Warning: This story contains graphic language.
"Yew Vijay Nair biggest sex maniac [sic]."
That tweet was posted on 26 November 2015.
It came just like that, from an anonymous handle. There was no provocation, no one he suspected, and no fathomable motive.
Nair had no way of knowing it then, but this was the first salvo in a nerve-wracking stalker campaign of tweets, messages and deception that would drag in colleagues, friends, clients and others. It would leave the 33-year-old entrepreneur anxious, drained and second-guessing for months, wondering who was behind this and what they wanted.
Nair is hardly a household name, but he is an influential media entrepreneur who has won respect for good taste and foresight. He dropped out from college to start Only Much Louder (OML), a Mumbai-headquartered media company known for its NH7 Weekender concerts, promoting independent artists and comedy collectives such as East India Comedy and the uber successful All India Bakchod.
The story as it unfolded over the next four months is a cautionary tale, both about how easy it is for nearly anyone to turn into a dangerous stalker with complete anonymity and zero consequences, and the lack of protections and legal remedies available to any of us, should we, let's say, start receiving abusive tweets and emails marked to our colleagues one fine weekday morning.
The events described in this story have been reconstructed based on extensive review of documents, and interviews with more than 20 people.
Nair could discern a pattern that day--an anonymous handle would jump in and respond to his conversations, especially with women. "Put news ticker that Vijay Nair f***s every girl through events," responded an anonymous handle when he was talking to a journalist on Twitter. "vijay nair resume only have flirt wid gals sex with gals [sic]," said another one while Nair was answering a student's query.
It was concerted sexual harassment. Many of them made serious accusations, even if comically misspelt. Nair knew he had a headache at hand.
Each time Nair would report an anonymous account for abuse, Twitter would suspend it. Within minutes, a new anonymous handle would replace it. They were all variations of the word "Ketaki".
Sometimes, 'Ketaki' would also target women who were having public conversations with Nair on Twitter.
When a woman student asked Nair about failure at work, 'Ketaki' replied, "work hard in bed d*** up [sic]."
To a journalist tweeting about breaking news, the handle asked, "is vijay nair small d*** real 2 [sic]?"
The next day, Nair received an unsigned email from "Ketaki Ketaki" apologising for the Twitter harassment. The sender's email address was email@example.com. Apart from Nair, it was also marked to three of his women friends who had been targeted on Twitter. The email read:
Dear Vijay Nair
Sorry 4 wat I have done on twitter in last few days with yew and all known people of yew.my hubby has got to know about it.I have to say sorry now and it will not be repeat again.
Forgive me.Yewr lover forever
Several emails followed where people who appeared to be chatting with Nair on Twitter would be marked. Many were journalists, whose email ids could easily be found on the internet. Over time, some 50-60 people who knew Nair (possibly harvested from LinkedIn, Facebook and other platforms) would be marked in such emails, typically with crude language, abuse, allegations and threats. In some emails to him, the stalker would threaten harm to his family members, describing their individual locations accurately.
But in those early days in November, things were just beginning to escalate.
On 30 November 2015, the same email ID sent another email to Nair and a group of friends, including one we shall call Geeta, to protect her identity. The email read:
I am mail yew again as I did not get response from yew.I whatsap yew also whatsap yewr girlfriend geeta [name changed].yew did not reply geeta did not reply.
I loved yew very very much but now I am sorry for tweet to all yewr friends.my sorry apology
A week later, on 7 December 2015, "Ketaki Ketaki" sent another email to the same group:
Hello Vijay, Yew don't respond.so do this.
Girls geeta charge money to sex vijay nair.vijay nair pay geeta 2000 night from two years. Vijay use girl dump them.yew vijay is most selfish man.never think beyond yewrself.yew deserve prostitute like geeta
Geeta was furious.
A professional in her mid-30s, Geeta worked at the time for an entertainment company. Her job demanded networking with known names from arts and culture. Hailing from Bihar, she had worked with top companies in Delhi and Mumbai and liked hobnobbing with the movers and shakers of the Mumbai entertainment industry. Some of the women marked by "Ketaki" were journalists, and this could seriously harm Geeta's reputation in an industry where rumours earn the legitimacy of gossip columns overnight.
Geeta barely knew Nair. She had first met him socially a few months ago. They went to watch a film's premier show together but that was that. They had stayed in touch.
Why was Vijay Nair's anonymous online stalker targeting Geeta along with him?
III. The Married Couple
Geeta asked Nair on Whatsapp to explain what was going on. He was embarrassed and apologised to her. He was sorry that an online stalker was harassing her only because she knew him.
But who could the stalker be? Nair had a suspect in mind. Some years ago, a married couple from Delhi used to stalk him in entertainment events. They had stopped doing so after Nair sent them a legal notice. But now it seemed they were back in an online avatar, abusing the privilege of anonymity the internet offered.
A little mollified, Geeta offered to help Nair by reaching out to her contacts in Mumbai police.
"She told me her cousin brother was this well-known super cop Himanshu Roy, and she'll check with him," Nair said. "I was like, great, I'll take any help I can get at this point in time."
On Whatsapp, Geeta sent Nair screenshots of her conversations with Roy. Roy had confirmed it was the same Delhi-based couple who had sent the 'Ketaki' emails. He said they had used a proxy email server in Canada to hide their tracks. The Mumbai police had warned them on phone and in person, the officer told Geeta. It wouldn't happen again. It seemed like they had got to the bottom of the mystery.
Sure enough, "Ketaki Ketaki" confirmed it was indeed the Delhi couple behind it all. An email on 10 December 2015 said the police had visited the couple. The email read:
Yew complain to police.my hubby me get call from police station.I am sorry to yew and vijay. Can't able to whatsapp yew vijay as I am block. This wil never be repeat again ever.sorry for harass and bad word
With this, Nair breathed a sigh of relief. It was finally over.
But it had just begun.
The messages did not stop. The main demand of 'Ketaki' was for Geeta to 'return' Nair to her. A bizarre demand because Geeta and Nair were not seeing each other at all, and never had.
'Ketaki' asked Geeta to withdraw her police complaint against her and her husband. In truth, Geeta had never filed a formal complaint, but had been informally using Roy's help, she'd told Nair. Since the police had visited the couple, 'Ketaki' seemed to think a formal complaint had been filed. All that Geeta and Nair wanted was to make the emails stop.
Being stalked is no fun, as those who have been through the experience will attest. At best it will ruin your peace of mind and cause emotional distress. At worst it can result in serious psychological trauma and long-term damage.
IV. The Threats
Far from stopping, the messages became more menacing and threatening. "I started getting messages like... 'I will kill myself with poison, I will tell the cops that you've tried to rape me'. That's when I started taking things more seriously," said Nair.
He began to get messages on Whatsapp as well. They'd come from American phone numbers. He would block one number, only to start getting them from another American number in a matter of minutes.
"I'm talking about 300-400 messages a day," Nair said. "I would take out my phone to open Whatsapp, and there would be hundreds of messages from these random American numbers." Some messages just had his name typed out dozens of times, others simply said Hi.
Geeta would get similar Whatsapp messages, screenshots of which she would share with Nair. Usually, neither of them would reply. One night, an exasperated Geeta begged the anonymous sender, "Please stop texting me." In response, she received a barrage of texts warning her to stay away from Nair, or there would be "consequences," including rape.
By the second week of December, things began escalating. At 6:06 pm on Sunday, 13 December, Nair and Geeta panicked as the stalker threatened to visit Geeta. The email read:
I am at mumbai. I will see yew in sometime geeta (name changed).yew cant take my vijay away from me.yew will face for this price.yew are pregnant with vijay baby.I will kill yew and yewr baby.vijay is mine.I will also tell everone on twitter that yew are pregnant
Vijay Nair asked OML's security personnel to immediately reach Geeta's house in Malad. Geeta said she knew Salman Khan and had reached out to him. The Bollywood superstar was sending his bodyguard Shera too, she told Nair.
Twenty-five minutes after the first email, exactly at 6:30 pm, Nair and Geeta received another email:
Geeta I am down stair.come down.pink top jeans black jacket
Over the next hour or so, the person sent several emails to both Geeta and Nair, claiming to be standing downstairs in Geeta's apartment building. The person claimed to be carrying a gun and poison, and warned them against calling the police. Alternating between wheedling and threatening in tone, the sender of the emails claimed to have known Nair for years.
Here's how the pithy, unsigned emails flowed:
- "I am in mumbai.I will see yew in some time.will not let yew take away vijay from me"
- "Geeta I waiting downstairs"
- "Plz give back my vijay to me"
- "Geeta if yew want yew call vijay also to yew home.don't even try call police.I am carry gun with me.I will kill yew first then kill myself.give vijay to me all this will not happen.I also carry poison with me"
- "I know yew touch with vijay.tell vijay to come meet me"
- "Meet me vijay.I promise yew I wont tweet wont mail yewr frn wont whatsap yew.yew meet me in puna so nicely.now why do this"
- "Yew write song for me twitter.why now ignore.plz meet me.I am wait outside geeta (name changed) house."
- "Geeta I am outside yew house door ringing bell knocing door.why yew not opening door.scared? I will not let yew keep vijay"
V. The Note
Four men from OML's security team, along with a senior executive (who asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the story), reached Geeta's house when the threatening emails were still coming.
Nair's security colleagues started looking for a woman, wearing black and pink, prowling the area. She could be dangerous, they knew. Geeta's apartment was located on the eighth floor. The men spread out, keeping an eye on all entry and exit points of the building. They also alerted the security guards of the area.
The emails eventually stopped coming. Around 2 am the senior executive called Nair and said it was perhaps time to leave. They agreed the person was probably not around the apartment, and must have left even if she was there. The men ordered some food and ate dinner before leaving.
Around the same time, Nair and Geeta got another email:
"I wil keep come to yewr house every day night til yew meet me. I leave slip for yew. vijay is mine. give him back to me. I am not leave mumbai til I meet yew"
Immediately after Nair saw the email, he got a call from Geeta, confirming that a note had indeed been slipped through the front door. "MEET ME," it said on a piece of paper from an Archies notepad, two hearts printed on the bottom right corner.
"We hadn't gone far," the senior executive said in an interview to HuffPost India. "So we all ran back to her house." Two men stayed guard at the entrance of the building, two others climbed the stairs to the eighth floor, while the executive took the elevator to Geeta's house. None of them found anyone exiting.
At Geeta's house, the executive found her shivering in fear. She told him she was making tea when she saw the note lying at the front door.
VI. Elementary, My Dear Watson
Vijay Nair had not slept all night, nervously expecting yet another Whatsapp message, email, or just bad news. He had a bodyguard at home overnight, but he couldn't stop worrying. What if the stalker tried to harm his family? They didn't even know about any of this. He hoped the executive and his team were able to find the stalker in flesh and blood.
That's when his phone rang. It was the senior executive. "Vijay," he said, "you realise this woman is doing everything right?"
"What do you mean?!" asked Nair.
The executive explained how he had tried to slip the note through the same door himself, but the gap wasn't wide enough for it.
Vijay," he said, "you realise this woman is doing everything right?"
The executive had stood outside Geeta's door and tried to insert the same note through every crack of the door, but it just wouldn't go through. He tried every possible way to make the note slip through. He tried inserting it with a half-fold, the way Geeta gave it to him. He tried inserting it without a fold. He made a video showing this. He also noticed the note looked like it had just been written. The ink was fresh.
He immediately sent the video to Nair. As soon as he pressed 'Send', he recalled, Geeta yanked open the door. "Nahin jaa rahaa na? (It's not going through, right?)" she asked, staring straight into his eyes.
More than a year later, he still felt goosebumps recalling the moment.
For hours, he stayed there with his men, chatting with her, drinking tea. He didn't say he didn't believe her version of events, but kept asking her the same questions over and over again. Having just realised what the truth might be, the senior executive said he was too scared to confront her right away.
Around 8 in the morning, she told them that she had to leave for work. She had a big shoot that evening with a major Bollywood star.
VII. The Trap
With these new doubts in mind, Vijay Nair started recalling the chain of events of the past few weeks, especially all his conversations with Geeta.
Was it just the note or had she lied about everything?
First, he got in touch with Himanshu Roy, the senior police officer who she had said was her cousin. When he managed to get an appointment with Roy, and narrated the entire story, the cop was disturbed. He had no such cousin sister, he told Nair, and he had never sent any messages or used his contacts to trace the couple in Delhi.
What especially troubled Roy was the reference to his wife in the messages Geeta claimed to have received from him.
While Roy was not reachable for comment, HuffPost India independently confirmed this information from Mumbai police officials who knew about the exchange. Other things Geeta had told Nair--like Salman Khan offering her his security--also turned out to be false. (Khan's security chief Shera confirmed this to HuffPost India. "I don't know this person and neither does Salman," he said.)
Nair was beginning to wonder if she had engineered the entire thing.
So, Nair laid a trap.
He told Geeta the made up story that his erstwhile Delhi stalker believed that one Raghu Dixit song was written about her. Soon, the stalker on email referred to the song.
Similarly, Nair cooked up other stories about himself, shared them with Geeta, and found them making their way to the stalker emails.
It was now clear to him that Geeta was the stalker. But he kept it to himself.
VIII. The Unmasking
Vijay Nair told Geeta he wanted to file a police complaint against the anonymous stalker and wanted her to give a witness statement to accompany his FIR at the police station.
On the morning of 18 December 2015, Nair met Geeta at the NM Joshi police station. Until this point, he was still pretending he thought the stalker was the woman from Delhi.
At the police station, as Nair narrated the story, he also told the cops that Geeta had informally complained to her cousin, the police officer Himanshu Roy, who had had the stalker in Delhi warned. The police officer at the NM Joshi police station said he knew Himanshu Roy very well and proceeded to call Roy, who denied knowing Geeta.
This is when Geeta's make-believe world of being a hapless collateral damage to Vijay's stalker collapsed. She gave in and verbally admitted she had orchestrated the entire stalking, according to two Mumbai police officers with direct knowledge of the events. However, this is inadmissible in court as evidence. On record, she has denied she had any part to play in this.
"Earlier she was playing the victim and then it became clear that she's behind it," a senior police officer present at the time of her questioning told HuffPost India.
IX. The Business Rival
The Mumbai Police wondered if she had an accomplice. Surely, she couldn't have pulled off a big identity scam herself?
The emails and messages to Nair and his female acquaintances were sent through a virtual private network, or VPN, which masks its user's actual digital address. The sender used fake American mobile numbers and VPNs--that can be easily bought online--to send obscene emails and Whatsapp messages.
She didn't seem like a tech wizard. Was there an accomplice who was behind all the technology? Did someone make her do this? She worked at a company that was OML's rival. It was called The Viral Fever, which, like OML, had interests in both comedy and digital content. Did by any chance her company bosses make her do it?
Geeta conceded. It was indeed her boss, TVF founder Arunabh Kumar, who had made her do all of this, she told the police.
Arunabh Kumar had both the technical background and potential motive--he was a BTech graduate from IIT Kharagpur and Nair's business rival. This theory could fit in with the investigation. The police immediately called Kumar to the police station for questioning.
They questioned Kumar and Geeta separately, and then together. They became convinced that Kumar had no idea of any of this. She told the cops then that he had blackmailed her into doing what she did. But she couldn't explain how.
After the interrogation, Kumar went up to Nair and assured him he had nothing to do with any of this. The next day he called up Nair and repeated his words.
"It's not my job to believe or disbelieve him," Nair told HuffPost India. "But there was no evidence to point towards his involvement."
HuffPost India spoke to Mumbai cops close to the investigation. They confirmed that they did not believe Kumar had any relation to the case. "It's not rocket science to use VPNs (virtual private networks, which help mask a computer's unique IP address)," a senior police officer said. "You can just Google it."
HuffPost India reached out to TVF with a detailed questionnaire. The company did not respond despite repeated attempts.
X. Geeta's Defence
After the showdown at the police station, Vijay Nair cut off his ties with Geeta, stopped responding to her messages. As the word spread, many friends and acquaintances in Mumbai also severed their social ties with Geeta.
She repeatedly tried to reach out to Nair (now as Geeta), pleading with him to give her a chance to explain herself. In one email, she hinted she was going to commit suicide. "Wish you would have understood that it is not my fault but you have made up your mind against me and the thought of it is killing me," she wrote. "i hope you will realize some day that I was most honest till the end. I give up on life as I can't take this pressure anymore."
Nair immediately alerted the police and requested her acquaintances rush to her apartment. One friend who was among the first one to reach, described a tense scene outside her house as cops and others reached, acting with urgency. But she wasn't about to kill herself. While local police were considering breaking open her front door after getting no responses, she calmly walked out of the elevator, holding a packet of cigarettes. She had just gone for a walk.
After an FIR was lodged in the matter, Geeta complained to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) saying she had been beaten up by one of the senior police officers investigating the case. Mumbai police filed a reply to her accusations, and the NHRC investigated and found no merit in the allegations made by Geeta. Finding "no further intervention required", the commission closed the enquiry on November 2016.
Despite HuffPost India's best efforts, Geeta is unwilling to come on record with her side of the story. She met a team of HuffPost reporters at a cafe in Delhi, accompanied by a person she identified as her sister. Geeta had a three-page long note with her version of events, which she allowed us to read but not to retain a copy. She asked us not to use any of that material and refused to offer any comment, turning down repeated requests.
The woman who accompanied Geeta, introduced to us as her elder sister, offered this comment: "I have full faith in the system... We're not against the police and the case has to be closed following the right procedure."
XI. Inside A Stalker's Mind
It is not unusual for the police to be cautious when there is a potential female stalker involved, said Dr. Rajat Mitra, a criminal psychologist.
"Police are usually shy of pressing charges in cases where there are women stalkers," he told HuffPost India. "Living in a patriarchal society we don't believe a woman can be a stalker. The police and judiciary trivialise it and you come across a strong bias in these cases." It was also a common assumption, he said, that the woman would have a male accomplice in such cases--how would she do it alone?
"In these cases, a woman usually wouldn't say she was at fault," said Anuja Kapur, another criminal psychologist. "She would go into a blame game. In her mind she would picture the man as hers, and that she would have kids with that man."
Interestingly, Geeta told a senior female editor of a media house at a party--before the FIR was lodged--that she had a crush on Nair and "might as well marry him and have kids with him" after all the messages they had received from the anonymous stalker. This editor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said she was also on the original email chain where the anonymous sender had referred to Geeta as Nair's girlfriend. "I found it odd," the editor told HuffPost India. "Why would she say that?"
"In her mind she would picture the man as hers, and that she would have kids with that man."Anuja Kapur, criminal psychologist
"Usually, women stalkers are very aggrieved, and they have an inner rage they are unable to cope with," said Dr Mitra. "They would usually miss subtle cues (that the other person is not interested) and it reveals a lack of sensitivity." Nair said he had turned down a lot of attempts by Geeta to watch films, meet for drinks or hang out at home.
While both Mitra and Kapur were of the opinion that stalkers should be tried under criminal law and punished, Kapur added that the stalker herself could be a victim at times. "Victimology is also important here," Kapur said. "In her earlier history, the woman could have been a victim and later became an offender."
However, this does not make a woman stalker less dangerous. "Women stalkers are not to be taken lightly," said Mitra. "Both men and women can be vicious once their object of desire are frustrated. If they have broken the law they should be dealt with accordingly. If you let them off they could really hurt another person more severely. Never be soft with a stalker because they never forget their object of infatuation."
XII. The Law
In a supplementary complaint that Nair filed in February 2016, he told police that he believed that it was Geeta who sent the anonymous messages. "She also sent me a message from a number saying she needs help but she has no money, no job, no house etc," Nair wrote in his complaint. "On 7 February, I got harassing messages from the same number clearly proving that she is behind this."
"I believe she accidentally sent it from the number without realising that she hadn't changed her Whatsapp number to a fake profile."
The messages from this number, which HuffPost India has a copy of, say "Vijay" seven times, similar to past messages from the anonymous stalker. However, this was from an Indian number, unlike the previous messages.
Her initial verbal confession is also not admissible in court. The police confiscated her personal laptop and two mobile phones for forensic examination. Crucial evidence from these electronic items can decide the fate of the investigation. Police officers say the forensic examination could take years because India's forensic laboratories are understaffed and overburdened with cases.
Even after the forensic examination, the police may not be able to charge her with much, except obscenity laws. The Indian Information Technology (IT) Act does not have adequate remedies for victims in such cases. "Cyberstalking is not an offence under the IT Act," cyber crime expert and lawyer Pavan Duggal said to HuffPost India. Section 67 of the IT Act says a person sending obscene messages electronically could get at most three years in jail and may have to cough up a fine of at most ₹5 lakhs.
Men who stalk women in person or on the internet can be charged under section 354D of the IPC--but the same law does not apply if the victim is a man.
In this case, as the investigation continues, other sections under the IT Act and IPC could be added to include identity theft, cheating, forging electronic records, harming reputation, and criminal intimidation.
XIII. 'Vijay Is Mine'
Nair continued to receive anonymous emails and messages for months after the FIR. In February 2016, women employees of his office received individual anonymous emails threatening them, asking them to stay away from Nair. Similar emails were also sent to many of his women friends and acquaintances.
"only becaus his d*** iz big yew gals don't need 2 hang 2 it [sic]," read the email. "vijay is mine."
Some of them also received Whatsapp messages, again from ever-changing American numbers. Each time, Nair would have to explain to the new round of victims that there was an ongoing police case in the matter, and it was unwise to reply to any of these messages. Some of these women were young employees of his company, and Nair would have to explain to them, along with someone from his human resources (HR) team, why they were receiving these offensive emails.
Some would sympathise, but the awkwardness with clients and colleagues would haunt him.
"I think some of them believed the shit," he said. "The general assumption is this must be someone he has really messed around with, and that is why they keep doing this, right?"
Finally, it was around February 2016 that all the messages stopped, as suddenly as they had begun four months ago. Since then, Nair hasn't received any more texts or emails--so far.
He doesn't take chances anymore. Once every month, all his tweets to his 31,000 followers are automatically deleted to erase all traces of his public conversations. He is careful in his dealings with all new people, and has extra layers of security for all his social media channels.
"One of the lessons I've learnt is how incredibly easy it is to get personal information from the internet," he said, "I went a bit nuts on the privacy part."
As yet, no one has been arrested or charged.
Geeta now works at a media company in Mumbai.
Disclosure: The Times Group is a minority stakeholder in OML. HuffPost India is published in association with Times Internet, a Times Group company.