Shamed by cops, easy meat for cyber bullies
What happens to some of those who become the butt of ridicule on social media because an unfortunate moment in their life gets recorded, criss-crosses the world in a matter of hours, entertains others and then refuses to go away?
It has been close to seven months since a video clip of policemen in Kerala dragging 21-year-old S. Anandapadmanabhan out of his car for alleged violation of Covid-19 restrictions went viral and left him traumatised.
An overzealous police inspector had literally pulled him out of his car on March 26 citing violation of the restrictions imposed as Kerala started its battle against Covid-19.
In spite of the young man pleading that he was heading to buy some bananas and medicines, the officer had bundled him into a waiting police van and later booked him for the alleged offence.
Around 7pm, less than nine hours after the incident, Anandapadmanabhan received a WhatsApp call from a friend abroad. “He got the video from his friend and was shocked to see me getting caught by the police,” Anandapadmanabhan told The Telegraph earlier this week, alluding to the speed with which the visual went viral.
Seven months down the line, despite paying a penalty and closing the case, Anandapadmanabhan is a victim of aggressive cyber bullying and public scrutiny that forced him to quit his job and he even contemplated suicide.
“I used to work as a customer relations executive with Airtel in Technopark (in Thiruvananthapuram). But I couldn’t take it anymore since everyone I meet identified me as that guy who violated Covid protocols from the video that is still doing rounds,” Anandapadmanabhan said.
Within a month of the incident, the young man had thought of ending his life.
“I was on the brink and thought of ending everything. So I called the police control room and told them I was going to hang myself. Calls from the police commissioner’s office and the control room stopped me from killing myself,” said the distraught man seeking justice.
Soon after the harrowing incident of the police inspector yelling at him and dragging him out of his car and putting him into a waiting police van at Paripally in Kollam, Anandapadmanabhan had become popular for all the wrong reasons.
The video filmed by a YouTube channel based in Kollam had instantly gone viral. Several YouTube channels featured the video clip glorifying the police action and castigating Anandapadmanabhan. Most of them basically made fun of the young man seen pleading with the police to let him go.
While some channels appeared to have pulled them out, others are still available on YouTube.
Soon after the incident, BJP Rajya Sabha member and popular actor Suresh Gopi had come out in support of the officer who faced criticism for trying to enact the title role in the 2005 action thriller Bharathchandran IPS, which was played by Gopi.
“Those who criticise the police officer should be slapped,” Gopi had said.
“People should realise that the army would be called if things go out of their (police’s) hands. The army does not distinguish between Malayalis and others,” Gopi had said in a terse warning to violators of Covid protocols.
There were many who backed the police officer who offered to buy bananas and any essential commodities for Anandapadmanabhan.
“I will give you my number. I am Paripally CI (circle inspector). Whenever you want to buy bananas and medicines you can call me. I will get them for you,” the officer later identified as circle inspector Rajesh Kumar could be heard saying in the video after stopping Anandapadmanabhan.
Many lauded the inspector’s offer since Kerala policemen were already winning praise for running errands for households to make them stay at home.
A day after the incident, the inspector visited Anandapadmanabhan at his home to sort out the issue. “He had promised me to get all the videos blocked. But my initial hopes were dashed as more people posted the video to make fun of me,” said the youngster who lives with his parents and younger brother.
The inspector was later shifted to another district on a routine transfer.
But nothing mattered to the young man more than dignity. “After that video went viral, even my neighbours see me as some criminal,” he said.
“The other day I was in Thiruvananthapuram to repair my laptop. It was so painful when a guy in the shop was heard telling his colleague if he could identify me. Then the two of them had a good laugh saying that I was that guy caught for driving out to buy bananas,” he said.
It was precisely this kind of public response that made him quit his job. “Client calls became very difficult since I was received with glares and jeers,” he claimed.
All he wanted was justice so that he could lead a normal life. “I am ready to go to court to get justice. All I want is the removal of the offensive content that would otherwise haunt me for life,” he said.
“I have sent several written complaints to the Kollam police commissioner, but there has been no action so far,” he claimed.
But Kollam police commissioner T. Narayanan told this newspaper that his office had acted without delay on all the complaints filed by Anandapadmanabhan.
“The first complaint was received within a week of the incident. So far we have received three or four complaints about the YouTube videos,” said the police chief.
“Each of the complaints have been followed up with letters on our own letterpads to the authorities concerned to get the videos blocked. We had even sent reminders to each of the complaints,” he said.
When told that some material had since then cropped up on Instagram, Narayanan said he was more than ready to help Anandapadmanabhan.
K. Venkatesh Murthy, director of Data Security Council of India, an initiative of the IT sector trade body, Nasscom, told this newspaper that even the aggrieved party could approach the social media channels to block such content.
“Under the law, as per Section 69A of Information Technology Act, 2000, a request can be submitted to the nodal officer designated by the state/central organisation for blocking of access to any content under question,” he said.
The complaint is then intimated to the ministry of electronics and IT.
“The designated officer will then try to identify the person concerned or intermediary that is hosting the problematic content to submit their reply and clarifications if any, before the committee set up for examination of offending information,” he said.
He said court orders were sufficient to block offensive online content.