; Rs 500, if she’s “beautiful”. Who decides the figure? The people running phone recharge outlets in Uttar Pradesh, we’re told.
Back in 2012, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav set up 1090, a 24x7 toll-free helpline for any girl in the state to call for help if she was feeling threatened. To give the helpline extra teeth, the CM got IG Navniet Sekhere to manage the project. But even the supercop—who reduced the kidnapping rates in Western UP by over 95 per cent and who’s believed to have some 50 encounters in his kitty—probably didn’t expect to encounter so many unsavoury, unsolicited callers.
And yet, that’s exactly what he got: 5,82,854 of the 6,61,129 total complaints received on 1090 till December 2016 were related to harassment over the phone. The scariest part? Many of the “mujhse dosti karoge” callers got the numbers from the outlets where the girls recharge their pre-paid mobile phones. Apparently, the outlet owners save the numbers they give out to women and pass them on to anyone willing to pay their price. The exact price is determined by the girl’s “beauty”, gauged from the photographs that have to be provided by anyone looking for a mobile connection.
Has the 21st century turned us into a tool of our tools? Technology was supposed to help man, but it’s taken on a Mr Hyde role of hindrance instead. Harassment has become a common part of life, both online and offline. Young colleagues complain about strange men getting access to their numbers and WhatsApp pictures and sending them seedy messages. A niece tells me of a boy in her college who periodically downloads the FB pictures of his female classmates, and posts them on his own page, with disgusting comments about their physical attributes. When the complaints get too much for him to handle, he deletes the posts and sits tight for a bit before starting the process all over again.
There are two things that puzzle me in cases like these. In the case of the student, how do the college authorities and/or the parents—his own as well as the girls’—let him get away with it? Two, what does he, and his tribe (which includes the UP men selling and buying the phone numbers), get out of harassing the girls? None of them can possibly believe that the women will respond favourably to their unsolicited advances.
Are they influenced by films where the he-man gets the woman in the end? Or do they do it just because they can? Is it a power game; a way to keep women scared and subordinate? Are they out to devalue a woman’s role in society by reducing her to a body or a face?
There was a time not too long ago when that worked, when women blamed themselves, believing that something in their dress or manner attracted unwanted attention.
Fortunately, that woman is fast disappearing. Mister Romeo had better follow suit.