My world was rocked in the middle of August this year when my daughter came to me one night, rattled and crying. Someone had stolen her pictures from Instagram and used AI tools to turn them into nudes. Next, they opened a fake profile and began blackmailing her on Instagram messenger. Thus began our campaign to catch the perpetrators and hand them over to law enforcement. The ordeal dragged on for almost two months until the culprits were nabbed, thanks to the valiant efforts of Biswajit Mukherjee, the Officer-in-Charge of the Asansol-Durgapur Cyber Crime Police Station. But there’s more to the story than the first paragraph.
The day after my wife and I came to know about the blackmailing, we lodged an FIR with the Durgapur Cyber Crime PS. The good folks there began their work, but we knew we had our task cut out. We made a list of my daughter’s friends and acquaintances and began knocking on doors, trying to interview my daughter’s classmates and their friends for possible leads. We had to be thorough. Small details mattered and we had to be careful not to irk the parents, unsettle the kids, and let the culprits know we were after them. Something came up during our investigation that was even more disturbing than our daughter’s ordeal – the attitude of parents toward girl children.
We spoke to at least half a dozen parents of girls my daughter’s age. And they all shared the same opinion – if the girl was a victim of sexual harassment, she must have done something to provoke her harasser! It’s hard to imagine that even seven decades after our Independence we continue to subsist on such sexist and regressive ideas. Surely, this cannot be the culture we bloviate about! We also noticed a marked lack of communication between the parents and their kids. It was as if the children were too afraid to talk to their guardians. It’s imperative for parents to be frank and friendly with adolescent children and young adults. But our overtly formal culture comes in the way of open discussions on relationships, sexuality, mindset issues, and, most importantly, harassment. We talked to so many kids looking for a let-out from a state of confusion. If only they could talk freely with their parents!
As things dragged on and our visits to the Durgapur Cyber Crime PS looked more and more futile, I decided to take things into my own hands and leverage the same tool the culprits had used to target my daughter – Social Media. So, one day, I took to LinkedIn and posted a video about our ordeal. There are still good people on this planet, willing and able to help others in need. My video received countless reactions and shares and reached the upper echelons of the Administration. Things had been set in motion. Someone or something would give.
Toward the end of September, we were called on by the top brass of the Asansol-Durgapur Police Commissionerate with the assurance of an early resolution. Soon, the matter went into the purview of the Biswajit Mukherjee, the Officer-in-Charge of the Asansol-Durgapur Cyber Crime Police Station. Prior to meeting him, we had heard tales of his exploits as a fearless law enforcer with unfathomable knowledge of Cyber Crime. Mukherjee brought the perpetrators to justice in less than a day of taking charge of the investigation, and we regretted not going to him directly in the first place.
Now that justice has been served, my daughter is gradually coming out of her shell, smiling, and breathing freely. Incidents of sexual harassment in the real or virtual world always take their toll on young minds, not least if it is the first such incident in a young woman or man’s life. The key to surviving such ordeals is to talk to one’s guardian – a parent or someone a person can rely on for advice. And it is the duty of us parents to monitor the mental health of our children. If they are struggling, it’s our job to find out why and not castigate our kids for ‘acting weirdly’. A lot needs to be done in terms of educating the average Indian father or mother on good parenting techniques. The sooner our HRD Ministry takes up the matter, the better it is for our nation.
Artificial Intelligence is everywhere these days. From the internet to hi-tech research, AI seems to be dominating every conceivable landscape. But how safe is the technology? As we experienced ourselves, AI tools can turn into weapons in the wrong hands. We still don’t have enough regulations to monitor and control the rampant use of AI tools within our political borders. While I am not suggesting an infringement of user data and rights, there needs to be a kill switch to thwart the unmitigated weaponising of AI tools.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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