15-year-old Ankush (name changed) had been active on social media ever since he got his hands on a computer. After creating an account on Facebook, bypassing the minimum age criteria, he was soon a part of his school's online community.
Soon, however, the school canteen was abuzz with gossip as Ankush became the butt of everyone's jokes and was trolled on a daily basis.
"I have a small face and my hair sticks up, so they called me 'pineapple face'. I did not mind it as even my seniors called me that. At least they knew about me," said Ankush.
However, what started as a trickle turned into a flood of incessant trolling, as his bullies made a hate page in his name and photoshopped his face to poke fun at him, reducing his existence to a meme.
That was when Ankush started to cut himself with a blade, frustrated that he could not even talk to his parents about this issue, as he was asked not to open a Facebook profile. "I used to cut my right forearm and conceal it with a sports band. I would show it to my friends, who asked me to stop hurting myself," he says.
Yet, Ankush carried on with the self-mutilation. Soon, he informed his seniors and the trolling stopped. The scars etched across his hand, however, serve as a reminder of his online bullying.
Ankush is one of the lucky ones; however, an overwhelming majority of teenagers go through some form of cyber-bullying which ends up taking a violent turn in the form of self-mutilation, withdrawal from studies and, in some cases, suicide.
According to Kislay Chaudhary, an advisor with the Cyber Crime Cell, Delhi police, incidents of cyber-bullying have dramatically shot up. His organisation Indian Cyber Army, involved in cyber crime analysis and prevention, found that cyber-bullying is highest among the 15-24 age group, comprising 43 percent of all cyber-bullying incidents.
"This trend was first seen in online school groups and confession pages. In a high profile case, in 2012-13, an IIT-Delhi professor committed suicide after she was abused by students who uploaded morphed pictures of her. Initially, it used to be a form of harassment. But now cyber-bullying has become a business," said Chaudhary.
Several recent incidents support Chaudhary's claim, as cyber criminals sitting in India now harass Indian girls and even foreign nationals, which soon turns into an extortion racket.
Recently, a Czechoslovakian woman reported that she was bullied online by a man who morphed her photos into nude pictures and threatened to release them online if she did not pay him 100 dollars every month. The blackmailing, however, did not stop even after she conceded to his demands. Soon, she approached Delhi Police, who prepared a primary report and found that the accused was based in Kurukshetra. When he was nabbed, it was found that he had blackmailed around a thousand foreign women.
The most prominent case of cyber-bullying of an Indian woman, meanwhile, took place in Delhi, where Delhi University student Gurmeher Kaur was abused and threatened for voicing her opinion on the Ramjas College violence.
Speaking to Millennium Post, Delhi Commission for Women chief Swati Maliwal said: "Gurmehar was trolled and given rape threats. Yet, no substantial police action took place. The police must act in a timely fashion as the victims are threatened by their harassers and investigation takes its own time. (The Commission) is setting up its own cyber cell team and wants to take up every single case of cyber-bullying and also conduct research in the field."