Free To Be Mobile

‘A girl’s phone number is like a toy for boys.’

-Field worker, West Bengal

 

What do we talk about when we talk about technology-enabled violence? We mostly talk about online violence, or violence on the internet. Verbal abuse. Rape threats. Images spreading without consent. Surveillance.

Much of this conversation centres on social media. And that’s not entirely off the mark; social media is a place where offline gender hierarchies are increasingly reproduced, and where women and other marginalised genders face disproportionate abuse.

But that’s only part of the story.

Another part of the story – one we talk or think about much less – goes beyond the online to the digital. To millions of mobile phones in India through which violence flows every other day in various ways. Three out of four mobile phone users in India today use basic phones that don’t connect to the internet. But even though they’re not online, they’re still digital.

All these 10 stories are rooted in gender, which expresses itself in a million different ways. Teenage boys hacking the WhatsApp accounts of teenage girls. Fathers tracking daughters through itemised phone bills. Rural journalists receiving endless calls from strange men. Trans women constantly facing demands for sex on social media. Brothers tracking and throwing sisters off messaging apps.

Many of these are also tales of resistance. From the woman who complains to her ex’s mother to the activists who continue to push the law for justice, all these individuals act to end violence. They speak up. They take courage into their own hands. They devise their own strategies where none exist. Every small step they take changes the landscape of digital violence, making it that much easier for women and other marginalised genders to freely – and fearlessly – inhabit digital spaces. Free to be…mobile.

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