Chennai: When social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook started gaining popularity, many girls received numerous ‘frandship’ (the misspelt version of friendship) requests from interested men. Though women have been receiving SMSes that begin with ‘Hi’ from random men for a while now, things have taken a turn for the worse, with lewd messages being sent to unsuspecting women. As recently as September 12, police arrested a young man in the city for sending such messages to a married woman. This is not an isolated incident, as there are several such incidents which go unreported.
Kerina Thomas, a doctor, began receiving messages from an unknown number a couple of weeks ago. “The guy introduced himself as a student from a prominent medical college in the city, saying he had met me when he came to the hospital where I work. I didn’t recall meeting anyone like that,” she says. After a few good morning-good night messages which Kerina ignored, the tone of his messages changed.
“He started saying he would come to my house and ask for my hand in marriage. When I ignored these as well, he started using abusive language and began incessantly leaving missed calls. I am continuing to ignore this because I do not want the hassle of filing a case and taking him to court,” she says, adding that she plans to ask her mobile phone service provider to block the number.
Women in professions that involve meeting many new people on a daily basis, run the risk of giving their business card to the wrong types. Sheila M, a journalist, recalls, “I happened to meet a PR guy, who was from a respectable firm. In person, he kept it professional. I began receiving texts soon after. Mildly irritated, I never replied to even one message.”
While this went on for several weeks, Sheila says that some of the messages were quite explicit. “They made my skin crawl. But some were cryptic; one message said ‘Watch KTV now’. A Tamil movie, Siva Manasula Shakthi (SMS) was playing.
“These sorts of messages really tend to play havoc with your mood or even your entire day,” she says. “After a point, I was contemplating confronting him over the phone or placing a complaint with his company. I did not inform my boss either, because it was embarrassing. Thankfully, after a few months, the messages stopped. Now I check to see if he is the PR person for any event that I have to go to, just so I can avoid him,” says Sheila.
Nadia Fathima, an architect, says that a stranger has been messaging her through Whatsapp for the past six months. “At first I thought it was someone I knew. I even know how he looked from the profile photo, but there was not much I could do about it,” she says, adding that she hated that helpless feeling. As her parents stay in a different country, Nadia says she did not want to cause them any worry either. “When I told my friends about the situation, they advised me to block the number using the application. Now I don’t receive any more of those horrible messages,” she says, her eyes filling with tears at the memory.
These are just a few of the stories of the women in this city. Most are too scared to take legal action or go to the police. However, they do have options, say police officials. “The Chennai Police has a 24-hour SMS helpline for sexual harassment: 9500099100. At any time if they feel they have a problem, they can contact us and we will track down the offenders. We have the technology to catch them and the laws to punish them,” said an official, adding that women need not put up with such behaviour.