Reader warning: this story contains explicit language reproduced verbatim.
5 NOVEMBER, 2013 – MUMBAI
It was the third time the family was getting together.
The first was soon after Sneha told her mother and her brother that she liked a boy and would want to marry him – his name is Rahul. Ever since Sneha’s dad passed away, Alok had taken his place. Four years elder to her, Alok, 32, was the sole breadwinner of the family. He was surprised by his sister’s announcement; he thought she was too young for this, that she should study further or work for some time. But then he loved her, respected her decision. If that’s what is going to make her happy, then she would have it.
So, Rahul came home.
Tall and fair. Thick, neatly trimmed, full beard and gelled hair, combed back neatly, every strand in place. Big, brooding eyes and an untucked shirt, the first button undone, jeans and ankle length black boots – Rahul looked like he had walked straight out of a movie poster. For Alok, a tiny, bespectacled, timid man himself, Rahul was, well, different.
But everyone liked him. Rahul was well-spoken, had a good job as a teacher at Rizvi College, where he was in charge of placements and public relations. But more important, he was in love with Sneha. They both were. And they wanted to be together.
On 4 June 2013, they got engaged. Hence, this get together, the third time. Over lunch.
As the family got through the large spread, Sneha’s mother left the table and returned with a gift-wrapped present. It was a mobile phone – a Samsung S4. For Rahul. He beamed at the sight of it, opened the wrapping paper softly and thanked his mother in law. Just then, his phone rang.
“Hello,” he answered the call.
“Rahul, Sneha’s account has been made,” said the caller.
“Yes. And not just her. There’s another account of one of her friends. Log into Facebook now and see.”
Rahul stared at Sneha, sitting next to him. “I need to check Facebook,” he said. She gave him a questioning look. The two excused themselves, went to another room and Rahul logged into Facebook, from Sneha’s laptop. He searched for Sneha Chopra. Several results showed up, two of them with the same picture. He clicked on the second, the one he wasn’t friends with. As they looked at the page, both, Rahul and Sneha froze.
Just next to the name, Sneha Chopra were the words: *randi chinal vaishya* – Literal translation: Prostitute. Hussy. Whore.
Rahul scrolled down.
About 16 hours back, Sneha had shared that she was in an open relationship. Then she had liked ‘Kiss my Ass’ videos. Next, ‘Japanese Sexy Videos’. She had then shared ‘All Porn Videos’s’ video, a porn clip. Then 13 hours back, she had posted a flurry of vulgar messages, all directed at Rahul and his family. A few hours later, again, a flurry of posts:
It was one of the many posts on the page. Every post, repugnant.
Sneha let out a little scream: “Rahul, what is…” He hushed her. “You have to get out of Facebook. Right now.”
Rahul Madhyani discovered Facebook in college.
Like most young people, he wanted to make new friends, keep in touch with old friends and just stay connected with what’s happening in the world. In 2009, he completed his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Rizvi college. It was a bad time to graduate. Post the financial meltdown of 2008, there were very few jobs and as fate would have it, Rahul didn’t land any.
So, in 2009, he was almost always at home and with nothing to do, spent a lot of his time on Facebook.
That’s when he spotted Richa Sajnani. A friend of a friend. She was pretty – square chin, big, expressive eyes, flowing black hair, broad smile. Rahul was smitten.
He sent her a friend request. She accepted it. He pinged her and the two got chatting. Richa said she was an engineer and had studied in Singapore and Malaysia. She lived in Dubai but her family also had a place in Mumbai, so she was often shuttling between the two cities. She liked cooking and traveling – she wanted to see the world. Their chats continued, on Facebook and Google. Soon enough, both started poking each other on the social network and commenting on each other’s pictures and updates. Pulling each other’s leg.
In early 2010, they exchanged numbers. It was also around this time that Rahul landed a job at Rizvi college. On the phone, they would chat for hours: What are you upto? How was your day? What are you cooking? That was a nice picture. You like Starbucks, is it? How is your brother? What kind of jewellery do you like? You are going shopping today, what are you going to buy? Your sister looks very cute. What kind dresses do you like? How’s college? Are the students well behaved? Do they like you? I love you. I love you too.
As it often happens with new found love, friends and family got a whiff of it. Who is she? Who is he? Richa often chatted up Rahul’s younger sister. He spoke to her cousin, in Dubai. Rahul’s colleague at Rizvi and a dear friend spoke to Richa: ‘You know Richa, Rahul really likes you. Both of you are made for each other. Both of you are also Sindhis. What’s stopping you guys?’ (Sindhis are a socio-ethnic group of people originating from Sindh, modern day Pakistan)
Sometime in 2011, Rahul popped the question. ‘Richa, I really like you, let’s meet now. I would like to marry you. The next time you are in Mumbai, we should surely get together. What do you think?’ Richa seemed keen. She professed her love, too. Both agreed, yes, “we should do this”.
Not long after, Richa firmed up a plan to be in Mumbai. For a quick visit. Rahul was eagerly looking forward to it. As the date of her visit neared, they kept going back and forth on the day and the time. Another matter altogether that she never committed, and in the end didn’t show up. Rahul kept messaging and calling but no answer. He was heart broken. Furious.
A few days later, Richa got back in touch. In Mumbai, her schedule was too tight. There was just no time. Sorry.
Rahul was pissed. “No time? What is that even supposed to mean? We had planned this, hadn’t we? You were supposed to come home, meet my family. If you are not committed, then let’s not do this. Let’s call it quits. Right now.” The way Rahul tells the story, Richa broke down. “No, it is not over. We will meet soon. We can’t end things like this.”
Over the next few days, and over several calls, the two patched up. But for Rahul, things weren’t the same as before. He often found himself drifting. Unsure. What’s happening here? Does she really love me? Why didn’t she want to meet?
5 NOVEMBER, 2013
Sneha immediately deactivated her Facebook account.
And then called her friend. “Get out of Facebook now,” she told her. “Someone is making obscene fake profiles on Facebook. He is using Rahul and my name and pictures. You have also been targeted. Please get out now. I’ll explain in some time.”
Even as all this was happening, in her head, Sneha started regretting her decision to change her display picture – Rahul and her, leaning into each other, looking at the camera. But it was his birthday yesterday. November 4. She was happy. She wanted to make him happy. She wanted to express herself, let all her friends know – I’m engaged, this is my fiancee, see, we look so happy together.
She turned to Rahul: “What do we do now?”
“We have to tell everyone what’s going on,” he said. “But it will be okay.” It wasn’t; rather got worse. Because that’s when the emails started coming in. And nothing had prepared the two of what was about to happen.
Roshni was all of 19.
As they read the emails, and processed the content, neither knew what to do.
Except, that this had gone too far. The families deserved to know.
A different matter altogether that Rahul’s family already did. In the last couple of months, several obscene fake profiles had appeared on Facebook. Of Rahul’s family, close relatives and colleagues at Rizvi college, his father, sister, mother, brother, sister in law and several other friends. The impostor would tag them on posts and updates and also send a friend request.
The same day, late in the evening, Rahul and his immediate family turned up at Sneha’s house. To explain. Rahul did most of the talking.
Both Sneha’s mother and Alok were shocked when they saw the profiles and read the emails – this was her daughter, his sister. They had never seen or heard of anything like this. Alok didn’t know what to do. His mind was racing: The wedding was just a month away. Relatives would be searching on Facebook for Sneha and Rahul to see who the bride and bridegroom were. Are they seeing these fake profiles? Have they already? What will they say? They will be here in just a few weeks, to prepare for the wedding. What if they come to know of all this? What have we done?
After a bit, he recovered. “Rahul, have you reported this to the police?”
“Yes,” said Rahul. I filed a report with the cyber cell at Crawford Market police station a few months back. Here is a copy.”
Alok studied the copy. Rahul had filed the complaint on 11 September. It read:
“To, officer cyber crime, I the undersigned…want to state that there is a fake Facebook account being created in my name and which is being misused…also please find copy of picture been spread which is harming my reputation in society.”
Alok wasn’t convinced. No, this wasn’t just about Rahul anymore. It had gone too far.
“Let’s file another complaint. At the Bandra police station and the cyber cell in Bandra Kurla complex. Let’s go.”
As the group prepared to leave, Alok took Sneha aside.
“Sneha, did you know about this?”
“Yes,” she said. “He had told me that this happening. But this is not Rahul’s fault.”
“Are you absolutely sure about this guy? You know if you are not sure about him then there is no pressure. Okay. We can cancel the wedding. Do you want me to cancel the wedding?”
“No. I’m sure. Rahul hasn’t done anything wrong.”
24 AUGUST, 2016
It is important that you know this. Creating a fake Facebook profile in India is a child’s play.
Open Rediff mail.
Pick a name: Rajeev. Pick a surname: Tandon. (Randomly)
Now, let’s pick an email ID: rajeevtandon1984
Check availability. Yes. It is there.
Password: Lalaland1984 – Retype password: Lalaland1984
Security question: What is your favourite pass time?
Mother’s maiden name: Tandon
Alternate email address: Click ‘No’.
Mobile No: 91 – 98765 – 43125 (Random number, whatever pleases you)
Date of Birth: 3 February 1984
Country: India. City: Other. Which? Bokaro
Hi rajeevtandon1984, congratulations! You have registered successfully.
Now go to your inbox. Next, go to facebook.com to create a profile.
Name: Rajeev Tandon
Email: [email protected]
Birthday: 3 February 1984
Hurrah! Rajeev, go to [email protected] to complete the signup process.
So, back to inbox. You have a new message from Facebook.
Just one more step to get started on Facebook
Confirm your account. Confirmation code: 60812. Click and you are done.
Welcome to Facebook, Rajeev. Click on the Home button on the top right corner of the page. Facebook asks: what’s on your mind?
Well, exactly this: “I am here to stalk you. I am here to harass you.”
There you have it, Rajeev Tandon. Now, go create havoc. Sit in a coffee shop, use the public wifi and wreak havoc. Rajeev, Facebook is your stage.
What’s on your mind?
Things weren’t really working out between Richa and Rahul.
It was in the midst of all this, in January 2012, when Rahul bumped into Sneha Chopra. At a friend’s party. Almost immediately, the two hit it off. Within a week, he added her as a friend on Facebook. She accepted and the two began chatting. On Google chat and Facebook. Sneha loved food, eating out and long drives. Rahul pampered her – a big, cuddly teddy bear during her birthday month, long drives to Marine Drive in his grey Hyundai Santro and eating out at various restaurants across the city.
As they spent more time together, bunking college and going out for movies and chatting about Indian television soaps and the drama in them, they got closer.
“He was caring, protective of me,” says Sneha. “That’s what I liked about him. And we could tell each other anything. We would laugh and go out, so over time we became good friends. We were very comfortable with each other.”
Soon enough, Rahul proposed. He had told his family about her, how much he liked her and it would be great if she could come home and meet them. Sneha thought about it. This was going too fast. She had just completed her post graduation degree, landed her first job…but, what the heck. Fast forward, Sneha met Rahul’s family and they liked her. A few weeks later, Rahul met Sneha’s family, too. Everybody was in agreement. They make a good couple. So the two got engaged on 4 June 2013.
Even as all this was happening, Rahul and Richa were in touch. On and off. He told her that he had met someone and was planning to get married.
Did Richa take it well? “No,” says Rahul. “She wasn’t happy about it but I told her that I liked Sneha and she was willing to commit. So, this was pretty much in late 2012 when our chat ended, abruptly.”
Even before Rahul and Sneha’s engagement, sometime in December 2012, is when the first fake profile appeared on Facebook. In the name of Rahul Madhyani. The display picture was a photoshopped image of Rahul and Richa, garland around their neck, to suggest that they were married.
“At first, I let it be,” says Rahul. “I was like, I don’t care. But a few months later, this fake profile started tagging my students and faculty at Rizvi college. When one of my students approached me, congratulating me on getting married, I was like, what is all this! My colleagues were like, you didn’t even tell us that you had gotten married, come on let’s go out, let’s celebrate. I told them I have not married anyone.”
A bit shaken, Rahul decided to dig deeper. He found that there was not one, but multiple fake profiles of Rahul and Rahul Richa Madhyani. And that wasn’t all. Some profiles even had a wedding invite in them – link to a detailed wedding invite on a marriage portal. The invite was dated 24 June 2012. Cocktails at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Dubai and the wedding ceremony at The Club, Mumbai. Rahul was aghast. His immediate thought – this must be Richa. Why is she doing this?
He called her, right away.
The two spoke. Except, Richa denied any knowledge of the profiles. Or the wedding invite. The way Rahul tells the story, Richa was surprised herself. “She was like, why would I do this?”, says Rahul. “Why would I spoil my own name? But I didn’t believe her and told her that I am going to file a complaint. And that she should too because someone has been using our names. Richa said, okay you go ahead. I will ask my father to file a complaint.”
On 11 September 2013, Rahul filed a complaint at the Cyber Crime Cell, Crime Branch, CID Mumbai.
“In my mind, I was like, I have filed a complaint, whoever is doing this will be scared. This will end,” says Rahul.
Starting October 2013, the fake profiles on Facebook took a life of their own. Profiles started appearing in the name of Rahul’s immediate family and relatives. And then spread to Rahul’s colleagues, the faculty at Rizvi College. Every profile, obscene. Vulgar. Derogatory.
Shit hit the fan.
It wasn’t long before Rahul’s extended family, his cousins confronted him. With every new profile, the family would have a major showdown. They had a barrage of questions: ‘What is all this? Why is this happening? What have you done? There is no smoke without fire. You must have done something to deserve this. Who is this girl, Richa? Did you marry her and leave her? Tell us the truth. Don’t lie. Tell us the truth. You have destroyed this family’s name. What have we done to you to deserve this?’
Back at Rizvi college, word had spread of the fake profiles and the faculty being targeted. It wasn’t long before a few of them complained to Dr. Kalim Khan, Dean and Director at Rizvi Management Institute. “It came as a real shocker to me,” says Dr. Khan. “At first I was like, is this some old, aggrieved student who is doing this? There were obscene profiles of some of my students, my faculty, the wife of a senior visiting faculty. And they were not just random profiles. They were absolutely obscene and vulgar. How do you explain something like that?”
In all of this, the person suffering the most was Rahul’s mother. She hadn’t been keeping well. Only last year, she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. So, she was almost always in pain, bed ridden and under heavy medication. The fights in the family didn’t help. But the worst was yet to come. Sometime in early November, Rahul’s extended family said that they had had enough. They wouldn’t want to be associated with Rahul. En-masse they decided to boycott his wedding.
Rahul’s mother was heartbroken.
He was livid and disappointed. That they had no faith in him.
December was bad. There was a profile a day, and some more such days. More vulgarity. Pictures and posts:
Even though Rahul had filed a First Information Report (FIR) at Bandra police station and another compliant at Cyber Cell in Bandra Kurla Complex, with every new profile of a family member or a student or colleague, he had to report it to the authorities. It was a two step process. First, report the profile as harassment and pornography to Facebook, with a request that the profile be taken down. Second, copy the URL of the profile and file a complaint with the police.
There were a lot of people affected. By now, Rahul had reported close to 50 profiles to Facebook. For pornography and harassment. Understandably, every new person who was targeted wanted to get to the bottom of it. This meant, Rahul had to repeat his story again and again and accompany every person to the police station to report the account.
It was in this bleak environment that Rahul and Sneha got married. On 15 December 2013. Only a handful people attended from Rahul’s family. Everyone at the wedding was instructed not to put up any pictures of the bride and the bridegroom on Facebook.
All in vain. The impostor knew. The exact date of the wedding. So a fake profile of Rahul Madhyani was made on 15 December. The post was lurid…the worst:
As the year began, so did the feeling of utter helplessness and constant phone calls.
The impostor was relentless. There was a profile a day. Some days, six profiles. Created late in the night, between 9:30 PM to 12. Every phone call was a friend or a family member, lost. Each caller had the same question – ‘why are we being targeted? What have you done?’
The profiles had spread:
- Rahul & family
- Rahul’s colleagues at Rizvi college
- Sneha’s friends
- Rahul’s friends extended family
For instance, on 3 Jan 2014, another colleague of Rahul, Vishal Singh’s profile was made. The posts threatened him and other professors of Rizvi college to stop helping Rahul Madhyani. The profile had another post, with an image of his daughter:
“papa don’t support rahul madhyani, if tomorrow i will come to rizvi for job then he will send me also as escort then also u will support him. papa he is a liar, two faced man…papa leave rizvi college…”
With every fresh profile, Rahul and Sneha took turns, to explain. If the profile was of a girl, Sneha would go over to meet her, documents and police records in tow, to tell the story. Few believed her. They were not interested in her story. All they wanted – ‘please get us out of this. We are respectable people, how are we supposed to explain this to our friends and family?’
“For them, it was like, make it go away,” says Sneha. “We have nothing to do with this. Rahul and I were desperate. We were losing friends and family. My brother, Alok, knew what the two of us were going through and wanted to help. It also helped that he was working with a technology company so he understood the details of what we must or could do.”
Alok took it up as a mission. To find answers.
As the days passed, both Rahul and Alok started spending a lot of time at the cyber cell. Sometimes till late into the night. Pestering officials to find a solution, to catch the impostor.
Every IP was from United Arab Emirates (UAE) or some other country. The officials had a standard answer after this: ‘This is outside India. What can we do? Maybe, there is a proxy IP that this person is using. But, what can we do?’
It was a painstaking process. Cyber crime officials cannot directly look into Facebook for information. They must first send the URLs to Facebook seeking the IP address details of the account and then wait for the company to respond. Also, there is no fixed deadline for the reply to come in – sometimes Facebook can reply in flat three days, at other times, it can take as long as six to eight months. (An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a numerical label assigned to each device that uses the internet for communication.)
“It all depends on how much pressure you are able to put,” says Niranjan Patil, a security consultant and co-founder of Packet Verify Technologies, an information security and privacy consulting firm in Bengaluru. “In corporate cases, you can put a lot of pressure on the police to work with Interpol and get activity logs. For individuals, it is very difficult.”
What about fake profiles? Facebook can easily implement a mobile phone authentication process. Why don’t they do it?
By that estimate, Facebook has 39 million fake accounts – 20 percent of its 195 million users in India.
Now, let that sink in.
“Facebook without authentication is not serving the society,” says Prashant Mali, a cyber lawyer and security expert. “They are fully aware of this, the more their user base, the more their growth. They know that there is identity theft, fake profiles, frauds, the Nigerian scamsters, they are all there.”
But, doesn’t Facebook claim that it is a verified platform – “a community where people use their authentic identities.” How is that even tenable?
It will be fair to say that there were other teething issues. For instance, the cyber cell officials had no idea what to do. “They were really nice to us,” says Alok. “So they would entertain us, ask us for tea and all that. But when it came down to doing something about the case, they didn’t know how to move on it. Like there wasn’t even a proper letterhead to send an email to Facebook. I literally spent a night there drafting the letter head and the letter.”
That wasn’t all. The way Alok tells the story, the cyber cell staff didn’t know how to check if the URLs were active or not. “So they have this system,” says Alok. “Where they have to put the URL and it has a character limit. Often the Facebook URLs are long and so the system would say, ‘it exceeds character limit’. And they would just throw their hands up in the air saying it is not working. The URL is wrong. So, I would shorten the URLs and tell them, see, it works.”
Then again, it seemed as if almost always, the cyber crime cell was waiting to hear from Facebook. Of course, Facebook did eventually respond, with the location of the IP addresses.
Here, consider this: according to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, Maharashtra has recorded just five convictions out of 4,981 offences registered between 2013 and 2015.
Five. Three in 2014. Two in 2015. (Not that the other states in India have done phenomenally well in solving cyber crime.)
Put two and two together.
The Ken sent the following questionnaire to Facebook India but did not get any response in return. In response to an earlier set of questions, Facebook had declined to participate in this story.
Given how trivial it is for someone to create multiple fake identities at will on Facebook, how does Facebook claim it is “a community where people use their authentic identities”? https://www.facebook.com/help/112146705538576
What percentage of Facebook’s userbase in India is composed of unverified, potential fake users?
Law enforcement officials claim Facebook does not share even the email IDs used to register fake profiles that are the subject of criminal investigations, and only provides an IP address. And the location of the IP address. Why?
Does Facebook allow Indian law enforcement authorities access to its secure portal to request information?https://www.facebook.com/records/x/login/ and https://www.facebook.com/safety/groups/law/guidelines/
Is reporting a fake profile, for pornography and harassment, the end of Facebook’s liability, to control harassment on the platform?
All major online services, like Google and Yahoo, need a mobile number at the time of signing. A one time password. To deter spammers. Why doesn’t Facebook have such a requirement?
Considering that there is no accountability due to the above, how does Facebook help authorities, when they seek information about crimes committed on Facebook?
How does Facebook distinguish pornography or harassment, in terms of graphic and text.
We have reasons to believe that very often, the platform refuses to acknowledge text as harassment. Over the last three years, the protagonists in this story have reported more than 200 fake profiles, almost all of them pornographic in nature. When these protagonists reached out to Facebook, and multiple times, through multiple channels, why didn’t Facebook actively reach out to help them?
27 FEBRUARY, 2014
Rahul was thrilled. “They have found him,” he told Sneha.
“Yes. The impostor. The police officer just called saying that they traced one of the IP addresses to Madhya Pradesh. In Indore. The guy has been caught. His name is J P Gour. They are bringing him to the police station today. I’m going to see him.”
Sneha’s heart skipped a beat. Thank god.
At around 11:30 AM, Rahul reached the police station. The moment he entered Jagdish Prasad Shri Ramlal Gour recognised him.
“You are Rahul, aren’t you?” he said, pointing at Rahul.
“Yes,” said Rahul, glaring at him.
JP Gour wasn’t much to look at. The 56-year-old had a sad, depressed look about him. Dressed shabbily in a white shirt and trousers, he cut a sorry figure. “I have done nothing,” he confessed.
The months of pent up frustration, got the better of Rahul. He shouted, “What do you mean you have done nothing? You are the one who has been making the Facebook accounts. You have destroyed my life. My family’s life.”
Someone in the room, slapped Gour. “Tell the truth.”
“No, I have not done anything,” he pleaded. “I have just made a few accounts.”
That’ pretty much what Gour had been repeating since morning. That he had made somewhere around 25 accounts of Rahul Madhyani. The material for those accounts were also not his. He was told to make them, and use the material. By a girl, whom he had befriended a few months ago. She passed him the material, of what to write and post. And he blindly followed her instructions. But why did he do it? Because he wanted to keep chatting with her. That was his confession.
The police had looked into Gour’s Facebook messages. He had indeed been chatting with someone. Someone called Rahul Madhyani. Their conversation was surreal…
apko ek link bheji thi
shadi ki site
kina ghatia insan hai
ye id me ap log on kr sakte ho
apko is id ka passwrd de dun
Passwrd doge to isko kon kon chalayega or kisi ko doge kya
ap aur me bus
me chahti hun unhe sab fir wish kare
Thik h Usko pta chalega to isko bhi hack ka lega
Email or PW dedena
September 16, 2013
priyanka2144 password mumbai32
[email protected] password Mumbai
• Rahul madhyani ek ayiaas ,awara darinda hai.ladkiyo ko apne jhute jaal me fasata hai aur bure kaam karwata hai.yeh ek professor ke ad me ladkiyo ki dalali karta hai .rahul madhyani ek website bhi real talents .com ke side me chala raha hai ,rahul ki sex website hai jaha girls put there pictures ,he selects those girls n he hunts specialy girls from small town who need money.rahul madhyani har ladki ko apne baap ka mal samajhta hai,iska dad prakash madhyani shayad se ladkiya manufacture karne ki factory chalata hai aur yeh bharwa her ladki ko kapde ki tarah badalta hai.teri aukat kya hai rahul ,randiyo se sath muh kala karne vale.teri shadi bhi ek sunil malukani green acers vale ki rakhail se hui hai,tu dusri ladkiyo ka sauda karta hai.tujhe bhi ek excort hi mili.chalak dhurt nich darinde junaid sir passed away why didnt u die,u go and die rahul die rahul die ,mar ja taki tera kutta aur buddha father teri laash ka bhoj apne kandhe per le.jo tune dusri ldkiyo ke sath kiya hai teri sister usse bhi bure din dekhegi.usko bhi ek darinda milega,jo usko kutte ki maut marega,jhut bolta hai.apna gunah chupane k liye jhut bolta hai jhuta hai tu.tu mar ja rahul mar ja rahul madhyani mar ja tu dharti ka bhoj hai mar ja nich mar ja.
yeh copy paste kerke wall post ker do
jo bhej hain
tumhare wall pr h use karna hai
Needless to say, it wasn’t long before both the police and Rahul realised that J P Gour wasn’t the perpetrator. He was merely a puppet. After a few days in custody, Gour was released on bail. The police and Rahul were back to square one. In May, the police arrested another suspect. Shahabaz Arif Memon, a 21 year old man from Pune. Same story again. Boy meets girl on chat. The two start chatting. He does everything she asks him too.
After a few days in custody, Shahabaz was released on bail.
But, the question remained: Who is this person?
The hunt for the impostor had become Alok’s life now.
After J P Gaur’s arrest, the stuff appearing on the profiles had become worse. More obscene. Threatening. In his head, Alok was like, ‘Why isn’t Facebook doing anything? Can’t they see this is happening? Can’t they see, that we have reported so many profiles for obscenity and pornography. Hundreds of them. This is happening on their platform. Why? Why can’t they do something?’
The police investigation was painstakingly slow – night outs and regular visits to the BKC cyber cell hadn’t yielded any results. Only offers for tea and banter.
So, Alok got a premium LinkedIn account. And started sending letters to senior people at Facebook. With a desperate plea for help.
He sent an email to Kirthiga Reddy. The chief of Facebook in India.
Subject: Distressed Call – Facebook Harassment Case
Consider this as a distress call on behalf of my family and friends. I sincerely request you to please get this looked into and help us in this regard in every way possible.
We have been harassed for over six months by an unknown imposter who has created more than 100 fake Facebook accounts of immediate family members, friends and work colleagues. All of these accounts are filled with pornographic content.
We have already reported all of these links to cyber crime and police but to no avail since they have got very little information or leads from Facebook. We have managed to get most of these profiles closed but the harassment is unabated and the offender is continuing this with impunity.
The FIR, Mumbai CIR No. 17/14 is lodged with Bandra Police Station and I can share all the details with you and your team to get this resolved. I work in an internet company myself and understand that your team will be able to provide us with relevant information about this offender.
Request you to sincerely help us out since we have been tormented for months.
PS: Link to a recent profile has been posted below. Note that these profiles are obscene and you can ignore them. I apologise for the same, however, I wanted to provide an example of this issue.
There was no reply from Kirthiga. Or from anyone in her team.
Alok sent another email. To Vishwanath Sarang, computer engineer, data analyst – strategy and operations at Facebook. Vishwanath got back immediately.
Extremely sorry that you have been facing this. I have forwarded this case to the team which would be able to help out here and they are looking into this matter…
Also, it would be great if you could send me a list of the profiles that are imposters so it would be faster to get back to the bad guys. Thanks and sorry for the inconvenience.
Alok replied, with specifics. Profile links – active and dead. His last line:
Please let me know can I proceed and guide me with the next steps. Note that all accounts have been reported to the police…Thanks & Regards,
After that, the trail went cold. The fake profiles didn’t stop. It was around then that a friend tipped them off:
“Guys, Facebook has an office in Mumbai. At Bandra Kurla Complex. They have real people there. All you have to do is get in and tell your story. Someone will hear you and they could help you. At the very least, it is worth a try.”
Alok jumped on it. Let’s do this. Early in July, they began scouting the tall commercial buildings in BKC, asking for the Facebook office. Thanks to generous security guards, they got lucky on their fourth attempt. The lady at the reception directed them to the 5th or 6th floor. Expectedly, at the reception, the lady manning the desk wanted to know if they had an appointment or what exactly was their business.
“We have a meeting with Kirthiga Reddy,” said Alok, confidently.
“This is about fake profiles and a harassment case. We want to meet her or anyone else and explain what’s been happening.”
The lady asked them to wait and went inside. After a few minutes, she returned with a set of forms. “Fill these,” she said. Alok says, he was taken aback when he looked at the contents of the form. It had questions like – What’s your business? How did you hear about the Facebook office?
Anyway, he filled up the forms. The lady took the forms, went inside again and returned.
“There’s no one here you can meet. Plus, you don’t have an appointment.”
Alok was desperate and started pleading saying that it was an important matter and really critical that someone heard them out and helped them.
“I kept on repeating this,” says Alok. “I wanted to talk to someone there. After a lot of arguments and back and forth, she went inside and came back with a phone, asking me to speak to the person. I spoke to the person. And I can actually quote him, he said, ‘We are mere puppets here. We only do sales and marketing here. We do not have any information or data. All data related operations happen out of the US.’ And then he hung up.”
Alok pestered. This can’t be all, can it?
It was. The Facebook door was shut.
Here, step away from the story. Just for a moment.
The Ken reached out to Facebook, in a detailed email, laying out the facts of the case: How is it possible that this has gone on for so long, issues around privacy, abuse and harassment on a platform, a platform like Facebook which now claims to have 195 million Indians on it.
In an emailed response the company said: “Facebook declined to participate in this story.”
Alright, now back to our story.
After the dead-end at Facebook, Alok’s patience ran out. But he didn’t know what to do. Between him and Rahul, they had tried everything – camping at the police station, reaching out to Facebook, seeking out politicians, writing emails to the commissioner of police. What more could anyone do? Alok was desperate. Helpless. He wanted to help his sister but now he was failing her, miserably.
In August, tragedy struck at the Madhyani home. Rahul’s mother passed away. A few days later, a Facebook profile in her name was made. The family was devastated.
“Sometimes I felt that if I had a magic wand, I would solve this,” says Sneha. “So when Rahul’s mom was very sick, I have seen her in excruciating pain. She couldn’t sleep at night and she was on medication. We’ve had days where she has just gone to bed and the phone rings. So the landline is in her room. And she would wake up. And Rahul would answer the call, saying a profile has been made. It was so bad, for everyone in the family. For me, it was sheer helplessness, like, Rahul should be with his mother. He wants to. But he has to go out. And what do I do? How do I get out of this? What do I do to help? Who can make this go away? Why me? Why us?”
What’s bad must only get worse.
Sometime in January, Sneha updated her LinkedIn profile. A public relations executive at Perfect Relations, quite a few of her colleagues were moving out. Sneha too wanted to look out for better opportunities. Hence, LinkedIn. But, it also meant putting up a profile picture. Sneha took comfort in the fact that for almost two months, no Facebook profile had been made. She thought, maybe the impostor was gone. Done with Rahul. And her.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Early morning, on 31 January 2015, Sneha’s team lead called her.
“Hi Sneha, I would like to discuss something with you. Can you come to the conference room please?”
“Yes. Right away.”
Once inside, she realised, that the team lead wasn’t alone. The Account Director was with him.
“See Sneha, we are going to show you something but please don’t freak out or get scared. Relax. Ok. Chill.”
Sneha felt a familiar chill. “Is this about Facebook? Because I can explain…”
“No. This is an email which has come to us and has also gone to the client. Take a look at it.”
(The client: Edelweiss)
As she read the email, Sneha went numb. It had her LinkedIn picture and text alongside it:
Subject: THE TRUTH OF SNEHA CHOPRA
*She is sneha chopra w/o rahul madhyani. her husband rahul placement head of rizvi coll is into call girl business.those students who came from small town to study rahul use to exploit them and take advantage if his seat. two girls who came from dhulia to study in mumbai were sent to hotel holiday inn by rahul madhyani.sneha is aware abt this business of rahul and sneha chopra supports him in his wrk. couple has made huge amt of money from this nasty business.we need yr support n cooperation to expose sneha n rahul. both should go to jail. sneha chopra is working in reputed company n MD should know about her.pls support us pls cooperate us. don’t go on their innocent faces. sneha chopra where are those two innocent girls whom rahul dropped at hotel they haven’t reached home.sneha, bitch you are a girl, how could u both do to all other girls for little money?*
The Impostor had sent the email to two employees of Edelweiss and two others at Perfect Relations.
Sneha was aghast. How could this even happen? She told her seniors that these were all lies, concocted by a someone who has been harassing her and her husband, told them about her Facebook ordeal and requested for some time to prove her story, with documents and police complaints.
Once back at her desk, she started fretting. “I will be fired. The client has sent an email. How did this happen? A while later, she connected the dots – the impostor could have seen her picture on LinkedIn and then ran a search of her name and Perfect Relations. Do that and the search results throw up quite a few press releases. The releases have everything – email IDs and phone number. Of her and clients’.
The next day, Edelweiss filed a complaint with the cyber cell, Bandra Kurla Complex. Their contention: Two employees of Edelweiss had been harassed, when they received this lurid email. The complainant accused Sneha Chopra of having played some role in it. She should be questioned. After all, the contents of the email had everything to do with her and her husband. It was because of them, that the employees of Edelweiss had been harassed. The cyber crime officials knew about the Rahul Madhyani case and also that this was somehow related to it.
However, there was no proof to suggest that Sneha Chopra or Rahul Madhyani had sent the email. So, they kept the two out of it.
When The Ken reached out to Edelweiss, its spokesperson said, over the phone, that they don’t want to be associated with this story or the people mentioned in it, in any manner whatsoever.
The same message was conveyed to this writer multiple times – “any manner whatsoever”.
The Edelweiss incident had a major fallout. Now, the impostor had Sneha’s mobile number. So, with every new profile, there was Sneha’s number. “Call her”, the post would say, almost always. “For sex.” And that’s when the calls started coming in.
“So this imposter started posting that Rahul provides women and if you want them, call Sneha Chopra,” says Sneha. “The messages were horrible. We run a prostitution racket. Or that if the imposter has tagged someone on the profiles, it was like, if you want to get out of this then call this number.”
“Till date, any profile that gets made, the person puts in my number. The person tags at least 50 people. Out of which 10 people call us, saying what is this. Who are you guys? Some people feel that we actually provide women. Most reach out on WhatsApp. Some people inform. Some people complain. So since then, some 60 profiles must have been made and I would have got at least 100 calls.”
“I started getting calls from all sorts of numbers. So one day I got a call from this person, who was talking in a very dirty, vulgar tone – where do you stay, I will come at night…I lost it. I was like, what the fuck do you think of yourself? I will come there and screw your happiness. I’ve got calls from boys. So once this boy called. From his voice, he seemed very young. He is like, I saw your number on Facebook. And I want, whatever is written there. For tonight. I gave it back to him. I shouted and abused. I was like, “can you even make out with the person you are calling right now? This is your sister’s number. You want to make out with your sister. Go tell this to your mother.” I have been told not to answer these calls. But my frustration, I have to get it out.”
In mid-2015, Sneha’s batchmates from school and college started being targeted. Mostly, females. Some, single. Others, married.
Sneha’s LinkedIn update, details about her school and college and the year she graduated had proved costly. Now, her number was out there too. It is a difficult thing to explain. Pornography and your name on a public platform, connected with your friends and family. Quite often, and rightly so, it is them who are unforgiving.
“These girls, whose profiles were being made, I didn’t even know them,” says Sneha. “We were from the same college and my batch but I wouldn’t know them, if they were standing in front of me. But often, like always, people would wonder why are we being targeted. What kind of dirty trick are you and your husband playing, we are from a respectable family so please keep us out of it.”
Some folks weren’t understanding at all. Since Sneha’s number was there was on the post. To them, it was absolutely kosher to abuse and threaten. Like this text, which Sneha received and then immediately broke down.
Even as all this was happening, one of Sneha’s very close friends got targeted. Not once but seven times. Her close relative, Anand Bhatia, an advocate at Bombay High Court decided it was not something that could be left lying down – he heard Sneha and Rahul out and decided that the courts need to hear it and the perpetrator be arrested. Early in June 2015, Bhatia filed two cases. One at the Kurla Metropolitan Magistrate court. And second, at the Bandra Metropolitan Court, for Rahul Madhyani.
After a year of arguments and back-and-forth with the police, on 10 May 2016, the Metropolitan Magistrate 51st Court, Kurla, Mumbai, passed an order. This part, from the order is notable:
“Advocate Bhatia submitted that the informant has lodged several reports of the activities against her which is still going on Facebook. He submits that the informant has filed a recent report which has been registered at Sion police station. He filed a copy of the FIR on record to show how someone is misusing the social network, i.e. Facebook and defaming the applicant by posting obscene photographs.
A bare look of the FIR and the photographs shake the conscience of the common man.
Now we are living in the era of information and technology. Most of the people now, as netizens are using networking sites like Facebook, WhatsApp, etc in their day to day activities. Therefore the role of the police officer in investigating cyber crimes becomes more important. The approach of the police officers to close the investigation only by recording statements…is not correct. Moreover by sending letters to cyber cell, crime branch, CID Mumbai, would not solve the problem or prevent criminals or crime. Therefore the police have to develop equally sophisticated methods of detection and prevention of such crimes.
It is not impossible to ascertain the real culprit by using the proper scientific method.”
Rahul Madhyani’s case, filed at the Bandra Magistrate court, though hasn’t seen much progress.
Data from the National Judicial Data Grid should put it in perspective. Every month, the Bandra Magistrate Court registers about 350 fresh criminal cases. As of 25 August 2016, the court has close to 42, 000 pending cases. 22 percent of the cases, 9, 699 of them have been pending for more than 10 years. Another 22 percent have been pending for 5-10 years. 12, 144 cases have been pending for more than two years. Another 11, 591 cases have been pending for under two years.
The wheels of justice turn slowly.
Anand Bhatia hasn’t given up, though. He has continued to follow up with officials investigating the case – on leads and status.
Sometime in March 2016, though, the cyber cell officials made a major breakthrough in Rahul’s case. It is a day that everyone associated with this investigation remembers very clearly. The day, when Rahul was called in. And he was asked to come along with his set of pictures, those of Richa Sajnani. Once inside the cyber cell, the officials told him:
“That’s not Richa Sajnani.”
“That’s not Richa Sajnani. We ran a check. These are not Richa Sajnani’s pictures. They are of Godhuli Chatterjee. She stays somewhere in the US. It looks like someone was using Godhuli’s pictures, using the name Richa and chatting with you.”
Rahul’s face turned ashen.
“So, who were you chatting with for two years?” asked the official.
Rahul didn’t know what to say. “I don’t know,” he muttered.
As he left the cyber cell office, Rahul felt lost. Scared. His thoughts kept racing back to Richa’s picture and their conversations – the love, the banter, the cooking, the traveling. Was none of that real? How is this even possible? Who was it, if not Richa?
The name of Sneha’s brother has been changed in the story to protect his identity. Over the last three years, no fake profiles of him or his family has been made.
The name of Rahul’s sister has been changed to protect her identity.
Late in 2015, Rahul Madhyani was let go from Rizvi College. The college had supported him initially but Dr Khan was increasingly getting worried. His trustees are on Facebook, so are his students. “There is no way, I could have justified an account being made of one of my girl students,” he said. “What would I tell her parents? Not a day goes by when I regret that I had to let Rahul go for no fault of his.”
Rahul Madhyani is currently unemployed. He has been taking freelance teaching assignments. In most of his job interviews, the subject of Facebook and link with the fake profiles has come up.
This story was updated on 10 September to change some identifiable information on one of the protagonists in the story.
Rahul and Sneha look good together.
The way her arm rests on his hand. The way he smiles, looking at her, fanning off mosquitoes over her head. The way Sneha looks at him, when he runs his hand through his stubble. Or when he smiles; a full smile, which is rare. It is early evening and Sneha, Rahul, Alok and I have been chatting for a while and run through a lot of things – life, privacy, loneliness, friends, envy, lovers and jilted lovers…
Are you using Facebook? I mean, do you log in surreptitiously?
Rahul: No. Nothing. I just have one profile. It has nothing, except my picture. And I use that to check if any profile of my friends or family has been made. Every night, this is what I do. I’m done with Facebook. I’ve had enough for one life. I know who my friends are. Only handful are left. I just call them. Or text.
Sneha: I use it. For my work. I need to know what’s happening. If my colleagues are talking about a holiday or an article they read, you feel so disconnected. So I use it. It is also because if I tell people that I am not on Facebook, people judge me. They find it weird. But yes, I follow certain people but I am not friends with anyone. I have 0 friends and 1 post.
(If you’re wondering what’s that one post, well, this is what it looks like)
Alok: I am not. After this, I don’t think I ever will. I have enrolled in a course on ethical hacking. Once I am done with that, I want to find all the loopholes in Facebook and try and educate people. I will do that. There are thousands and thousands of fake profiles and I am actively discouraging people from being there.
You don’t want to share baby pictures…
Rahul: We are better off without it…we have not been able to do anything so that’s my thing now. Avoid everything. What active life will I have now? So, yes avoid everything.
Alok: After what has happened, I am putting out nothing about my life there. You know, what also hurts is that we are not celebrities. We are normal people. And nobody wants to listen to normal people. We got thrown out of Facebook. We have written to commissioners and politicians and ethical hackers. We have knocked on every door, but the end result is nothing. No one wants to even look at you. All we have is no reaction. I mean, some 100 lives have been affected and nobody bothers. Forget bothering, nobody even wants to listen to our story…
Rahul: I feel guilty…not for what I have done but because of what has happened to people. Everyone I cared for. I never imagined that my wife, my sister, my family could be in this situation. I feel embarrassed. I’ve seen Sneha losing her friends and family, my sister losing her friends. Imagine my embarrassment when I am facing new people, those whose accounts have been made. Why my account? Who are you? Every time, I have to repeat my story…
Could you have done anything different?
Rahul: I don’t know. For three years, I have been frustrated and angry. Every time a new account was made. But now, I have calmed down. What can I do? I lost my job. I’ve lived through it. I am living through it…
Have you thought about closure?
Rahul: Many times. The day this person gets caught, I want him or her to be behind bars. And all I want to know is why? Why us? What did you gain out of this? What did we do to you?
Sneha: Same for me…why do you grudge us so much? What did we do to hurt you? There has been so much damage over the last three years that we don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get back what we have lost.
Alok: I need answers. For everything. I will never forgive the person. For what he has done to my sister. My family…
Rahul: Many times, I’ve asked on those profiles, why are you doing this? The only answer I have got is ‘I will come and tell you on your deathbed’…I want this person punished for what I’ve been through. That will be my closure.
It is getting late. Past 9 PM. We’ve been chatting for hours now and decide we should call it a day. Rahul and Sneha have to attend a cousin’s birthday party. Alok must get home.
Rahul and Sneha had fun at the birthday bash. They chatted and smiled. At about 1 PM, they got back home. It has been a long day. Rahul has been taking every class that comes his way. Freelancing as a guest lecturer. He’s done three already today and is dead tired. Sneha is chirpy – it is Teejdi tomorrow – a Sindhi ritual, where she will be fasting the whole day, for her husband’s long life and good health.
Sneha does the bed. Dims the lamp on the nightstand. And then picks up her phone. She taps the Facebook application and in the search box types Sneha Chopra. She goes through the results, scrolling. Next, she types, Rahul Madhyani. She scrolls down. Everything looks okay. “Nothing new today,” she says, relieved.