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Leaked screenshots of a private Instagram chat group, run by teenage schoolboys in the Indian capital of Delhi, have stirred up a storm over rape culture in the country. The group chat called "Bois Locker Room" consists of Delhi schoolboys from grade 11 and 12, sharing nude and morphed photos of underage women, followed by lewd discussions on their bodies.

Indian social media users are “shocked” at the leaked screenshots and the open graphic sexualisation and language used in the chat. And, related hashtags have been trending since May 3, to discuss the issue.

#BoysLockerRoom: What happened?

In an Instagram expose on May 3, reportedly, a few young Indian Instagram influencers like Aashna Sharma and @Anuvaa posted screenshots from a group titled “Bois locker room,” sent to them by a whistleblower.

The post read: “A group of south Delhi guys aged 17-18 types have this ig gc (Instagram group chat) named "boy's locker room" where they… objectify and morph pictures of girls their age. Two boys from my school are a part of it. MY FRIENDS AND I ARE FREAKING OUT THIS IS SO EWWW AND NOW MY MOM WANTS ME TO QUIT IG.”

The group’s members are said to belong to prominent schools in Delhi. These boys were seen swapping pictures of mostly underage girls saved from their Facebook and Instagram, accompanied by explicit lewd comments on their body parts and graphic descriptions of what the boys would like to do to them.

Since the influencers had shared this on Instagram stories that would not last for more than 24 hours, some Indian netizens, copied the status and shared them on their own feeds for a wider reach:

Soon, the news spread on Twitter, too, and #boyslockerroom began trending. A few users even claimed to have gone to school with some of the chat group’s members.

Gradually as the screenshots gained attention, the group of boys who were named, started panicking. The teens, instead of apologising or feeling any guilt, started threatening violence, orchestrating kidnapping and belting out ideas like morphing more pictures, directed at the influencers who posted the stories and anyone who shared them.

Sharma and other girls who were posting about the group chat said they received abuses and threats and their accounts were being hacked.

Eventually, on May 4, some of the boys issued public apologies, but Twitterati were in no mood to let go of the violation of the privacy of underage girls as an innocent mistake.

According to Indian news website shethepeople.tv: “To their horror, screenshots of that conversation were leaked as well. Some of the boys immediately changed their handles or deleted their accounts, some apologised, but most of them were too busy trying to find ways to skirt the consequences and exact revenge. Over the span of the day, several more such groups sprang up as if to register their protest against being held accountable for their actions – symptomatic yet again of the raw toxic masculinity that pervades this demographic.”

Many have taken to Twitter to highlight how society continues to normalise predatory sexual behaviour at a young age, and others said the incident could potentially bring about the #MeToo of the teenage world. Some, even share similar experiences they had faced.

Such behaviour needs to be stopped at an early age, said a tweet by the Mumbai police.

One Arrested: Legal action being taken

On May 3 and 4, tweeps tagged police Instagram handles in Delhi, asking for immediate action.

Delhi Commission for Women took suo motu cognizance of the matter, as did the Delhi Cyber Cell.

The Delhi Cyber Cell filed an FIR. On May 5, police apprehended a 15-year-old boy after a school filed a complaint. They are also probing the matter further.

According to multiple news reports, a senior police officer said, “On Monday, we found out that the administration of a prominent private school had filed a complaint at Saket police station. In their complaint, school authorities requested police to investigate the incident. Police, using technical surveillance, got the registered number of the 15-year-old, who had allegedly shared a photograph on the group. His phone was switched off. After finding his address, he was apprehended on Monday evening.”

Police have so far found that some students of leading South Delhi schools created the Instagram group in the last week of March. This is around the same time that India declared the coronavirus lockdown.

The members then started adding their friends.

“A few members are in college. Some of the teens allegedly started sharing photos posted by schoolgirls on their Instagram accounts, and passing sexually explicit comments,” an officer said, adding that the purported chats also included threats of sexual violence.

According to a report by Indian news website, indianexpress.com, District Commissioner of Police (DCP - Cyber Cell), Anyesh Roy said: “After we came to know, we registered an FIR under Sections 465 (forgery), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record), 469 (forgery for purpose of harming reputation), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and Sections 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) and 67A (publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act in electronic form) of the IT Act. We are probing the matter and collecting all technical evidence.”

According to the article, so far, names of four private schools from South Delhi and one from Noida have been linked to the group. The principal of one of the Delhi schools said: “It appears that some of the students who were part of the group were from our school. By the time we got to know, a complaint had already reached police. It does come as a shock to us as we have an atmosphere in school that encourages discussion around issues of gender and respect, as well as cybercrime. We have had several workshops. Schools try to build a secure but open space for children where discussion is encouraged. I also believe that the involvement of parents in their children’s lives is very important when it comes to things like these. Parents need to take on these roles, and not just that of disciplining or leaving the child alone altogether. They are ready to give children unfettered access to smartphones but, in many cases, the discussions around responsibility and respect are missing.”

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In a press statement on the matter, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We absolutely do not allow behaviour that promotes sexual violence or exploits anyone, especially women and young people, and have actioned content violating our Community Standards as we were made aware of it. We have policies that disallow the sharing of non-consensual intimate imagery, as well as threats to share such imagery and we take this issue very seriously. Ensuring our community can express themselves in a safe and respectful way is our top priority.”

Demand for child pornography sees a rise in India, amid lockdown

Apparently, according to an April report, the lockdown has seen a rise in the demand for child porn in 100 cities in India. “Data from Pornhub, one of the largest pornography websites in the world, reveals that between March 24 and March 26, India-centric traffic on its website has risen by 95 per cent as compared to their average traffic before the pandemic struck. A significant segment of this spike can be attributed to the demand for child pornography content," the India Child Protection Fund report stated last month.