It took guts for Rashmi Sinha (name changed) to register a complaint at the Tangra police station in Kolkata against a shop assistant for taking her pictures from beneath the trial room door. The shop assistant, Sunil Kumar Jha, was eventually arrested.
Last year, two MMS clips made the rounds of mobile phones: one was of a girl changing inside the trial room of a renowned Kolkata departmental store and the other showed a girl and a boy of the same department store making love inside a trial room.
Complaints of hidden cameras in lingerie stores are common. A school teacher shopping in Kolkata’s New Market spotted one when she was looking for a hook to hang her clothes: “The lamp was missing but there was a small camera.” She did not raise an alarm but never entered the store again.
Though the Constitution has included the right to convict a person committing such a crime, there is no specific law under which he can be punished. “The punishment depends on the gravity of the offence, which depends on the evidence,” said Vaidehi Limaye, a student of cyber laws at Government Law College. A case can be filed under Section 509 of Indian Penal Code subject to fulfilling some conditions.
Not everyone takes up such incidents with the police. Take the recent incident in Mumbai when an HT correspondent ran into a woman who had caught an assistant in a prominent sports apparel store taking pictures of her in the trial room. The woman chose not to file a police complaint. Her father told Hindustan Times that they did not want “legal hassles” and would leave it to the media to take up the issue. Even though the Hindustan Times report led to the shop assistant’s arrest, the management has not even taken steps to post women attendants outside the changing room.
Despite electronic gadgets taking voyeurism to new dimensions, the Information Technology Act under which most of the cases are registered has serious lacunae.
The famous Pune cases, which sparked a debate about the need for amendments to the IT act to cover voyeurism, have yet to produce results in court. In the first case, the manager of a swimming pool at Sahakar Nagar and a peon were arrested on September 12, 2003, for installing a web camera in the changing room. Two years later, Mohan Kulkarni, a landlord from the Navi Peth area, was arrested for using a camera to spy on his women tenants.
On their part, store managements claim their trial rooms are safe. Big Bazaar says the controls for their electronic gadgets are in the managers’ cabin, which remains locked in their absence.
The Wills Lifestyle management said their trial rooms have large doors with wooden slats, which means the customer has an outside view but no one can look inside. Following the Hindustan Times report, stores in Mumbai have become vigilant.
Kapsons owner Vipin Kapoor said they have posted guards outside changing rooms.
But there are some who would rather be safe than sorry. Kolkata’s actress and model June Malliah never uses trial rooms: “Mirrors in trial rooms are tricky because someone can see you from the other side.”
(With inputs from Zia Haq in Delhi, Sarika Sharma in Chandigarh and Mumbai bureau)