New Delhi: There is a breathless hush in the national capital and neighbouring Gurugram over the Bois Locker Room chat on Instagram where teenagers discussed future sex positions with future girlfriends, including flipping girls over their stomach during sex. Cops probing the case are totally tight-lipped, refusing to name those in the chat. Three have been arrested after details of the conversation went public.
Among those arrested are the chat administrator and a juvenile. A separate probe is on to get details of a suicide of a 17-year-old who jumped to death from his 11th floor apartment in Gurugram. The suicide happened almost ten days before details of the chat went public.
There are fears that the investigation could be hushed up because students of some of the elite schools in Gurugram and Delhi were involved in the chat. And their parents are counted among the city’s top influencers. The latest theory doing the rounds is that there were some girls also in the Locker Room who, along with the boys, chatted sex, including a discussion on gang rape. But the theory does not hold ground among parents whose children know who all participated in the Locker Room. In newly formed WhatsApp groups, the parents say the angle of the girls faking names of boys is a perfect way for the cops to bury the scandal and not get to the bottom of it. It has happened earlier as well, claim the parents.
Initial investigations reveal as many as 24 members were part of the Locker Room, including two college students. The administrator of the group, who lived in Noida, is in police custody. The cops have listed down names of four top schools in the national capital, including a prominent one in the heart of Delhi, and questioned their principals and students. Initial interrogation showed majority of the Locker Room boys belonged to rich parents, a few had professional parents. Now, the million dollar question (read worry) is how far and fast the probe will go to reach its logical conclusion. More than 30 handsets have been seized and sent for forensic analysis. The hitch in solving the case is because it includes students of elite schools, where students come in air-conditioned buses, else in Hummers, Mercedes and Jaguars.
“The Locker Room case is just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of chat rooms openly discussing sex in India. But the saddest part is no one will ever get down to the bottom of such scandals. Big schools cannot afford to get tainted. Schools are big business,” says Pavan Duggal, an expert in cybercrime. The fallout of such cybercrimes has been devastating in the country. Parents of the boy who jumped to his death told cops that they had no clue that their son was being accused of molestation on social media by a girl and that the charges, in turn, triggered his suicide from his family’s 11th floor home in Gurugram. “The lockdown has created a great divide between parents and children. There is no physical contact, students are hyperventilating on the internet, becoming unknown victims of cybercrime,” says Duggal.
“Students are developing a strange habit of not sharing anything with parents, they are a bottled up a lot. And one day, the fizz gets out of their system and they take some drastic steps. What is worrying is that once they plan to die, they turn extra normal,” adds Duggal. The boy who committed suicide in Gurugram had ordered burgers, and had dinner with his family before taking the extreme step. Cops say the boy was worried an FIR would be lodged and his parents would be scandalised, and it will also hamper his chances of studying abroad. A written complaint has been made by the parents to Gurugram Police, seeking a case be registered under sections related to abetment to suicide. Investigations are on and the girl who allegedly put out the Instagram post, has been questioned twice by Gurugram Police. The boy’s parents have told the cops that the Instagram post caused large-scale public shaming and mental harassment to their son. The cops are probing if the boy received unlawful and illegal threats over the phone for allegedly molesting the girl.
Cops say the Locker Room chat revolved around bizarre discussions ranging from how boys need to be buff and dominant in bed to how girls are turned on by pretty much everything a confident guy does. Some of the boys in Locker Room—claimed the cops—even discussed how they often confided in their moms as to how porn influenced their thoughts about girls at schools. Many in the Locker Room—claimed the cops—confessed that they were pretty perplexed about how porn translated into real life. Some told the cops during interrogation that they just fooled around a bit and were not exactly in a good position to ask girls directly what they liked. One said his girlfriend wanted to be in the Pain Room of Fifty Shades of Grey. Some said discussions on sex also heightened their performance anxiety. Some watched entertainment channels late-night and soft-core pornography on their handsets. The boys also confessed that some girls acted as if they wanted some thug rather than a smart, sensitive guy.
Many confessed that they genuinely wanted a course on porn literacy in their schools. The course could be designed to reduce sexual and dating violence, something like a leadership program for teenagers. In western countries, porn literacy aims to make students savvier, more critical consumers of porn. But the problem in India, claim cops, is a little peculiar. Parents always wish their children would live in a porn-free world. And that does not happen. “It will be great if students get such lessons right from class one so that they do not get exploited. The schools should take that initiative, so should the state,” adds Duggal.
The boys said they were chatting in the Locker Room for long and had even checked out a large number of porn websites in the world, including Pornhub, which is the most popular with 80 million visitors a day. Some of the students told the cops that they got excited by listening to Rihanna’s S&M (Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me), some regularly watched a sex scene between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Cops say these images confound many teenagers about the kinds of sex they want or think they should have. They were confident that their parents never suspected them of doing chats like Locker Room, never suspected them of watching porn.
Repeated studies of children and their parents reveal a parental naïveté gap, parents underestimating their kids by as much as 10 times.
Data released by the National Family Health Survey in 2018 says that most sexual encounters in India tend to be of the conjugal kind. Thus, women tend to have sex at an earlier age because they get married at a younger age. Also, there are important differences across people with different educational attainments. People with higher levels of education tend to stay in college longer, and hence get married later. The age at first intercourse for such people therefore tends to be later. As a result, many students tend to watch porn or indulge in Locker Room chat regularly.
Ashok Pradhan, an author who also studies social trends, says the onus to check such virtual chats lie with the parents who need to groom their children about cyber crimes and its serious implications. “Boys are doing almost anything and everything, including using software to strip girls on the internet. Parents need to be super alert so that their children remain within control. Liquor parties for school children must stop because it eventually leads to rave parties.”
Pradhan says parents rarely groom their children and let them flow. “The guidance they offer dates back to the 1960s, propagated across Asia by the British. Indian parents are rarely modern and rarely follow global trends. And by the time they get to hear about their children’s activities, the damage is already done.”
Cops claim schools should not bury scandals but start taking corrective action. “We hardly get to hear anything about such boisterous boys,” says one senior cop in Delhi, speaking on conditions of anonymity. “Schools hardly open doors. Children are always out of bounds.”
The cop cited the twin incidents which took place in a plush Gurugram school in 2018 and how it was hushed up by the school authorities. There were two separate incidents of students threatening rape and propositioning teachers for sex, which had rattled parents and staff at an elite school in Gurugram.
In one case, a student issued an open threat to his teacher on Instagram, threatening to rape her and kidnap her daughter and have her raped by someone. The teacher’s daughter, who also studied in the same school, was shocked and had to be counselled at home. When she wrote to the school asking what action was taken against the student, the school authorities refused to take action or even acknowledge what had happened and allegedly blamed her for missing classes. The mother of the girl returned to the school to take classes braving humiliation even as no action was taken against the erring student of the middle school.
In another incident, a student, also of the middle school, used the computer at the school’s IT laboratory to write a “very offensive” mail to two teachers, proposing a “candlelight dinner and sex”. When the teachers approached the school management to complain about the student, they were told to bury the incident to avoid “negative publicity” for the school. Senior police personnel were briefed but nothing happened.
In September 2017, a video of violence emerged on social networking sites, where a student was being slapped by his classmates. The school authorities claimed they had taken action and that the incident was not of bullying but of a “consensual peer slap bet”. Some reports said the student was slapped for a “Snapchat story”. The father of the student had argued that the slapping was not consensual.
There are other problems as well. Among them is one which is very serious and revolves around those who instantly blame platforms like Instagrtam and Facebook for the content they host. Those in the blame game, claim cops and lawyers, do not realise that almost all platforms have their individual review processes and remove objectionable content once flagged. Lawyers say there are enough legal resources for such sustained harassment in educational institutes, workplaces and society in general. “But such cases must be reported so that the law can take its own course. Such cases must be discussed, there needs to be proper platforms for meaningful conversations. And investigations must reach their logical end,” says seasoned lawyer Sanjeeb Sen, who practises at the Supreme Court.
If this does not happen, more Locker Rooms will emerge.