The cost of the numbers may vary from Rs 50 to Rs 500 depending on the girls looks. The thriving racket came to light after a round-the-clock police helpline, 1090, set up by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav was flooded with complaints from women about unsolicited calls. Out of the 6 lakh-odd complaints registered with the helpline in the past four years, 90% related to harassment of women on the phone.
The calls that usually start with ‘I want to make friendship with you’ most often turn abusive and offensive with vulgar language or pictures being used by the callers.
Navneit Sekera, an inspector general of police who played a crucial role in setting up the helpline, says anonymity is key to the latest scourge plaguing tens of thousands of women in the state. The “recharge Bhaiya’ often helps to buy SIMs with fake IDs that he keeps in stacks at his store.
Sekera however pointed out that no one has yet landed in jail so far in UP for buying or selling women’s numbers since no crime will be made out. The police, instead, go after those rechargers who enable the purchase of SIM cards under fake identity. “We have booked three recharge guys so far under Section 467 for dealing in false documents,” he says.
Police officials say the jails will overflow if those trading in mobile numbers have to be booked.
Currently, those manning the helpline usually let the men off after reprimanding them.One of the help line center personnel who deals with around a 100 complains a day mentions that he calls the men who may range from young, old, teenagers, rural, urban, working or unemployed. Some say ‘she is my girlfriend who has stopped talking to me, some say ‘I dialed the number by mistake”.
But that’s little solace for the women at the receiving end. Criminal lawyers such as Avninder Singh feel that more stringent action is needed. “It’s a breach of trust. The woman has shared her phone number with the recharge person on the assumption of trust. If he sells her information, he is guilty of exchanging that privilege for economic advantage, a criminal offense punishable with as much as seven years in jail. He is also abetting phone stalking.”