Police must act swiftly, unsparingly for a cyber-safe Mumbai

It took less than four days for the Mumbai police to nab Girish Maheshwari, who had threatened the national spokesperson of the Congress, Mumbai-based Priyanka Chaturvedi, on social media that he would rape her daughter. Maheshwari, who allegedly has links to the BJP, is now in police custody in the city.

For the tweet he put up, there does not seem much scope to plead innocence. The punishment should be exemplary. Hopefully, this will have a salutary effect on others who abound on social media pouring out the filth of their putrid minds.

What is significant, however, is the ease with which the offender was caught in this case, though he was in Ahmedabad. It shows that the difficulty quotient in apprehending offenders on social media may be high but is not impossible.

Which leads to the bigger issue: should it take a national level brouhaha for something as menacing as this for authorities to swing into action? For, by all accounts, it was Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s intervention that moved matters quickly.

If Ms Chaturvedi hadn’t been feisty, taking battle to the opponent as it were, if this incident had not come on the heels of a hate-filled tweet against Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, if it had been a person of lesser ‘public profile’ than these two, would the case have got attention so fast?

Unlikely considering so few in position of authority and responsibility have chosen to do anything in the past.

After the attack on Ms Swaraj (ostensibly for supporting an inter-faith couple seeking passports’ legitimately), a couple of senior ministers spoke up, but in homilies. There was no wide condemnation or call for strong action against offenders.

Instead, advice was proffered about how people should act responsibly, and in the case of Whatsapp forwards, not fall for fake news. If only the solution were really so simple…

Technology is a big part of the problem, but not the only one. Because most such offences are met with indifference, offenders get emboldened. Silence of people who can make a difference is seen as eloquent approval. This can lead to horrific deeds as evident in criminal assaults and sundry lynchings for all kinds of reasons: Or none at all.

It’s not just those in authority who are at fault. The spillover of these macabre acts is seen in the vicious trolling on social media, and warped debates in mainstream media, particularly on television where the tendency is to reduce everything to a loathsome ‘binary’.

Surely there can’t be two sides to somebody being assaulted/killed on suspicion. Even if there are offences committed, why aren’t these reported to the police to be dealt with under law?

The right some people assume to take the law into their own carries in it seeds of anarchy.

This must be dealt with an iron hand and, as Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and new Police Commissioner Subodh Jaiswal have shown, results can be prompt.

The terrible lynchings of some nomads in Dhule obviously had a chastening effect on the state administration. This was a mighty smear on the reputation of the state that has otherwise not seen mindless violence.

Yet the CM and Police Commissioner must be credited for being proactive, and moving fast not only to apprehend the culprit, but also issue public warnings of the dangers and likely punishment.

That is more than can be said of other states.

Solving one case is not enough however. There are more challenges ahead that need greater vigilance.

So far Mumbai had remained untouched by such mayhem. The police – and its cyber cell – have a big role to play to keep it that way.

New commissioner Jaiswal has taken the right stand by asking his force (especially seniors) to be more attentive to people rather than become Page 3 celebrities. This does not mean cops can’t have a social life, but that ensuring law and order is priority.

The power and authority of the police is not just vested in their uniform or the magnificent office of the Commissioner at the police headquarters in Palton Road, but how impartially and speedily they prevent problems or offer redress for the citizenry.

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