Over the last week, after alleged screenshots from the Instagram group “Bois Locker Room” went viral, there have been extreme reactions to it.
What we know is that – allegedly – a group of boys and some girls from “elite Delhi schools” formed a social media group in which they shared pictures of other girls, some as young as 14, that some of these pictures were allegedly morphed, and that they appeared to be sharing violent sexual fantasies, along with nudes which had been exchanged in trust during private sexting sessions.
These chats were purportedly exposed by one of the girls who were part of the group, and then some women – all of whom appear to be adults – began to “name and shame” the students in the group, but not the person who exposed the group (and was also part of it). They delighted at the students wondering who the black sheep was.
Some of those “named and shamed” appear to have objected, saying they did not participate in the chats.
“But you did nothing to stop it, which makes you guilty,” the social media activists said, and continued to name and shame.
The issue is too complex to be adjudicated on social media. According to another set of screenshots which was shared, a student says she was raped by her boyfriend when she was drunk. This also raises the issue of underage drinking and the fact that so many minors seem to have been hanging out together, with access to alcohol, entirely unsupervised. Screenshots of a conversation in which the boy who was accused of rape denied it and said it was consensual sex were alleged to have been faked. And a female student, who also appears to be a minor, has been trolled for defending her male friends.
Among the many complexities is this: many, if not all, of them are minors, some as young as 15.
We do not know what pressures they faced, or why they were part of this group. We do not know why the girls were in a group called “Bois Locker Room”.
Second, the sexualisation of adolescents and the forms it can take need careful consideration. It isn’t uncommon for adolescents to explore their sexuality, but the ubiquity of technology and the fact that school students in Grade 9 and 11 are sexting each other raise crucial questions about informed consent.
And so does the issue of girls as young as 14 posting pictures of themselves on Instagram that were deemed raunchy by the group.
Bullying exists in many shades. The pressures on school children to “fit in” have always been enormous, particularly in the four final years of school – high school, in a sense. How many of them joined this group to be safe from being attacked by that very group? How many of the students whose pictures were shared were seeking validation by sexualising themselves?
Third, the fact that they belong to “elite Delhi schools” immediately removes the excuse of poverty, largely considered a prerequisite for witnessing domestic or sexual violence, and growing up with the notion that such violence is “normal”. Obviously, this is not the case.
Fourth, this generation faces an odd situation of constantly being monitored in their offline lives while also having unrestricted access to the internet. The internet has always been a cornucopia of pornography, right from the days of dial-up. Every time someone visits a torrenting or a gaming site, sexual acts pop up all over the screen.
Producers of pornographic content often speak about how the demand for porn is increasing, as is the willingness of people to replicate the sexual acts they watch in these videos, which in turn puts pressure on the porn industry to push its own borders. Inevitably, this involves increased exploitation and degradation of women, and a greater celebration of perversity and kink.
Add to all this the sexualisation of video games, and popular television shows like Game of Thrones showing not just nudity, but what could qualify as soft porn.
For decades, it has been considered normal for adolescents to be curious about pornography, but with the limits being pushed, the idea of “normal” is changing too.
Over the last few years, various social media challenges have been making the rounds among school children, many of them sexual in nature.
Along with the online access, which parents either don’t have time to monitor or choose not to monitor because they consider it unseemly to invade their children’s privacy, comes the constant recording of one’s activities, on school and apartment CCTV cameras. Parents usually ensure their children are not left alone, as they were a generation ago. There was no internet to speak of then, social media was restricted to chat rooms, and mobile phones were rare. Smart phones did not exist. Teenagers did explore their sexuality, but without the aid or interference of technology.
There are whole layers to the issue that we must consider before calling for the heads of everyone involved, and blaming the parents and students. This should have been handled more delicately than with a war on social media.
Strangely, the same people who objected to the Juvenile Justice Act being passed in a hurry, and spoke against the capital punishment to which the Delhi bus rape convicts were sentenced, are now calling for the JJ Act to be used against these boys.
Worse, in the screenshots that were shared, very little effort was made to hide the identities of the girls. In some cases, only part of their faces had been hidden, and their clothes were visible. It would be fairly easy for their friends and acquaintances to identify them. This could lead to intense shaming and have ramifications for which social media activists seem to have no concern.
It is true that there are psychopaths among minors, and even children. It is also true that if a boy raped his girlfriend, he is a criminal. But before we deem everyone in the group a criminal, we must also ask ourselves where we draw the line between normal teenagers-coming-to-terms-with-their-hormones behaviour and perverse teen behaviour, between perverse teen behaviour and sexual deviance, between a psychological leaning towards sexual deviance and the commission of a crime. We need to think about individual and collective reform, and the ways in which social media networks themselves need to be reformed.
I wrote recently about the need for a social media reckoning, for us to be kinder and more considerate before “calling out” – or trolling – people. We need to understand that the calling-out culture is not always a good idea, particularly when the people being called out are 15 years old. We also need to remember that when a campaign goes viral, it puts a kind of pressure on the authorities that could actually interfere with the functioning of law and order. The rushed passing of the Juvenile Justice Act is, in fact, a case in point.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment
The Dalai Lama and the death of humour
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com