Women’s safety in India has started the year on the wrong foot, and how.
Not long after the Bengaluru mass molestation during the 2017 ringing-in celebrations, a Delhi-based YouTube star, Sumit Verma, took his crude humor so far that it turned into a crime. Verma’s latest prank video on The Crazy Sumit channel, titled “Funniest Indian YouTube Prank of 2017,” involved kissing unsuspecting women without their consent. In some instances, he smashed cake in the faces of the people accompanying the women before kissing the women and sprinting away.
Unfortunately for Verma, audiences weren’t ready to accept the molestation taking place in parks and crowded shopping areas in broad daylight as a light-hearted joke.
In response to the outrage, Verma took down the original video but duplicates still continue circulating on other YouTube channels. Verma, who has been starring in prank videos since 2015 and has over 150,000 followers, also issued a semi-apology video (which has since been deleted) in which he tried to excuse his actions as “entertainment” and noted that “not every idea works.”
People aren’t ready to forgive and forget just yet. The chairperson for the Delhi Commission for Women, the governmental body that works toward bettering women’s safety in the city, took to Twitter to call the clip “perversion not humor” and said Verma’s apology is “of no consequence for its acts of violence.”
The Delhi police initiated a probe to track down the YouTuber and urged the women in the video to come forward and file formal complaints. By Jan. 10, the police had lodged an FIR (First Information Report) against Verma, the Hindustan Times reported. That was in part so that YouTube and Facebook (where The Crazy Sumit has a public page), which require legal cause to hand over user data, can help authorities locate the person behind Verma’s social media accounts on both sites.
“I see this sort of sexual depravity via web-based networking media for the sake of getting preferences, online publicity, and maybe even some money is involved in it,” Delhi joint commissioner of police (southwest) Dependra Pathak said. Some of Verma’s past videos, like “Sleeping with Girlfriend Prank on Mom” and “Seducing Girl Prank (Gone Horribly Wrong),” have also capitalized on sexual connotations to draw audiences.
Other popular Indian YouTube pranksters are decidedly not standing up for Verma. One duo who go by the name “Trouble Seeker Team,” criticized Verma’s grossly indecent acts, and reminded their fans that Verma is neither the first nor the last person to create videos in bad taste. They called out other famous YouTube channels like Love Rudrakash and AVRPrankTV for harassing women by touching them and kissing their hands during pranks. In an interview with Artistopedia last month, Verma called the former his inspiration and the latter his competition.
If found guilty of the current charges levied against him, Verma could face jail time for outraging a woman’s modesty under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, as well as for violating section 67 of the Information Technology Act by “transmitting obscene material in electronic form.”