In India, it’s perfectly normal for women to get lewd calls from strangers

Who is calling?
Who is calling?
Image: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
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India was never a great country to be born female. Now, even using mobile phones is getting increasingly traumatic for women here.

Sexually explicit text messages, blank calls from strangers and stalkers, and even spam calls from marketers are affecting thousands of women across India, according to data collected by Stockholm-based phone number identification app, Truecaller. The company surveyed over 2,000 women aged between 15 and 35 across 15 Indian cities from Jan. 20 to Feb. 22.

India is the first country where Truecaller has studied how such calls and messages impact women. The country is Truecaller’s largest market with an estimated 150 million users.

“We were realising that women on an average report far more spam calls than men. In fact, on average, women in India report 18% more unwanted calls than men,” Alan Mamedi, co-founder and CEO of Truecaller, told Quartz.

Lewd calls

One out of three women surveyed reported receiving sexual and inappropriate calls or text messages.

And the frequency of such calls is high: Around 78% received calls with inappropriate and sexual content every week, while 82% reported receiving inappropriate videos and pictures every week.

So who makes these calls and sends these videos? Mostly strangers.

Jaipur, the capital of the northern state of Rajasthan, reported the most instances of such harassment on a weekly basis. In Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, women’s phone numbers are even sold for a pittance to men who then sexually harass them through calls.

In any case, it isn’t just the sexual content that bothers women.

Spam away

Many respondents also said they received a high number of unwanted spam or marketing calls. Incidentally, Indians receive the most number of spam calls on average every month. Up to 72% of the women surveyed received calls seeking to collect payments or to access sensitive personal data every week. Blank calls (anonymous phone calls to threaten, harass, or offend), with no sales-related objective, also continue.

Indian women typically react to such harassment by blocking numbers or installing call-blocking apps. Only 10% approach the police, the survey revealed. This reticence to report has also led to a rise in instances of spams calls, stalking, and blank calls.

In short, the country’s smartphone boom is turning out to be a headache for its women.