Women’s numbers are up for sale in local shops in UP: We investigate this new form of harassment

We went to a couple of mobile recharge shops around Noida in Uttar Pradesh, and also spoke to a few female pre-paid mobile owners asking them about the harassment issue.

A recent report by the Hindustan Times said that certain mobile recharge shops across Uttar Pradesh were selling mobile numbers of unsuspecting girls to men who would then harass them over the phone. The issue was reported when a special police helpline (1090) got a large number of complaints from women about harassment calls coming from unknown numbers.

Shops and stalls that offer mobile recharge over SMS usually take down mobile phone numbers to add a top-up. These 'recharge bhaiyas' save mobile number of girls and then pass them on to those willing to pay a price for it. Prices range between Rs 50 to up to Rs 500 depending on how 'beautiful' the girl is. Men not only harass over a phone calls, but send vulgar SMS as well as WhatsApp messages.

We went to some mobile recharge shops around Noida in Uttar Pradesh, and also spoke to a few female pre-paid mobile owners, asking them about the harassment issue.

Raman Sharma, owner of a mobile phone shop in Sector 18 market said, "This issue has been of a concern but we have stopped offering mobile recharge over SMS since the past 2-3 months. We only offer recharge coupons and mostly customers recharge online themselves."

Speaking to Swati Kukreja, a law student at Amity University, "I have a prepaid mobile number and at certain times I had to get my top-up done from a small booth near my PG. After getting recharges done a couple of times, I started getting calls from unknown numbers harassing me to become 'friends'. Since then I have blocked those numbers and prefer asking my brother or father to recharge my phone number from my hometown."

Most of the girls that we spoke to mentioned how they feel recharging their mobile number is much safer and easier online through online portals.

"I don't feel the need to go out and get my phone recharged. I can just sit at home, log in to Paytm and instantly get my recharge done. I don't want to risk giving away my number to random shop owners," said another student of Jaypee College.

Girls in urban and semi-urban areas have started using online services to recharge their mobile phones. While this is prevalent everywhere, it is higher in places where there is no or limited access to self-recharging facilities, moreover, spreading awareness is critical.

According to the HT report, out of the 6 lakh-odd complaints registered with the helpline in the past four years, 90 percent of them have been related to harassment of women on the phone. The UP government needs to crack down these mobile recharge shops as becoming a mobile recharge agent is quite easy. All it takes is filling up a form and depositing a security amount with an agency between the individual and the mobile operator.

The sad part here is that nobody in the state has been put into jail for selling these number because technically it isn't a crime.

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