Uttarakhand Minister of State Rekha Arya has reportedly blamed the proliferation of the smartphone for the increasing incidence of rapes. This is in line with the usual tendency of blaming increase in the freedom that women enjoy for their troubles. Like any other technology, the smartphone is open to misuse and requires some skill to operate safely, particularly in the context of social media, but this is applicable to men, also. It must also not be forgotten that this new communications technology has also contributed to enhanced security of their users, as well as become a handy tool for the police in solving crimes. The same statistics that the minister is quoting also state that 94 percent of rapists are people known to the victim.
Just as children and young women are advised not to become friendly with strangers in real life, or venture into crime prone areas, like other very ordinary precautions such as not crossing the road at the wrong time or poking one’s finger into a power socket, there are basic rules every person must learn about smartphone use. Criminals and predators are naturally working to exploit every weakness for their own profit, whether it involves stealing a bank password, or making friends over Facebook with a false identity. Recall how many people have been scammed by fraudsters with e-mails promising transfer of money stuck in some Nigerian prince’s account in exchange for ‘transaction’ costs? Despite being told repeatedly about responding to such bait, people continue to fall victim. But, it must be noted, it is a gender neutral thing.
In the context of the minister’s concern, it is necessary for those who acquire smartphones and join social media to learn the fundamental rules that have emerged for their safe use. Schools and colleges, government agencies that engage with the youth, the Women’s Commission, parents, peer groups, etc., should run regular campaigns to inform them of the dangers involved, just as they do on substance abuse and safe sex. And it must not be forgotten that, for every case of predatory behaviour over social media, there is a case of young people finding their life partner from across caste, community and regional lines. In fact, for many objectors, it is this aspect that is troublesome, just as much as acts of criminality. It is simply a question of being on top of technology, not becoming a slave to it.