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IT Minister’s words and actions don’t match: MP Priyanka Chaturvedi on Sulli Deals app

Depicting the government’s lukewarm response to apps that harassed Muslim women, the Rajya Sabha MP talks future steps.

Source: Rajya Sabha TV

“He did commit to wanting to work on it, but unfortunately his words and actions did not match,” Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi told MediaNama while talking about her interaction with IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw regarding the Sulli Deals app and Bulli Bai app cases.

She revealed that she had met the IT Minister in August last year and had urged him to take action against the creators of Sulli Deals – the controversial app that listed Muslim women in an online fake auction. On the emergence of a similar app called Bulli Bai which has led to five arrests so far, Chaturvedi said that the arrests are late and the delay is what emboldened the perpetrators.

Chaturvedi is one of the most vocal politicians demanding action on the Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai apps. In an exclusive interview with MediaNama, she talks about what she found in a report she drafted for the IT Minister on laws tackling online sexual harassment worldwide, the government’s response to her call for action against the app, and more.

The following excerpts from our conversation have been lightly edited for clarity. 

Ashwini Vaishnaw said IT Act doesn’t have enough sections to address women’s issues

MediaNama: How would you suggest we tackle problems like these differently in the future?

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Priyanka Chaturvedi: “What we’re doing right now by staying silent, is compromising our institutions and their capabilities to ensure there is a delivery mechanism for justice. So in the future, I would hope that people beyond their biases, people beyond their beliefs, beyond their politics would ensure that justice and law of the land is supreme […] for example, when I spoke to the Minister, when the Minister wrote to me, he said, we do not have enough, you know, I would say sections in the IT Act, which particularly address women based issues, women’s stalking online, etc. Then what is stopping us from ensuring that from a gender lens, we ensure that is also looked into?

[…] He, in fact, had asked me, and I share this for the first time, to make a report of various other countries and how they react to sites such as this. I created a very extensive document on various countries ensuring law and order and how certain sections of the law discourage this kind of behaviour, and there is something where we can reach out to, you know, we managed to reach out to those who are creating these platforms and hold them accountable for it. 

Unfortunately, I was not even given time to present that report. I still continue to have that report. So if the Minister is genuinely looking at various countries and how they are looking at these criminal activities and cybercrime, as far as women are concerned, I’d be happy to provide it. But the point is that we need to ensure that our legal systems are kept in mind. We have enough adequate laws that ensure that there is no bullying or silencing of women.

And last but not the least, [we] cannot have a selective approach to a problem that has something to do with justice but does not have to do anything with your politics.”

Intermediaries are a huge roadblock to ensuring hate crimes are put to an end

MediaNama: We recently had the IT Rules 2021 enacted last year, and that was a step that was slated to be something that bridges the gap between the accountability of big tech companies that are based in countries in the West, etc and you know who are functioning in countries like India. In fact, India is almost always the second largest market or the largest market with a lot of these companies. So what would you recommend? How do we tackle something like this? And I would mention here that it has been a tricky area. We’ve previously seen even governments under opposition parties having a strenuous relationship with something like that.

Priyanka Chaturvedi: “So I must say this again, that as far as these companies are concerned, these intermediaries are concerned, social media platforms are concerned before Mr. Vaishnaw took charge as the IT minister and before this entire Sulli Deals, as well as Bulli Bai, popped up, I had raised this matter with Hon’ble Ravi Shankar Prasad Ji, who was IT Minister then. I said these platforms look at us as one big market with a huge humongous population that is going online every single day, I would say. It becomes a very profitable area for work for them. But somehow these platforms are escaping accountability or seeking or taking any kind of responsibility for their acts and demeanor and how their platforms and their algorithms work, and not keeping in mind the law and order that prevails in our geographical boundaries. They cannot do away by saying that we are not accountable. They cannot take the safe harbour route that we are just a platform, we are just an intermediary and we cannot be held accountable. Or they cannot run away from trying to find out if there is a criminal act and where there are criminal procedures which are being investigated, then they need to show cooperation.

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Today they are undermining, you know, a particular community. Tomorrow, it could be undermining our democratic institutions. This has been something which has been debated in America when Mark Zuckerberg had to come and give his witness testimony to the Congress. So why can’t we do this? The entire discussion was beamed live across America, across the world for people to see and witness.

Singapore has some tough laws. Australia is coming up with some tough laws. UK is doing that. The U.S. has already in the process of consulting and doing something like this. So what stops India from doing it? Why should India look at every law that comes into place from trying to save the government of the day? We have to realise, as I said earlier, that parties come, parties go, governments come, governments go. The institutions cannot be compromised. And these intermediaries are becoming a huge roadblock to ensuring that such kinds of hate crimes, targeted crimes, communal crimes are put to an end.”

To know what else Chaturvedi said, WATCH this video:

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Written By

I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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