Romeos Random-Dial for Love
In a glass-sided call center, police constables clicketyclack on computer keyboards, on the trail of a particularly Indian sort of criminal.
The “phone Romeo,” as he is known here, calls numbers at random until he hears a woman’s voice, in the hope of striking up a romantic attachment. Among them are overeager suitors (“Can I recharge your mobile?”), tremulous supplicants (“I am talking to you, madam, but my body is shaking”) and the occasional heavy breather (“I want to do the illegal things with you”).
Intentionally dialing wrong numbers is a labor-intensive way to find a girlfriend. But it is increasingly common in a range of countries where traditional gender segregation has collided head-on with a wave of cheap new technology.
“It’s a new thing,” said Julia Q. Huang, a fellow in the anthropology department of the London School of Economics, who has written a scholarly paper on the practice among young women in Bangladesh. “It’s covert, it’s risky, it’s experimenting with that outside world which they don’t have much access to.”
At the police call center in Lucknow, in northern India, roughly 700 calls come in every day, mostly from women complaining of persistent calls from strange men. The Hindustan Times recently reported that phone recharging outlets were selling the numbers of young women to interested men, charging 500 rupees ($7.60) for a “beautiful” girl and 50 rupees for an “ordinary” one.
Recently, a complaint came from Geetika Chakravarty, 24, a makeup artist who grew up traveling the world with her father, a diplomat. After she returned to India from Canada last year, she posted her phone number in the contact section of a salon’s Facebook page and received so many calls from unknown men that she blocked 200 separate numbers.
“I do not know what their mindset is,” she said. “Sometimes they call and say, ‘I love you.’ Sometimes they call and say, ‘I want to talk to Sonia,’ and I would say, ‘I am not Sonia,’ and they would say, ‘OK, can I talk to you?'”
文／Ellen Barry 譯／陳韋廷