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The noose and the internet

Updated Jan 11, 2017 10:07pm


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IT was winter break at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro. The campus was largely empty, devoid of the usual students going to and from class. The women’s hostel, where female students who do not have family in town stay during the school year, was also largely empty. It was here that a young student named Naila Rind would meet her end.

According to police and media reports, Naila was found dead late on the evening of Sunday, Jan 1. She had returned from her village the day before to complete work on her Masters’ thesis that was due on Jan 15. In previous years, Naila had bagged a top position in the university exams. Her body was found suspended from a ceiling fan in one of the rooms of the hostel. In one more example of the callous disregard towards women, at least one Pakistani media channel obtained a video of the moments when the young woman’s body was recovered. Now available on the web, the intrusive and disrespectful video has received several views.

Cyberspace was not only the venue of the posthumous disregard of Naila; it may also have played a crucial role in pushing her to death’s door. One of the items seized by police after the body was discovered was her mobile phone. It is apparently based on data available on the phone that police were directed to the alleged involvement of a lecturer at a private university in Jamshoro, who allegedly befriended Naila on Facebook and pursued a relationship with her. According to the police, he refused to marry her and began instead to blackmail her. A number of text messages to him were found on Naila’s phone; he was also the last person she is said to have called prior to her death.

Naila Rind’s case reveals just how vulnerable Pakistani women are to cyber harassment and blackmail.

A few days after the young woman’s body was recovered, the police, that had declared the death a suicide, conducted a raid at the lecturer’s home and arrested him. The man, whose father is also a higher education official, has now been charged upon the complaint of Naila’s brother Nisar Rind. The family had always held that the case was not (as police initially held) a case of simple suicide. Naila had never had a history of depression nor were there any family problems that would have precipitated her making such a move.

Naila’s case reveals just how vulnerable Pakistani women are to cyber harassment and blackmail. In the past decade and a half, hundreds of men have taken to the internet to prey on unsuspecting women and girls. They then harass and blackmail them on the basis of information they gather. While the exact details of the lecturer’s relationship with Naila are not yet known, most of these incidents of cyber harassment follow a familiar pattern.

Men target women and girls, often gathering information about them, their family and their friends from social media websites. Once they zero in on a victim, they pretend to pursue a relationship, even marriage, all the while coaxing their victims into divulging information about themselves that could prove to be embarrassing, wheedling pictures out of them and involving them in intimate conversations and encounters. All of this material becomes the basis for their ultimate plan, which is extortion, blackmail and harassment.

Naila’s case reveals one set of facts via which harassers can hurt the young women of the country. In others I have heard, the harassing and blackmailing men are family members, husbands and cousins and relatives, who force women into compromising situations, make videos and pictures and then use those to ensure further compliance.

Pakistani society provides a particularly perfect ecosystem for cyber harassment. The internet is increasingly and widely available, offering both a window to the world and a place to ‘meet’ members of the opposite gender in a way that was previously impossible. Even as they are able to access the internet, few Pakistani women are aware of the dangers of sharing information online or that the men who may offer compliments can easily turn into abusers. Add to this the fact that social mores always and forever hold women responsible for all the ills of society and you have a perfect storm, where new technology meets archaic ideas about honour and women’s inferiority, tying a noose around the neck of all Pakistani women.

As is the case with issues such as workplace harassment and ‘honour’ killings, laws against cyber harassment do exist but they are rarely enforced, with culprits going largely unpunished.

As a letter written by Nighat Dad, who heads the Digital Rights Foundation, aptly summarised, the recent cybercrime bill fails women like Naila because it makes such crimes federal matters. The consequence of this is that local police in places like Jamshoro are ill informed and largely ignorant as to how cyber activity can play a crucial role in the harassment and death of women.

Glaring evidence of this, the letter notes, is the fact that the FIR lodged in Naila Rind’s case charges the accused under Section 9 and 13 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance of 2009. That law lapsed several years ago. The letter, addressed to the minister of information, begs the rules for the new (and recently passed) Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 to be made public and to actually equip the cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency.

In the meantime, what the government has failed to do, the Digital Rights Foundation is trying to do. If you or anyone you know is a victim of cyber harassment, you can call the recently inaugurated Cyber Harassment Helpline; its number is 0800-393-93. Call the number and remember that the internet, like the rest of Pakistan, can be a dangerous place for women.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Published in Dawn January 11th, 2017


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Author Image

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (22) Closed

Mujtaba Jan 11, 2017 09:46am

Stop blaming the teacher. Last night I saw on a Sindhi news channel that few more suspects, including some workers of the hostel, were picked up as they were suspected of having a hand. If the teacher was blackmailing her, then he should be punished according to the law. But if this was the case of simple suicide just because he was not interested in marrying her, then he should be let free as you can not force someone to marry. Online flirting is not a crime.

Idealist Jan 11, 2017 11:44am

Very well written and informative article indeed.. The case should investigated thoroughly, deeply and forensically. Not only the teacher, but, investigation should extend to all people present in the hostel at that time, including, the provost, the warden, the security men etc. Justice should be served in the case.

Fudayl Zubaid Ahmad Jan 11, 2017 02:58pm

One must admire the author for writing on such real issues.

Arif Ali Khan Jan 11, 2017 05:04pm

So glad you wrote this and sincerely hope that Naila Rind gets justice. I cannot imagine the mental torture she must have gone through to have taken her own life.

It is also time for all to reflect on the dangers of the internet and how one should set limits to how far relationships are allowed to go. But most of all the country needs to take further steps to protect victims of harassment before it gets too late.

Aati Jan 11, 2017 05:02pm

Cybercrime has become very commomn now a days.Naila's case is one of the many examples. Her case highlighted by media and had become story of the town. The most important aspect of this case is the lesson for all those girls,who,still are being foolished on social media. Social media is a good way of coordination, but, we must not ignore its negative impact on our society. The social media is promoting a European style culture in our illiterate society. How, can we cope up with the western culture and norms? We are muslims. Our society is ,infact, lacking the norms and cultures we inherited from Islamic style of living. To cope up all these hurdels and difficulties in future, we have to spread the teachings of Islam . There is a dire need to understand the purity and maturity in teachings of islam. We as an islamic society cant afford the girlfriend boyfrind culture. Islam gives us the status of daughters,wifes and above all mothers. The status of peace and love.

Arsh Jan 11, 2017 07:49pm

I read a quote and share this brief version.

An old man was telling his grandson. There's a battle between 2 wolves inside us. One is EVIL and other GOOD..................... Grandson thought about it for a while and asked which wolf wins the battle. The oldman replied, THE ONE YOU FEED.

this is unfortunate that majority of people are feeding to the EVIL wolf inside them. Thats how our society is shaping.

Feroz Jan 11, 2017 08:00pm

Very well written. There are simply too many sharks(men) preying on gullible women everywhere.

Sajid Jan 11, 2017 08:06pm

Why no one is talking about the deceased's fault over here?

Putho mamon, karachi Jan 11, 2017 08:06pm

If people don't use common sense everything is dangerous in this world.

Amjad Jan 11, 2017 08:25pm

Good effort by the writer

Jawad Ahmed Jan 11, 2017 08:56pm

Such relationships must be avoided on internet,sharing personal information with a stranger can turn out to be lethal.

Muhammad qureshi Jan 11, 2017 10:20pm

Pakistani women need to come out stronger...and not portray themselves weak....this is 2017 now...wake up Pakistani women...there are wolves around you, stop feeding alert..take martial art classes, use your common sense...what a waste...what was she thinking? did she not wait to think about her parents???

TUK Jan 11, 2017 11:33pm

It could be a simple case of harassment. Does Pakistan not have laws against harassment? Internet could be the medium but he could be charged with harassment until cyber crime laws are sorted out. Also, if he was the last one to talk to her and knew she was suicidal, he must have informed the authorities.

Bahadur Jan 12, 2017 03:21am

Very sad! We will probably never know the real truth but it teaches all (men and women) that some actions you take can harm/hurt you. If this was not a simple suicide, I hope Naila gets justice and perpetrator gets nailed.

Rafia: Thanks for writing this. You are brave to write about this.

Tariq Ali-Rio De Janeiro Jan 12, 2017 06:57am

Comments in light of the article.

Suicide is bad. According to American Psychological Society, suicide most often are committed as a result of depression, and mental illness.

If someone (man/woman) commits a suicide because the other person says no to the marriage, can it be classified a crime.

If a man commits suicide because the woman refuses to marry him, the Pakistani society classifies the man as sick.

If a woman commits suicide because the man refuses to marry the her, the society classifies the man as criminal.

Justice should be done. People should know how to carry themselves. Some of the comments posted by both the genders on social media, simply shows the lack of maturity.

Ahsan Gul Jan 12, 2017 07:12am

Informational article. But where is the solution? Naila and others of her age are not children. They are for heavens sake young men and women. Your article has treated them those who cannot make their own decisions. We have fake society. If we allow our daughters and sisters to attend higher education then we must prepare them about love and consequences. A lady must never be looked down for broken marriage proposal. Parents must back their daughters 100%. Because love is blind and anyone can fall for it regardless of their age. Think about it.

AinOther Jan 12, 2017 08:42am

Do you believe women while sharing information of an intimate and vulnerable kind are motivated by nothing other than their selfless love for the alleged abuser and blackmailer? The rich gifts they receive or the unwonted favors they enjoy because of sharing their vulnerabilities do not play any role in their eventual disasters?

AinOther Jan 12, 2017 08:45am

Coercion in all forms is repulsive, and men who are guilty of this are to be brought to book. But any soft submission by women to false promises and easy glories should receive its own reward.

AinOther Jan 12, 2017 09:01am

Until law is strong enough to serve as deterrent and women are brave enough to stand by their choices, blackmailers will continue to enjoy a busy career.

HK Jan 12, 2017 04:03pm

@Mujtaba You are a perfect dolt. Who told you that online flirting is not crime? Even if it us not crime in your country but certainly it is immoral and if not punished in this world, u have to reply in other world after death.

Balachandran Jan 12, 2017 05:05pm

Well said Rafia. This is not a problem in Pakistan alone, but almost in all countries. Safety and dignity of women becomes a question mark in this era. Men are becoming animals.

imdadali Jan 13, 2017 02:34pm

Matter is an eye opener all for us. Case is under investigation. It depends upon to police to probe the case in the light of cyber crime sections. It is poor state of affairs that laws for amendment are placed before the upper house of assembly then it is also passed but in rare case it is implemented in true letter and spirit. In this incident which might be forced the female student to commit suicide or she was murdered definitely used internet so case needs to be probed under cyber crime.