Photo: PTI/Twitter screengrab
Photo: PTI/Twitter screengrab

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best and worst of humanity. Even as we laud the work of volunteers and ordinary citizens during this crisis, reports of extortion, fraud and harassment continue to abound. Now, as the oxygen crisis persists and people run from pillar to post seeking medical supplies, some appears to have decided to initiate a casting couch-like screening process.

A Twitter user on Tuesday sent shockwaves though the platform after alleging that a person she knew "like a baby sister" had been propositioned even as she sought to procure an oxygen cylinder for her father. "My friend’s sister was asked by a neighbour in an elite colony to sleep with him for an oxygen cylinder that she desperately needed for her father," the user alleged, asking netizens what action could be taken against the offender.

The post has evoked horror and outrage online, with many urging the user to register a police complaint at the earliest. Others suggested filing a complaint with the Resident Welfare Association of the of the colony in question or naming and shaming the individual. But even as Twitter railed against the unnamed man, many including the author noted that this was a 'he said-she said' situation where a conclusion would be hard to come by.

"The poor girl! And no, no action can be taken. Because not only will he deny it, this is something that plays out every day. Only difference is that the girl is from a priviledged background," remarked one user.

The idea of demanding sexual favours for those reeling from the effects of the pandemic is unfortunately not new. In May 2020 for example, a Reuters article had outlined how a growing number of landlords in the UK had solicited sex in exchange for housing amid the lockdown. The report also quoted individuals who had acquiesced with the belief that they would have been evicted otherwise.

Closer to home, a Mumbai-based woman recently faced harassment, unsolicited messages, calls and disturbingly graphic images after sharing her phone number online to procure plasma for a COVID-19 positive family member.

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