NEW DELHI — More than two years after Rana Ayyub, author of the Gujarat Files and a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi government, lodged a complaint about her face being morphed on a body of another woman in a pornographic video and the abuse that followed on social media, the Delhi Police has decided to stop looking for culprits.
In a letter dated 8 July, 2020, the Delhi Police told Ayyub said that “despite efforts the culprits could not be identified yet.”
Of the 18 Twitter handles that Ayyub mentioned in the complaint she lodged at the Saket Police Station in April 2018, HuffPost India found that 14 are still active, 12 offensive messages are still online, and 11 have shown activity in 2020.
In May 2018, five UN Special Rapporteurs wrote to the Modi government, asking the government to protect Ayyub and bring about an end to the vicious culture of online trolling targeting journalists critical of the authorities in India.
“We have previously urged the authorities in India to take active steps to reverse a political climate that, in recent years, has become increasingly polarised and hostile, especially to the media and those exercising the freedom of expression,” they said.
In July, this year, Ayyub posted on her Twitter timeline a death threat she received on the social media platform, and said that she was inundated with rape and death threats after posting a message about an elderly Kashmiri man who the Jammu and Kashmir Police say was killed in the crossfire between Indian security forces and militants.
Cyberstalking and bullying of Indian women journalists and politicians is common in India.
A study published by Amnesty India in January 2020 found that Twitter was a toxic place for Indian women politicians, who face substantially higher abuse than their counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom, in the form of threats sexist, religious, racist and casteist slurs, and Muslim women politicians faced 55% more abuse.
Delhi Police to close case
A letter from the Office of the Dy Commissioner of the Police, CyPAD, Special Cell, from Inspector Sajjan Singh Yadav, dated 8 July, 2020, says the police has decided to close Ayyub’s case, registered under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act including sexual harassment, criminal intimidation, insulting the modesty of a woman, violation of privacy, and publication or transmission of obscene material in an electronic form. (CyPAD - Cyber Prevention, Awareness and Detection Centre).
“It is further to intimate to you that despite efforts the culprits could not be identified yet. It is, therefore, the investigation of the case being closed and ‘Untraced Report’ is being filed in the Hon’ble court of CMM (Chief Metropolitan Magistrate), New Delhi, Patiala House Court, New Delhi, the letter reads.
On the Delhi Police’s response, Ayyub said, “Insensitive.”
“They were hesitant about taking the complaint,” she said, adding that the Saket Police Station registered an FIR only when her lawyers Vrinda Grover and Ratna Appnender threatened to file a zero FIR (an FIR that can be filed at any police station regardless of place of incident or jurisdiction).
Ayyub said that she also reached out to Twitter and Twitter India to take action against accounts that she had identified as responsible for the spreading vitriol against her on social media. In most of these cases, Ayyub said that she received a standard response saying that they had not violated Twitter norms and guidelines.
On Twitter’s response, Ayyub said, “Random. You don’t know what violates their privacy and abuse norms.”
April 2018 complaint
In her complaint to the Saket Police Station on 26 April, Ayyub said that on 22 April, she had discovered that a statement — “minor child rapists are also human” — was being falsely attributed to her and widely shared on Twitter.
“Consequent to this, most of the Twitter users were sharing it along with extremely abusive, derogatory, threatening, violent, sexually offensive comments about me and open and direct threats to kill me and harm me were also being given on social media,” she wrote.
That same day, Ayyub discovered that her face was morphed on a woman in a pornographic video that was being widely circulated on social media. Facebook users, she said in her complaint, sent the complete sexually explicit pornographic video to her inbox.
“Ever since then, the Twitter and Facebook users who are sharing the pornographic video and screenshots from it and sending them to me are using extremely derogatory, abusive and obscene language directed towards me, and are also making open threats to rape me,” she wrote in the compaint. “I have never felt so scared, fearful, degraded and humiliated before. By transmitting and publishing the obscene and pornographic video and using the same to target, attack, malign and threaten me, my life limb and liberty has been jeopardised and my privacy and dignity is being violated.”
On 6 July, 2018 Ayyub sent an email to the Delhi Police, saying that more than a month had passed since she had submitted all the relevant documents, made a statement before a Magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and an FIR was registered, and asked for an update in her case.
On 20 August 2018, Ayyub received an email from the Delhi Police informing her that her case had been transferred from the Cyber Cell South District to Cyber Special Cell Mandir Marg, New Delhi. Inspector Pawanjeet Kaur of the Cyber Cell Special Cell wrote, “On perusal of the case file it was found that the screenshot provided by you does not bear its URL/LINK,” and asked her to appear in her office on 30 August.
Ayyub responded on 27 August by saying that she had submitted a set of complete documents in hard copy as well as pen drive containing the soft copy, running into 90 pages, including print out of screenshots of tweets, Facebook posts and messages annexed as Annexure 1. Ayyub said the offensive material was still available on the internet, and that she had given a statement to a Magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC.
“Despite four months having passed since the registration of my FIR, the investigation seems to show no sign of progress and no efforts seem to have been made to ascertain the identities of the offenders,” she said. “The complaint made by me is extremely serious, and severely impacts me both as a woman and my work as a journalist.”
Ratna Appnender, Ayyub’s lawyer, said that in a meeting with the Delhi Police on 30 August, they argued that in addition to the complaint, they had provided all the information that was publicly available and it was for the police to investigate and find more evidence.
“It was very clear that they did not know how to do this,” said Appnender.
On 12 June 2019, Ayyub sent an email to the Delhi Police, requesting an update in the investigation in the case registered a year earlier, and appraising them that the “same fake tweets” were being shared by “twitter handles that have enabled rape and death threats against me yet again.”
“You have also been given a copy of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs note to the Indian government to protect me,” she said.