Brush of Hope: An Art Exhibition in Collaboration with the Maharashtra Cyber Crime Branch to Fight Cyberbullying

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Mumbai: ‘Brush of Hope’ is a powerful art exhibition curated by Dr. Sheetal Gagrani in collaboration with the Maharashtra Government’s Cyber Crime Branch and The Designera Art Gallery. The exhibition marks the beginning of a vital movement against cyberbullying that aims to ignite a crucial conversation and empower victims. Opening on April 6, 2024, at The Designera Art Gallery, Mumbai, ‘ Brush of Hope’ will showcase compelling art pieces that explore themes of resilience, empathy, and overcoming adversity. The art show will travel across the country and will be more than just a display of creative talent. It will serve as a beacon of strength and inspiration, demonstrating that cyberbullying victims are not alone.

The two-week exhibition honours the memory of Swara, a young woman who tragically lost her life to cyberbullying. Most notably, the exhibition will carry a collection of Swara’s own art pieces.

Dr. Sheetal Gagrani, Swara’s aunt and driving force behind the cause, emphasises the urgency of addressing this issue. 

“We are facing a cyberbullying pandemic, where bullies relentlessly torment their targets 24/7. Most victims believe that anti-cyberbullying efforts are ineffective and they have nobody to turn to,” says Dr. Gagrani. 

She adds, “We believe that art can inspire change and provoke important conversations. By showcasing the stories of cyber crime victims like Swara, we hope to foster empathy and understanding, while advocating for better support systems for those affected by online harassment. With the unwavering support of Gayatri Oberoi, Minu Deora, and Rupal Kanakia, we are committed to championing this cause and ensuring that the impact of ‘Brush of Hope’ reaches as many people as possible. We are also setting up a foundation to offer a protected platform for victims to reach out for help, as well as apprehend the essential conversation around cyberbullying and its consequences.” 

Featuring a diverse range of artistic perspectives around cyberbullying, the exhibition will present works of rising artists Hitesh Gilder, Vijay Shinde, Amara De Tori, Sarvesh Chavan, Mukesh Chaudhary, Khushi Gursale, Dhanashree Manjare, Pratish Panchal, and Shreyash Kalambate together with art created from Swara’s diary entries that silently cry for help. 

Talking about cyber crime in the country, Yashavi Yadav (IPS), Special IGP Maharashtra Cyber Department, said, “The rise of cyber crime is the numero-uno organised crime syndicate in India fueled by the widespread use of smartphones and social media, particularly at the hands of vulnerable groups like children, college students and senior citizens. Online cyber frauds, cyber-stalking, child pornography, social-engineering are some of the methods employed by cybercriminals to traumatise the young generation, especially females.”

In a world consumed by the digital landscape, a silent epidemic rages on – one of cyberbullying and cyberstalking. The National Crime Records Bureau has reported a 36 per cent surge in cyberstalking and cyberbullying cases following the pandemic. Unfortunately today, India stands as a leader in this crisis, with a staggering 85 per cent of children reporting cyberbullying experiences. Furthermore, a recent UNICEF study highlighted that victims don’t report cyberbullying, due to fear of retaliation, embarrassment, or social stigma. These numbers and facts paint a grim picture of a growing problem with overwhelming consequences.

Cyberbullying can have devastating repercussions on young minds, resulting in low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and in severe cases, even suicide. Victims of cyberbullying often stay silent, feeling alone, hopeless, and powerless. This silence is compounded by a lack of clarity on legal procedures. ‘Brush of Hope’ seeks to break the silence surrounding cyberbullying. As the exhibition will shed light on the vulnerability of individuals, particularly women, on social media, it will also underscore the critical and urgent need for accessible support systems and resources for victims.

Maharashtra Cyber Department is also actively combating cybercrime.  Officials like DIG Sanjay Shintre, Police Inspector Rajesh Pokle, Head Constable Navnath Devgude, and Police Constable Vivek Sawant are tirelessly working to bring perpetrators to justice and create a safer online environment. Yashavi Yadav urges citizens to report cyber crimes immediately on the national cyber crime reporting portal, www.cybercrime.gov.in.

Amrita Deora, Founder of Designera Art Gallery, believes the exhibition’s art will spark meaningful dialogue. “I’m honoured to be part of this initiative in association with the Cyber Crime Branch and Dr. Gagrani. Through the power of art, we are trying to encourage everyone to fight back such crimes and help dismantle the stigma associated with being bullied or stalked. Parents, educators, guardians, all need to create a secure environment for their children to openly communicate and seek support in situations like these. I would like to urge as many people as possible to join us at ‘Brush of Hope’ as we honour Swara and all cyber crime victims, and take this crucial first step towards a safer digital tomorrow.” she said.

‘Brush of Hope’ is a powerful message of solidarity for victims. While Dr. Gagrani is in the process of setting up a helpline/website for victims to seek immediate help; she also expressed hope that the exhibition will amplify the initiative’s larger message. “Together, we can send a firm message to all cyberbullying victims, especially young girls: You are not alone. It’s not your fault. With empowerment, you can help yourself and stop the bully,” Dr. Gagrani concluded.

The exhibition will be open to all between April 6 – 20, from 11am to 8 pm.