MEENA MENON, The Hindu, April 11,2013
First it was sexual harassment at workplace. Next comes a slanderous campaign on the Internet. For this former employee of auditing firm KPMG, life has become hell since 2007. Now Aditi (name changed) is fighting with the Mumbai cyberpolice who are doing little on her 2012 complaint seeking action against websites which hosted offensive and abusive comments against her.
Trial yet to begin
While the sexual harassment case led to the arrest of a KPMG partner in 2007 and the filing of a charge sheet in December that year, the trial is yet to begin. Aditi has little doubt that the defamation in the cyber realm is an extension of workplace harassment. She had to wage a fight to ensure that the defamatory comments were removed by the Department of Telecom after a magistrate’s order in December 2012, three years after her complaint. The cyberpolice are yet to complete their probe into a first information report registered against Google, a website 498a.org and an individual whose comments appeared on that website.
In September 2007, after a Mumbai daily revealed her name while reporting on the sexual harassment case, she was subjected to verbal abuse on the Internet. She filed a complaint with the cybercrime cell on October 9, 2007. While the comments were removed from public view soon after, they started appearing on other sites like 498a.org and Save the Indian Family (SIFS). She wrote to Google, which removed the links to websites like 498a.org. Later, when the comments reappeared, Google wrote to her saying it could not block the URLs.
A second complaint was filed at the cyberpolice station at Bandra in 2010. The police closed the earlier complaint terming it a civil one, without informing her, stating the accused was not identified. Aditi claims this is a complete lie as her 58-page complaint had given details of the websites that carried the comments. She filed a fresh complaint in April and May 2012 against Google and Nabble, on whose websites the offensive comments reappeared, and thereafter the links were removed from Nabble. She sent legal notice to Google for not deleting the links.
Thanks to the extensive cyberdefamation, Aditi now finds it difficult to get a new job and she is being termed a ‘legal terrorist’. “I am only fighting for my right to dignity but such baseless slander with no action by the police created lot of problems,” she says.
Police can block websites
Under Section 69 A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, the police have the power to block offensive websites, but they did nothing. She was made to file yet another complaint in May 2012 on the same issue. The defamatory comments were removed by the DoT after the Chief Metropolitan Court passed an order in November 2012 directing Cert-In (the Computer Emergency Response cell under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology) to block 10 URLs. The police finally registered an FIR only in November 2012 against an individual whose name and email ID appeared with offensive comments on nabble.com, unidentified persons who wrote abusive remarks on google.com and 498a.org. They were charged under Section 500 of the IPC and Sections 34 and 66 A, B and C of the Information Technology Act. She filed a query under the Right to Information Act on the progress in the case, and the police replied in January 2013 that they could not give any detail since it would impede investigation. When The Hindu contacted senior inspector N.K. More of the cyberpolice station, who is investigating the case, he declined to comment.
The police claim they cannot make headway since 498a.org and other sites are not responding to their summons. However, The Hindu got detailed email responses from 498a.org and an organisation called Rakshak Foundation, which is connected to it. Piyush Singh, a volunteer from Rakshak, in response to emailed questions, called from the U.S. and admitted that the cyberpolice had sent the organisation a letter in July 2012. It called up the police last year to clarify that it would forward the police complaint to 498a.org.
Investigations reveal that a link on 498a.org marked ‘donate’ takes you to Rakshak saying: “We need your help and support to keep actively helping falsely implicated and stressed families for free. All Donations are made to Rakshak Foundation (registered NGO at California, USA), which supports 498a.org. Rakshak Foundation is 501(c)(3) certified and hence the donations are tax-exempt. Rakshak Foundation’s EIN # is 71-1033875.”
A phone call to a number listed on the 498a.org website in Mumbai elicited the response that they were volunteers only to help people and all administrative decisions were taken by the Rakshak Foundation in the U.S. Mr. Singh said Rakshak collected funds for 498a.org since it was a website and not an organisation. Rakshak started public policy research in 2006-07 and found out about 498a.org.
However, a volunteer from 498a.org who wished to remain anonymous, said in an email interview that the website was not connected to the Rakshak Foundation. The website relied on volunteers to help those who are aggrieved by the misuse of 498a. Since 498a.org is a website, donations used to be collected through Rakshak. “Rakshak is not funding us. 498a.org and Rakshak are not connected.” At least this volunteer has not seen emails from the cyberpolice seeking information and said 498a.org did not have any interest in defaming anyone.
Aditi managed to obtain, on her own, a lot of details including of the people who had founded Rakshak. Her poser to the police: Whether a website registered outside India can carry out activities in India through volunteers and get away without complying with the law of the land?
- Thanks to cyber defamation, she finds it difficult to get new job and is being termed ‘legal terrorist’
- Police claim websites are not responding to their summons
Mumbai cyber police yet to act on her complaints against websites
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