Piracy of privacy

I purchased my first mobile phone in January 2004 when I was working with M/s Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and posted at a small town Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. And for the next three and a half years, I did not get any unwanted calls on my mobile phone. For the sake of privacy, I did not share my mobile phone no. with others except some very close ones. However, in July 2007, I changed my job and the place and moved to New Delhi. My new employers M/s Jayprakash Associates Limited soon provided me with a mobile handset and a Delhi based SIM card in that to take care of my official duties. The day I received my new mobile phone number and it became active within a few hours, life no longer remained the same for me.

That day and today, I keep on getting unwanted telephone calls throughout the day on my mobile phone. In September 2009, I again changed my job and shifted to Hyderabad. Naturally, I obtained a new SIM card for my mobile phone and got a new (local) mobile phone number. Then the callers changed to different ones and the disturbance got reduced to some extent but it still persists. In New Delhi, I was using an Airtel number whereas now (my new employment being in the public sector, i.e., M/s BHEL) I am using a BSNL number. The callers (mostly females) have no regard for the time. Any time, the mobile starts ringing and 75 per cent calls turn out to be uncalled for, i.e., the calls of the telemarketing representatives of different companies.

Initially I was not aware of this fact that the telecom companies including the govt. owned BSNL and MTNL, sell the allotted mobile phone number to various service providers immediately on issuing the number to the consumer without seeking his consent. Hence when I received the first such call in August 2007 while in my Delhi office, I was startled like anything because I wondered that when the number had been newly allotted to me and I had given it to nobody, then how could this person (who was calling me to sell an insurance-cum-investment plan) get my phone number. I put up the same question to the caller and got a completely false answer that some Mr. Mehta in my office had given my phone no. And there was no Mr. Mehta in my office who knew me or I knew him. The caller must have been laughing at my ignorance at that time. When I kept on receiving such useless and disturbing calls with increasing frequency, then I realized that my privacy had been sold out by the telecom company (Airtel).

Whether it’s morning or noon or evening or even night, the phone kept on ringing. Whether it’s a working day or the weekly off or some public holiday, the phone kept on ringing. Whether I am extremely busy in my work in the office or in a discussion with my senior officer or in an important meeting or driving my way back to my home or having dinner at my home after a tiring day or enjoying a movie in the theatre, the phone kept on ringing. My initial days of using a mobile phone were also my initial days of learning driving and I used to drive very carefully while amidst the traffic on the roads of the capital of the nation. At least once, I narrowly escaped an accident and at least once, I narrowly escaped a challan by the traffic police because I committed the blunder of paying attention to the ringing of the mobile phone lying on the dashboard of the car. And upon seeing (on all such occasions) that the call was of the some telemarketing representative, I cursed him / her less and cursed myself much more for not being able to understand this fact beforehand.

My colleagues guided me that I could subscribe for Do Not Disturb and then the telecom company (Airtel) would ensure that I did not get such unwanted calls. Well, I did follow their advice and got assurance from the company that the unwanted calls would stop within 45 days (yes, forty-five days !) of my subscribing as such. Ironically the trouble can be given immediately but its removal needs 45 days. However even after 45 days, I kept on getting such calls. When I complained to Airtel, I got the answer -‘Sir, please provide us the name of the company whose representative called you. We will ensure that you do not get any calls from them after expiry of a period of 45 days.’ Again 45 days ! Then again 45 days for someone else ! Then again 45 days for some third one ! No end. The reality is that by subscribing to Airtel, I had purchased perennial disturbance spanning 24 x 7 and loss of peace of mind.

Due to calling at odd hours, the early sleepers like us (myself, my wife and my children) were disturbed in the sleep. We follow the principle of -‘Early to bed and early to rise’ in our daily routine but why should it be followed by these marketing people ? Disturbing the unfortunate mobile phone holders is perhaps the birth-right of these shameless people.

And moreover they’re asking so many irritating questions – what’s your age sir, what’s your spouse’s age sir, how many children do you have sir, where are you employed sir, what’s your annual income sir, what’s your PAN no. sir, so on and so forth. What the hell is all this ?

After shifting to Hyderabad, we did not go for cable connection and opted for Dish TV. And from the very first day itself, Dish TV people have been calling me to lure me (or trap me) to opt for their additional channels (pay channels of course so that I pay additional sum to them for every such channel). Every day I receive minimum 5 calls from them. Whether they promptly attend to any problem informed by me regarding their service, is different; their calling me to pick my pocket goes on without a break.

I find that in several forms, mobile phone numbers are unnecessarily asked for. Several people who sell their products to you, get feedback forms filled containing a column for mobile phone number. The courier service providers ask you to write your mobile phone no. as well as the mobile phone no. of the recipient of that parcel on the cover whenever something is sent through them. Why do so many people want our mobile phone no. ? The answer is obvious. So that it can be sold to those who will then get a license to disturb us at their convenience.

You have to tolerate this nuisance even when you are attending someone’s cremation. Well, this is piracy of privacy of a citizen and I wonder whether this issue has been taken to the courts. Living with peace without unwanted disturbance is a fundamental right of every citizen. How can it be encroached by strangers ? But the highly bitter reality is that it’s being done and has been being done for more than a decade. If not done something about it, it will continue for decades and even centuries. Is it a crime to use a mobile phone then ?

Privacy is everybody’s right in a free country. And a person’s privacy should be respected. I, therefore, term this nasty act as akin to violation of a woman’s modesty which should be stopped without further delay. Is anybody in India listening to my clamour ?

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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