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July 05, 2018

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Cyber-Bullying And The Related Laws In India


- Shweta Krishnappa, Additional Government Advocate Office of the Advocate General [ High Court of Karnataka ]

shwetakrishnappa

It is now in the hands of the executive and legislature to put in place a legislation that regulates cyber-bullying...

We live in a fast-developing technological age where everything is available at the click of a button. The cyber world has opened up myriad opportunities and an endless ocean of information which has widened our knowledge base. However, there are always pros and cons for every development. Thus, with the increase in knowledge and connectivity comes the evil of cyber-bullying. With more and more children in the age group of 8 to 18 years going online to cope up with their studies, play games, or watch movies and with an increase in the number of social media sites, cyberbullying has become a dangerous activity affecting the young and the vulnerable.

It is rightly said, “Words scar, rumors destroy, and bullies kill”. Cyber-bullying is underhand bullying that is done by hiding behind a pretty screen. Cyber-bullies can hide behind a mask of anonymity online or they could also be friends or known acquaintances who do not need direct physical access to their victims to do unimaginable harm.

To examine the meaning of the word “bullying” - it is a form of harassment where ‘superior strength or influence’ is used to intimidate or force someone to do something which he/she would not want to do otherwise. So, cyberbullying is done using this superior strength or influence through electronic devices such as computers, tablets, or cell phones where a victim is bullied through text messages, emails, rumors sent by emails/messages, derogatory comments, status updates on social media sites, and chats, including using shameful pictures, videos, creating fake profiles, etc., that constantly threaten and harass a victim with such material online. These kinds of constant humiliation, false allegations, insults, and threats online through different forms of electronic media entities and other social media platforms and electronic devices create over a period of time a hostile environment for a victim causing psychological and emotional drain/ damage, insecurity, depression, anxiety, stress, anger, and constant mental trauma which may culminate in suicidal behavior.

In a nutshell, the different types of cyber-bullying are as follows:

i) Flaming: Using inappropriate or vulgar language to attack someone

ii) Harassing: Repeatedly sending inappropriate, hateful, and hurtful messages

iii) Outing: Sharing a victim’s secret or personal information in a public forum

iv) Exclusion: Intentionally and publicly excluding a victim from a group and tormenting him/her/them after exclusion

v) Impersonation: Posing as someone for the purposes of damaging someone’s reputation, inviting attack, or sharing real or fabricated information about him/her/ them

vi) Stalking: Electronically following someone and sending targeted messages with the intention of scaring, harming, or intimidating him/her/them

Let us examine some of the existing laws governing cyberbullying in India, which are as follows:

The Internet can be used in a positive manner for the wealth of information it provides at a click of a button but it should not be abused to harm others because in the words of Phil Lester, ‘If you’re insulting people on the internet, you must be ugly on the inside’

Unfortunately, in India, there is no specific law which addresses ‘cyber-bullying’. Therefore, we have to rely on the Indian Penal Code (IPC) with particular reference to the following Sections:

i) Section 499: Defamation

ii) Section 292A: Printing, etc. of grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended for blackmail

iii) Section 354A: Making sexually colored remarks, guilty of the offence of sexual harassment

iv) Section 354D: Stalking

v) Section 507: Criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication

vi) Section 509: Word, gesture, or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman

The above enumeration of the provisions of the Indian Penal Code is not exhaustive, but cyber-bullying can be brought under these provisions of law. Even under the Information Technology Act, 2000, there exists no specific provision pertaining to cyber-bullying, but the following Sections would be attracted in the event of cyber-bullying:

i) Section 67: Publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form

ii) Section 67A: Publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc. in electronic form

iii) Section 66E: Punishment for violation of privacy

We also have the latest legislation “The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) which protects children below the age of 18 years from any form of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and pornography which would include any form of sexual cyber-bullying which would be punishable under the provisions of this Act”.

Examining the laws prevalent to address this rampantly increasing crime of cyber-bullying, there exists a dire need to have a ‘specific legislation’ in place. In this regard, it is relevant to mention that the Ministry of Human Resources, having realized the gravity of cyber-bullying, has directed all schools and colleges to form Anti-Ragging Committees. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has also issued special regulations called the ‘UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Educational Institutions 2009’. Even the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) has brought about a detailed set of guidelines defining the role of teachers, parents, and students in the ethical use of the Internet. The gist of the guidelines states that students are required to “report online bullying immediately” to teachers, parents, or someone they trust. Further, the guidelines also stipulate that educational institutions are to use built-in filters to put a check and prevent harassment by cyber-bullies.

In fact, most recently, in a PIL filed based on a letter from an NGO named Prajwala dated 18.02.2015, the Hon’ble Supreme Court suo motu, in order to curb circulation of child pornography, rape, gang rape videos on the Internet through social media websites, had directed the central government to create an online portal and hotline number where anonymous complaints can be filed against those responsible for uploading such offensive videos. When the matter came up for hearing on 18.05.2018, a status report was filed by the ASG that the Cyber Crime reporting portal is in its final form and shall be launched on or before July 15, 2018. Further, the Hon’ble Supreme Court had also sought from the parties before it, i.e., Yahoo, Facebook Ireland, Facebook India, Google India, Google Inc, Microsoft, and WhatsApp, to give a report on the recommendations of the Ajith Kumar Committee on measures taken to stop the uploading and sharing of such videos on the Internet, and since the entities had not furnished any affidavit detailing the same, they were fined `1,00,000/- (Rupees One Lakh) each for their apathy in not complying with the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.

In conclusion, it is relevant to state that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has taken this lacuna in the law seriously, and now, it is for the executive and the legislature to put in place a legislation that regulates cyber-bullying as the same is the need of the hour.

Disclaimer – The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and are purely informative in nature.


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