Women in Lucknow have reacted with shock to a Hindustan Times article that reported of mobile recharge outlets across Uttar Pradesh selling cellphone numbers of unsuspecting female customers to potential stalkers at price tags dependant on their looks.
Students of a prestigious girls’ college in Lucknow said they never knew “men in Uttar Pradesh could stoop to this level”. Many of them frequent mobile recharge outlets to top up their prepaid phone connections.
“I am horrified. We never imagined that recharge shops would sell our numbers to stalkers for a price. Now we have no choice but to recharge our phones online. That’s the only solution in sight,” said a BA first-year student on the condition of anonymity.
Her friend, a fellow-student, expressed incredulity. “We have been taking due precautions while using the social media by not posting our photographs or sharing too many personal details,” she said. “Little did we know what was happening every time we visited a mobile recharge outlet.”
Social activists in the state also expressed shock at the revelation. All India Democratic Women’s Association president Madhu Garg said harassing women over the phone was an emerging trend in the state. “We recently dealt with two cases where girls were being blackmailed over the phone. Police have nabbed a youngster in this connection,” Garg said.
Upma Chaturvedi, principal of the Avadh Girls’ Degree College in Lucknow, expressed helplessness over the situation. “We will now tell our students to recharge their cellphones online. But not everybody has a computer. The police must come up with a solution,” she told HT.
A senior police officer said a drive will be launched soon to check incidents of the kind, and sensitise recharge outlet owners against indulging in such activities.
The day also saw Twitter react with horror to the article, which was carried on the front page of Hindustan Times’ Friday edition. While a few expressed bewilderment, others called on law enforcement agencies to resolve the problem at the earliest.
“Good morning,” exclaimed a Twitter user identified only as Genderlog. “Beginning the day with how women’s phone numbers (are being) sold from recharge counters for Rs 50-500.”
Anshul, another Twitter user, expressed shock over police claims that mobile numbers being sold to stalkers “does not make for a crime”.
Others like Susmita Chakraborty chose to give the story a political twist. “This is @yadavakhilesh’s UP. Girls personal details r sold openly in recharge shops...” she tweeted.
However, most telecom operators professed inability on their part to prevent roadside retailers from indulging in such activities. “We hire distributors to sell recharge coupons. They give the coupons to retailers, who pass them on to vendors. Such malpractices can be carried out not only while recharging phones, but also when girls apply for new SIM cards at these places,” said an official with a private mobile operator.
The onus of preventing the misuse of phone numbers is on law enforcement agencies, he added.