Whenever internet’s ugly underbelly comes into public view, civilised people recoil in horror as the perpetrators are often from the same social class. The virtual world is far more insidiously dangerous than the real world. Facelessness and anonymity provide cover to individuals and their nefarious activities. The restraint and caution people observe in real life due to social supervision are thrown to the wind in cyberspace. Recently, the daughter of President of India, a prominent political leader in her own right, found herself a target of vicious online stalking. Though much was at stake, she mustered the courage to expose the stalker and thus put the spotlight on the travails of women in cyber space.
Besides expressing determination to pursue legal action as a common citizen, she chose to name and shame to deter him from repeating it. After the 2012 Delhi gangrape case, laws were made more stringent. Online stalking, which results in fear of violence or causes distress or disturbs mental peace, can invite legal action. Often online stalkers are common people without any criminal record. As such, the punishment and its consequences can be an effective deterrent, but the low reporting of cyber crimes and even lower conviction rates blunt the fear of serious legal consequences. Under such circumstances, courageous women take to naming and shaming of online stalkers. It is not clear if it has the desired impact in all cases. Stalkers may prove to be quite shameless and as an unintended side-effect, their family members end up facing social humiliation and in some extreme cases, even ostracisation.
But, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the government to implement anti-stalking laws, employ trained cyber crimes investigators and forensics experts, and sensitise the law enforcement agencies to take complaints seriously so that they come up with water-tight cases which result in conviction.