The world is embracing the digital life as an extension of one’s life. Social media has integrated seamlessly into everyone’s life across the globe. Today, it has gone above and beyond the spectrum of just recreation and socialization. This article analyses the potential coadunation of social media and the criminal justice system. The use of social media to ameliorate the status quo of women in India is studied with examples of its success in the recent times. Whether it is in terms of citizens reporting crimes, raising their voice, calling out deviant behavior or the police tracking offenders and bring fugitives to justice, social media acts as a fulcrum in reinforcing Criminal Justice System for women in India.

Introduction

Since the inception of social life, a plethora of things have undergone a change but the plight of women seems to have changed very little over centuries. Women have been witnessing the gruesome wrath of oppression, discrimination, exploitation and have been victims of dreadful crimes like rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, female infanticide as well as harmful customary practices such as honour killings, dowry violence, female genital mutilation and the like. In India, although theoretically, the society holds its women in the highest pedestal in reality it is paradoxical.

The glut of statistics cannot portray the stark picture of how steadily the plight of women worsens by the day in India. The women constitute to 48.5% of India’s population which means nearly half of the country’s population have been subject to subjugation and the harshest of atrocities.

Change In Role Of Women

In the last few decades women extensively took up education. The literacy rate of women increased from 0.6% in 1901 to 64.1% in 2001. The key catalyst behind the drastic increase.

In both cities and the rural areas, there has been a stark increase in the number of the women breaking the cages of the four walls of their homes and becoming productive workforce.

Employment and education have given women the much-required self-respect, self-sustenance, freedom and the platform of importance. In order to give protection to the economic interests and rights of the women, the government also has played a vital role in formulating a number of socio-economic legislations that range from rights to property or inheritance, equal wages, working conditions, maternity benefit to job security.

Moving away from the theoretical aspect it comes to notice that despite the status of women being uplifted under the law, in reality they continue to fall prey to discrimination, harassment and humiliation. It is evident how the tyrannical rule of the men is too deep rooted to alloy for change in the status of the women. There has been no radical change in the societal structures. Numerous government policies and plans also go in vain if people don’t take the initiative themselves to combat these atrocities and women must stand unmoved and seek for justice.

Rising Crimes Against Women

The number of reported instances of crimes against women has been rising across the country over the last two decades by astonishing margins, though successive central and state governments have implemented one measure after another to ensure their safety. The key issues of concern are rape and sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational institutions, pre-birth sex-selection and elimination of female foetuses, witch hunting, acid attacks, rights of doubly marginalized sections of women like HIV+ women, Dalit and tribal women, women prisoners, lesbians, bisexuals, disabled women and the like.

The alarming statistics show that measures for women safety and for women to seek justice is the need of the hour. These statistics although are stupefying, barely depict the whole picture. The word to be highlighted in the statistics is ‘reported’. It is estimated that the infestation is far more widespread, possibly only one out of two dozen cases is actually reported, the other cases remain smothered due to the social pressure from the society.

Existing Criminal Justice System And Laws

At present, the citizens have tried to put forth before the criminal justice system of India that despite all laws and justice systems prevailing women are unsafe in every sphere of her life. The situation has turned hazardous for the female population of our country. There have been numerous laws and policies that have been formulated and enforced for the protection of women’s rights, their safety and empowerment.

Reinforcing Criminal Justice System

Why is justice not being served rightly and deterrence not being provided despite the existence of several laws and the criminal justice system? The answer lies in the fact that though the Indian judiciary is based on the customs, traditions, morals and core values of the Indian society, it has a number of loopholes that have manifested itself all over the criminal justice system in the nation.

Reinforcing Criminal Justice System

Among all the above-mentioned loopholes in the criminal justice system and laws, most of them can be rectified/plugged through a change in the policy at the grass-root level. However, lack of information and awareness is one of the most critical loopholes that requires tremendous communication from the Government bodies to make available requisite information regarding redressal measures available to women in distress.

In the current era, technology has got itself embedded in all spheres of life; percolating to every stratum of the society. Hence, technology embedment in providing legal awareness to women can be meticulously undertaken to help reach masses. One challenge in rampant use of technology for legal aspects is the ambiguity and comprehensiveness of the laws that might make it complicated to reach the lowest levels of the society. Among several forms of technology available to reach larger sections, Social Media could be considered as the most powerful forms for communication

Social Media

The role of social media in criminal justice system has seen a tremendous growth in the last few years. Social media is essentially websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.

For centuries policies, laws and justice systems have tried to curb these atrocities and give justice to every victim but these measures didn’t come to fruition. The much-needed change in the country is a radical one that doesn’t take years to show results. This can be authenticated by the fact that approximately 326 million people in India use social media. Facebook users in India have crossed a whopping 290 million mark and stands as the highest number of Facebook users in the world.

India is said to be adopting social media rampantly and has the highest number of users in the world. Considering that social media has transcended education and income groups as demographic parameters, it is considered as the fastest medium to reach out to the masses.

Social Media As A Recourse In Reinforcing Criminal Justice System

With advent of social media in every sphere of life, criminal justice system is one of the aspects that has slowly integrated itself with social media as well. Social media can act as a fulcrum in bringing out the requisite change in the status quo in the following ways;

  1. Victims voice their stories and seek justice
  2. Police and executive officials can use social media to track down the perpetrators
  3. Spread awareness among the masses

Victims Voice Their Stories And Seek Justice

Reinforcing Criminal Justice System

The last few years have seen copious victims take onto social media to share their story. They have voiced their stories on social media sites and these voices have been echoed by several supporters and fellow victims. These stories have grabbed the limelight and attention of millions due to which several positive changes were espied. The outcome of these were the government authorities being coerced to dispense justice faster and justly, spreading awareness to thousands of people, people who have faced similar instances are instilled with the courage to fight for themselves, deterrent for culprits and so on.

The Raya Sarkar List

Raya Sarkar an undergraduate student recently came out with a Google view-only document, the purpose of which is to account for sexual predators in the Indian Academia. The list details males in positions of power across Indian Universities, including their name, designation, and current place of work. The process of vetting this list was mostly opaque, with Sarkar purporting to be in contact with all the accusers and reviewing screenshots of private chats to verify the occurrence of the harassment. 

On October 24th, 2017 the list had been posted on Facebook with the intention of warning other young women about these sexual harassers. The crimes enlisted ranged from verbal abuse to molestation and rape. The list it featured the names of 58 academics from 29 Indian colleges, research centres and universities. The list shined the much-needed spotlight on a problem that is rarely discussed on Indian campuses. It is due to the reason that “due process” for seeking redress against sexual harassment in universities didn’t work that these women students took onto naming predators anonymously on the internet.

The list also espied complaints of victims like Sonal Kellogg, a student of development communications in Gujarat University in the year 1986 who faced harassment in their college decades ago. The list had largely resonated with older women as well by offering them a space for justice that they were unable to find all these years. “We followed due process by filing a complaint, but nothing happened about it,” said Kellogg. This incident led to a nation-wide awakening on the importance of safety for women in educational institutions and a platform for victims of the same crime to name their predators.

#MeToo

The hashtag #MeToo became a rallying cry against sexual harassment. The breakout of this movement happened with the exposé detailing countless allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was made public. In no time, the internet saw thousands of personal stories pouring in from women from all walks of life from across the nation and the world.

The hashtag gained momentum on social media after a call to action by the actor Alyssa Milano, one of Weinstein’s most vocal critics, wrote: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

The movement saw within days, millions of ordinary people who felt a sense empowered to finally speak out and disclose the harassment and abuse they have faced in their own lives. Numerous public figures such as Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, Hadley Freeman as well were a part of it sharing their accounts of sexual harassment. Facebook reported that within 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world were engaged in the #MeToo conversation, with over 12 million posts, comments, and reactions. The movement was aimed at bringing to the light of the day the magnitude and highlight how widespread this problem was.

It moved on from discussing personal encounters of harassment to deeply analysing men’s behaviour towards women on a macro and micro front. It highlighted the asymmetrical and imbalanced power with one segment on society. The movement has also inspired a series of offshoot hashtags used by men, including #IDidThat and #HowIWillChange, in which men have admitted inappropriate behaviour. This movement too saw a large number of positive outcomes ranging from spreading awareness, discussing on a platform the manifestation of sexual abuse globally to men pleading guilty and pledging to change.

Name And Shame

Name and Shame was that movement that went viral on social media which took to publicly naming a person or a group of people for their wrongdoing of sexual assault or rape. A couple of years before a list of alleged sexual predators in Indian universities: the Raya Sarkar List began circulating online, Sylvia Karpagam had toyed with the idea of making a “name and shame” Facebook page of her own.

In the late 1990s, while studying for her Master’s degree in community medicine at St John’s Medical College, Bangalore, Karpagam was deeply distressed by the behaviour of one her professors. Women who had been sexually assaulted or harassed who felt the system had failed them took to the internet to name their alleged rapists or attackers, which became a part of the growing trend of digital vigilantism. The Indian government has decided to post the photos, names and addresses of convicted rapists online, one of the many online initiatives which would check sexual crimes against women.

The national database of rapists will be shared on the website of the National Crime Records Bureau. The motive behind this is to name and shame them and to prevent repeat occurrences.

Police And Executive Officials Can Use Social Media To Track Down The Perpetrators

Reinforcing Criminal Justice System

Social media has also become a powerful tool for criminal justice professionals to track criminal behaviour and bring fugitives to justice. Social media being fully interactive channels of communication aid in providing new ways of finding facts and in some cases also act as prima facie evidence. Citizens have been the catalysts in integrating social media into investigation process and the criminal justice system by reporting information on criminal confessions and sightings of harassment through these networks.

Some criminals have played right into the hand of the law on social media platforms while the criminal justice professionals have also been taking the lead in identifying suspects on social networks. In a recent incident, a large number of Instagram users alerted the Mumbai police about an Instagram account “v9nair”, a user who identifies himself as Vinay Nair. The account had posted publicly 63 videos of women being inappropriately touched without their consent or knowledge in public. In no time the police officials initiated inquiry and took appropriate action against the perpetrator.

Social media has provided unprecedented access between the police and the public. In umpteen number of sexual offences cases reported, the police and state authorities have been able to take into custody the criminal through the investigation and tracking down of the criminal’s social media accounts. The videos and incidents are shared to reach thousands of people by people who have witnessed such a mishap, victims, police authorities and in some cases, the perpetrators themselves putting up boastful videos or statements on social media showing it off as their “trophies”. One of the greatest advantages of social media to the executives of law enforcement is how criminals use the platform.

Social media in enforcing the Justice system therefore, has a tremendous growth prospect in India. The innovative use of digital medium will positively enhance the expertise of the police and investigating officials and with the advent of citizens taking initiative to defy and curb sexual offences, India is certain to enforce a stronger and more stringent justice system to provide a safer life for its women.

Spread Awareness Among The Masses

Reinforcing Criminal Justice System

The lack of awareness and information is the largest lacuna and is the gap keeping the society from becomes a safe one. The aim of spreading awareness is not just to ensure information and awareness is widespread but to also serve as a catalyst to real societal and policy changes. There is an underestimated power in people scrolling through the social media feeds each day; a power that must be capitalised on for global welfare. Social media is the agent that can accentuate how widespread the infestation of sexual offences is by bringing together women in solidarity against it.

The power of social media lies in the fact that one voice one person can bring about an enormous amount of change when this one voice is echoed by millions. The awareness can be spread widely through engagement with posts, videos, comments and the like. This engagement by people brings about a two-fold benefit, firstly that of spreading information and thereby defying ignorance and secondly, to give each of them a sense of empowerment by making them realise they are a part of something huge that can change hundreds of lives.

The prominent agents through which information gets spread are new channels such as NDTV, BBC and the like operating on social media, Facebook groups/pages that have been formed with the motive of the betterment of status quo like ‘The Ugly Indian’, ‘The logical Indian’ and the like, police or enforcing authorities like ‘Bangalore City Police – PARIHAR’, and also through individuals taking the initiative to bring about changes.

These agents through the medium of blogs, articles, statistical analysis, short videos grab the limelight of thousands each day online. Social media is one of the most dominant mediums to eliminate the lacuna of lack of awareness and information.

Conclusion

Reinforcing Criminal Justice System

In the rapidly changing dynamic and complex Indian society, Indian Criminal Justice System needs to keep up with the pace of development of technology and the use of social media to integrate itself with the largest digital society. In the status quo, the law enforcing authorities have been making use of social media and technology but these are only baby steps or the experimental phase.

The Indian Criminal Justice System must devise a methodology to adequately harness the potentials of social media. The use of social media to disseminate information to the public has been done significantly in recent times by the Indian police. In the era where the world is transforming into a digital one, India’s Criminal Justice System must rightly capitalise on their expertise and ensure social media is used as a fulcrum in reinforcing Criminal Justice System for women in India and not fall prey to Digital Darwinism.

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