On December 28, 2017 a man was held for trolling actor Parvathy on social media after she filed a complaint to a cyber cell in Kochi a day before. The trolling began when the actor took to Facebook and Twitter to criticise the misogynistic and sexist dialogues used in 2016 Malayalam film Kasaba.
Although the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A (Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service) of the Information Technology Act in 2015, protecting the freedom of speech and expression of Indian citizens, there exists laws in India which protect people from becoming victims of online harassment. Not all laws mention the term “internet” explicitly, except provisions under IT Act, 2008, but nevertheless it can be interpreted in cases where a person is subjected to harassment on social media platforms or on email. The much-debated provisions under the Indian Penal Code criminalising sexual harassment were amended in 2013 and additions were therefore made to Section 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty).
Sexual harassment: When a person posts lewd comments on social media, they are liable under Section 354A IPC and can be punished with one year imprisonment and fine. The provision also covers posting or messaging content related to pornography against the will of a woman and demand or request of sexual favours which, are punishable with three years imprisonment and fine.
With the intent to outrage the modesty of a woman, a person posting overtly sexual remarks or pictures or videos filled with sexual innuendos on social media or any gesture or object that a woman can see is covered by Section 509 IPC. The recent amendment made to IPC increased the punishment to three years jail along with fine.
Voyeurism: Both IPC and IT Act list voyeurism as an offence. If a man captures an image of a woman engaged in a private act without her consent, he will be punishable under Section 354C IPC which, holds the man liable to a minimum one year imprisonment extending to maximum three years along with fine. The law can be invoked in circumstances where a woman would not usually have the expectation to be observed by the perpetrator.
For the sake of clarity, the provision under IPC also defines “private act” as an act of watching over a woman carrying out activity that are reasonably considered private.
Breaking it down, acts where a woman’s body is exposed are considered “private acts” like a picture of an undressed woman. The law includes three situations, when a woman is using a lavatory, when a woman’s genitals are exposed and when a woman is indulging in sexual acts in private. Distributing such image to a third party too is considered an offence under IPC.
Similar law related to voyeurism and defamation, Section 66E of IT Act specifies each term giving a detailed meaning to voyeurism in relation to the internet. Publishing a visual image of a person in print or electronic form that which violates privacy of another person is held punishable for three years imprisonment or Rs. 2 lakh fine.
Sexually explicit content: The IT Act goes a step ahead and holds persons liable for publishing or transmitting sexually explicit material in electronic form. The first conviction would result in three years imprisonment along with fine extending to Rs. 10 lakh and upon second conviction, a person would be held for seven years jail term along with a similar fine.
Online Stalking: An attempt to contact a woman to foster personal interaction despite her clear disinterest and monitoring her through Internet, email or through any other electronic communication is stated as an offence under Section 354D IPC. Commit the offence once and one would be punishable for three years, commit the offence twice and one would be punishable for five years. A harasser would be liable to pay fine in both the cases.
Obscene content on Internet: Using words like “lascivious” and “prurient”, Section 292 of the IPC defines a book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any other object as obscene if it proves to have lascivious content or appeals to be of prurient interest. Defining obscene content in electronic form, Section 67 IT Act reiterates the IPC provision adding the term “electronic form” to the law.
Defamation: The law of defamation is mostly used by high-profile persons but in fact it can be used as a shield if a person by visible representations publicises an imputation of a woman with the intention to harm. Section 499 IPC would cover, remarks on social media, obscene images or videos posted for public view. Whoever defames a woman online is liable to two years in jail.
Criminal intimidation: If a woman is being threatened by a person who has the intention to harm her reputation or alarm her, the latter would be punished with two years under Section 503 IPC. Similar to Section 503, another provision mentioned in IPC is Section 507 IPC which punishes a person for two years if the person intimidates or threatens a woman by anonymous communication.