I am told it started as a meme group on Instagram; one of those fun harmless groups where teenagers bond by exchanging jokes, silly videos and more.
By the time it had around 50 members, boys from 3-4 different well-known Delhi schools, it had morphed into a vile exchange about gang-raping girls and sharing nude pictures of girls and women. The conversation was the most grotesque discussion about girls as young as 14.
I came to know of it after my younger son, very disturbed by what he had read, alerted me. As a journalist of 25 years, few things shock me. This did. I was stumped, violated but most of all, angry.
These boys had bordered on what was perhaps criminal in intent in their remarks and language. To their group, they added girls whose pictures they were posting and when any girl protested, including the one who finally made it public, they threatened her with gang-rape. Through it all, the constant thread of arrogance and confidence that nothing could happen to them.
A disclaimer: I am a mother of two boys; they are 18 and 15. Neither was part of the group and both were extremely upset and angry.
But I am scared about this generation of men that we are raising. Under the wraps of anonymity on social media, these boys promote violent, macho beliefs that objectify women.
How does it start, why do they do this?
What I am sharing with you are parts of my conversation with my sons.
Nothing will happen to the boys, says the 18-year-old; it happens all the time, mom. There are a thousand more groups like this, it is not the first time this has happened. He tells me about a time when students were exchanging nudes of some girls in the school. The deal was - I will give you a picture, you buy me a Subway sandwich.
The trouble is, he says, you guys only react when issues like these come up, there is no constant constructive conversation, this issue has been around for so long but nothing is done consistently.
The younger one then surprises me. He tells me about how a friend was one of the girls targeted in the group. He says, I called her to ask her how she was feeling. When I push a little, he says, Mom she is a strong girl, she spoke about how she was feeling and then to take her mind off stuff we discussed Kim Jong Un!
The crux of it is how normalized all of this is, apparently. We are meant to accept that at some point of time in their life, men have discussed a girl or a woman in a lewd way. It is seen as locker room boys' banter (the group was called Bois Locker Room). There is no realization that it is wrong. And most of the time, no child speaks against it because of fear of repercussions or being left out of popular groups.
This case is different. Parents are asking their children for now to stay off social media or stalking them to ensure they are safe. But the pressure is on the girls - to watch out for what they post, who they chat with online. They have to deal with the language of appearance, the constant scrutiny about what they wear and what it might reflect. It was in real life to date, now, it will be in the virtual one as well.
I ask the boys where do we go from here. Don't take your eye off the ball, they say. Don't forget about it. Continue to talk, make the boys talk to the girls. So very often it is about knowing what someone feels like, about understanding the other side.
It is a pivotal moment, says the 18-year-old; let us make use of it. One day, boys who are part of this group could well be diplomats, politicians, corporate leaders, if we can make them understand why what they have done is wrong, maybe we can bring real change. Amen.
Manika Raikwar Ahirwal is Managing Editor and Editor (Integration) with NDTV.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.