On August 23, 2018, nothing out of the ordinary had happened in Seema’s* day. The 22-year-old was having a usual day when her phone pinged. She was shocked to see an inappropriate message on WhatsApp from an unknown number, asking to meet her and provide her “anything” she would want for some “fun over the weekend”. The sender asked for her rate, insinuating that she was a sex worker. When she asked where they got her number from, the person replied – escort services.
This was the beginning of weeks of harassment that Seema would have to endure. Save a 20-day gap in September where the sender seemed to have backed off, Seema has received inappropriate messages, from different numbers, almost every day that progressively became more abusive. Most of them overtly bank on slut-shaming Seema and speaking ill of her family.
The sender even demanded a ransom of Rs 40,000, started circulating screenshots of her Facebook profile to her colleagues calling her a “prostitute” who was looting people, and even began to send gross and inappropriate messages to her parents.
Till date, she has blocked over 70 numbers and has had to delete her WhatsApp and social media accounts. “It has been extremely mentally traumatising,” she tells TNM.
Seema filed a complaint with the Electronic City police station on August 31. “But they just told me to change my phone and my SIM, that it was the only way to stop this from happening,” she alleges. After this, she enlisted the help of a friend, journalist Pooja Chaudhuri, who tweeted about Seema’s ordeal on October 15.
And while the Cyber Crime cell did take note of the same and registered an FIR, Seema says that no further action has been taken.
This is a preview of one of the messages my friend's mom received just last night. pic.twitter.com/NpvyDkUZq3— Pooja Chaudhuri (@ChaudhuriPooja) October 25, 2018
One such message that was recently sent to her mother called Seema a “prostitute from a pig” and “warned” about streaming her sexual activities on social media. “My parents are still getting such messages. They are extremely worried, and want me to come back home,” Seema says.
Ex-boyfriend a suspect, but no action taken
Seema believes that her ex-boyfriend Samarth*, who she had been seeing for seven years until six months ago, could be the person behind the harassment.
“In between all of this, he told me he had also been targeted by the blackmailer. But the language and the time of the messages was exactly the same as what I had gotten. He also told me that he had transferred Rs 25,000 through account transfer to the blackmailer as ransom. But when I asked him to send me a screenshot of the transaction, he dilly-dallied, and then ultimately sent me two numbers and claimed that he had transferred Rs 1,000 and Rs 3,000 respectively to both through Paytm,” Seema says.
TNM has seen screenshots where Samarth has claimed to have transferred some amount to the said numbers via Paytm bank. When Seema asked for screenshots, he told her to get him out of this mess, and that he would send her the remaining proof the next morning. Seema says she never got the reply.
“He is the only person who had my family members’ numbers too,” Seema says. She adds that Samarth had allegedly learnt hacking online. The numbers she has received messages from all begin with +1 which is the US country code. “There are apps that allow you to create such dummy numbers… and the blackmailer has never called me, which is why I am almost sure it is someone I know,” she shares.
Seema had told as much to the police officials as well as the Cyber Crime officials. Her FIR names Samarth as well, who is based in her home town in West Bengal, but the messages have not stopped. “They don’t come to me anymore because I am not on social media or WhatsApp, but my parents are very stressed. They have deleted most of the messages they received because of this,” she says.
Even the fake profile, which was apparently sending screenshots of Seema’s profile to her colleagues with comments maligning her image, has not been taken down. In the FIR, Seema mentions one ‘Sandip Rana’ who has been doing these activities online, along with the URL. When TNM checked, the profile still exists on Facebook, and appears fake with no details and no profile picture.
The whole ordeal has been highly stressful for Seema. “My boss has been very supportive, thankfully,” says the HR professional. “But it doesn’t look nice when my colleagues get such messages about me, even though they are not true.”
The person has been sending lewd messages to her colleagues as well. He basically knows where she works. This amounts to stalking, which I'm sure you already know. (I have blurred my friend's face and name in the screenshot below to protect her identity) (3/n) pic.twitter.com/k27LrrhYTs— Pooja Chaudhuri (@ChaudhuriPooja) October 15, 2018
TNM tried to reach the Cyber Crime cell as well as the Electronic City police officials multiple times, but did not receive a response.