By Chitra Ahanthem
Some time ago, there was a string of funny SMS jokes sent to my number from an unidentified number. The jokes were harmless but ended with a “love you beby” which left me a bit puzzled over who would be sending them to me. Would it be a friend (male or female) whose contact name and number had been deleted from my contact list in my mobile handset settings or would they be from a friend who would have changed his/her number? Yet the spelling mistake (beby) made an alarm bell go off in my mind and by the time the 4th message came into my message inbox, I decided to call back the number to check whether it was from someone I knew or someone who was a total stranger. The person who picked up the number did not talk lucidly on the phone and refused to tell me his name (yes, it was a man on the line). Yet, I could make out clearly that it was someone bent on having fun at my expense. Predictably, he got an earful and a warning that I would lodge a complaint against him.
Surprisingly, that seemed only to goad on the person in question and a string of SMSes followed again. By the 7th SMS, my patience ran out and the person in question was told in no uncertain terms that I would not remain quiet about his pranks. A few seconds later, another SMS came in: a message that can be described as lewd and that smacked of his contempt and utter disregard about being told not to send me any more SMSes to me again since I did not know him. Towards the evening, I set out for the Imphal Police station to give a written complaint. I showed the SMS to an officer who herded me towards the Office in Charge with whom I had to start the story from scratch again. This is where the story gets interesting.
Typical of many countless Hindi film scenes (yes! I STILL watch them) where the common man goes to the police station to lodge a written complaint and the police on duty are least bothered of what ails the person sitting in front of them, the police officer I was sitting before me attended to a dozen phone calls and made a huge show of what “is lacking in the department” (all the while forgetting rather conveniently that he was also lacking in HIS department). It was quite an eye opener sitting and observing what was going on. From what was happening around me, the immediate crisis in the police station was to arrange for a pick up vehicle. The officer made a lot of noise about how they had only one running vehicle, which was stranded at a hospital waiting for a woman NSA detainee who had fainted. The ‘crisis’ on their hands? There was this particular head of a UG group who had been brought from Bangalore and who had been produced at the Court who also had to be transferred to jail.
So there I was, sitting alone in the thick of action and close to forgetting why I was in the police station. The best was yet to come of course! The officer in charge read the SMS messages on my phone and laughed away my concerns saying, “even I get funny SMSes from women”. Then he went on to say that nothing much could be done about it. Now this was a rude surprise for while I did not realistically expect the Manipur Police to have activated their cyber crime unit (a source tells me the unit has been trained but further than that information, there is nothing beyond the services the team has taken up or the cases they have cracked), I did have a basic assumption that they would listen to the compliant being out for them and try to address that. I was told that there were no particular strictures for what action could be taken up against the person in question.
A simple consultation of Google Baba showed up a lot of information:
– An SMS, even if sent from a mobile phone, is an electronic record of information that is covered under the Indian Information Technology Act, 2000. If the SMS contains lewd, objectionable language or information, or is menacing in character, it would attract penalty under two sections of the IT Act — Sec 67 and Sec 66 A (of the amended IT Act). This is punishable with imprisonment, which may extend to three years, and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh. The offender can also be charged under the Indian Penal Code.
– Only officers ranked no lower than DSP investigate cyber crimes. Write your complaint on a plain paper and attach printouts of the messages. You are not required to hand over your mobile phone or SIM card, but refrain from deleting the messages or tampering with the SIM card, as they contain original electronic evidence.
My mobile service provider could not disclose full information about the person holding the mobile number from which the SMSes were being sent to me since they were protecting the confidentiality of their customers. They were kind enough to tell me however that the number could be traced to Tripura. From the response from the Imphal Police (west), the lack of awareness about cyber laws made me see that hoping for some action against someone sending me SMSes by someone was almost nil. Two days after I wrote my complaint, a junior officer did call me up to tell me that the number had been traced to Tripura and that he would try to follow it up. I am not too sure whether my written complaint was ever taken seriously at all.