There are around 8.7 million species of animals in the world and out of these only one, homosapiens aka humans, are known to have a wide array of opinions on every topic there is. The individual count of this species is around 7.6 billion which results in incoherence in opinions more than often than not. There are always clashes in view-point. One may think that after such long existence they might have grown used to the diverse range of opinions on the same thing and learnt to respect that different individual can have different opinions than their own, but to the contrary, the state of affairs prevalent everywhere tell a different story. People express there disagreement not by discussion but by rage, threats and violence.
To manage this and reduce the entropy, and bring about peace among the citizens of the world, the United Nations was established. Among various other rights of men, one such right, or more precisely human right, advocated by this body is the Freedom to expression and speech mentioned in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), a landmark document in the history of humanity. Article 19 of the UDHR states that "everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference" and "everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice".India being a member of the United Nations, adopted the document to frame the domestic laws related to human rights in the constitution, which was adopted in January 26th, 1950.
The Freedom to Expression and Speech in India has been evolving with time to protect individual rights and to celebrate the rainbow of opinions without fear. In a landmark judgment of the case Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitation and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but also abroad.
In Mesh Thapar v. State of Madras,Patanjali Shastri, Chief Justice observed: "Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible."
These and many other judgements facilitated the expression of different opinions in the society. But what about on the internet? In the last ten years the number of internet users in the country has skyrocketed. It is expected that by 2019 there will be at least 7.29 million social media users in India. Social media- A virtual platform where people separated by caste, colour, geography, gender and lifestyle, gather to share memes, pictures and also, opinions. The first two of these are accepted with laughter and joy, but the latter creates a sombre atmosphere online. As in the real world, people seem to disagree with each other’s opinions and resort to threats and rage. More than often, understanding, mutual respect, and discussion, are not the go to solutions. While the oppressors or as they are known more commonly, trolls, don’t differentiate among people, women and people belonging to minorities who are often the ones suffering worse. Women are showered with threats of rape, murder and harassment like hot ash from the lava of ignorance. People of minorities are subjected to discrimination and harassment too. Men and people of power also fall into the traps of trolls. Whenever someone has voiced an opinion virtually, people with no fruitful work to do otherwise get busy to troll them. According to a survey, 50 percent of women in India have been a victim of online harassment and many less report it.
To fight this cancer of troll-ism spreading in the metaphorical and virtual body of the nation, the Supreme Court of India has enacted some important laws and forwarded landmark judgements to protect the rights of the citizens and curb the oppression.
In the recent (2012-2015) case of Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India, Shreya, who was a law student at the time, filed a petition in 2012 against Section 66A of the IT act which was in violation of Article 19(1) which talks about the Freedom of Expression and Opinion. Section 66A was a broadly worded provision for regulating anyone using a computer or other electronic communication device. It prohibited content that was “grossly offensive,” had “menacing character,” or caused “annoyance” or “inconvenience” and provided for up to three years of imprisonment for those convicted under the act.This was in response to the arrest of two girls in Mumbai, one of whom commented on facebook critically of the shutting down of the city due to the death of BalThackerey, a member of the political party, Shiv Sena. The other girl had just liked the comment. The Supreme Court of India took down Section 66A of the IT act ruling that a person could not be tried for sedition unless their speech, however “unpopular,” offensive or inappropriate, had an established connection with any provocation to violence or disruption in public order. The Supreme Court distinguished between “advocacy” and “incitement”, stating that only the latter is punishable by law. The Supreme Court judgement came after three years of the petition’s filing in 2015.
The above ruling plays a very important role in a democracy like India. People are very conveniently being charged of sedition every time they express some view in contradiction to the popular one relating to the country, the government or its actions. This new improvement will ease the voicing of opinions, and let people display their sorrows and disapproval more openly. Internet is a place that despite being open to all, ironically gives us a sense of privacy in our own social media accounts. We feel that it’s our right to speak freely here, and perhaps get our word out. But when we are forced and scared into displaying false agreement, and acting like our opinions don’t matter, this leads to tyranny. Every time you say something against a popular actor, politician or political party, or the state of affairs in a country, ‘trolls’ spare no time to smash their fingers on the keyboard and send you direct and clear threats of violence and harassment. Not only this, many females have also reported being the receiver of unsolicited pictured of the male penis. The wantonness of the trolls doesn’t end there. They threaten the women of spreading her doctored pics among many other things. Male victims have to endure the threats of murder and deal with illogical statements (as if abuses weren’t enough!!).
Here are some laws that protect us and the female victims particularly, and gives them a safe haven online:
1. Section 509: Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman
If a woman has received derogatory verbal abuse because of her gender, then she may enforce this law. As a rule, a troll has to start, end, and construct a sentence using abuses. Most of them targeting the women’s modesty by calling her slurs synonymous to a sex worker to destroy her social image and to shame her.
2. Section 499: Defamation
The crazy amount of sexist language used to defame the victim can cause her a lot of grievance like stress and depression. Acute defamation can also force the victims to harm themselves often resorting to suicide when they fail to stand firm amidst all the unnecessary hatred online.
3. Section 503: Criminal Intimidation
The dung-move of every troll when he fails to make sense (i.e. every time) is to use his patriarchy blessed position to send rape and murder threats to the victim. This time it’s not only the victims, but also their family members who are a part of these messages. It is sad how inhumane we as a society have grown. How can a person feel comfortable at threatening of molestation, and eve teasing a fellow person? The normalisation of this issue is a moral crime. Rape threats should not be so common and popular, and should not be dealt with ignorance.
4. Section 507: Criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication
To not get into legal trouble the smarter trolls (compared to the other trolls) make fake profiles which serve the sole purpose of doing the exact same things as mentioned above, just anonymously. All of us have been the victims or know someone directly who has been a victim of being attacked by fake profiles just to shame and threaten them. Trolls are ready to put so much effort in creating fake profiles for illegal activities, but not use the same time for a healthy discussion on the topic.
5. Section 228(a): Disclosure of the identity of victims of certain offences
In India, the identity of a rape victim cannot be disclosed. So, it is illegal to post pictures and videos of women who have been subjected to rape online for the purpose of revenge and silencing them. One should understand that victims of crimes of the above nature find it near impossible to survive in the society. They are facing self-acceptance issues, fighting battles within themselves, and to top that their identity going public and being a centre of discussion places a mammoth load on their mental health. All this can drive them to self-harm or worse, suicide.
6. Section 292: Posting obscene content
Using words like “lascivious” and “prurient”, this section 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 of the IT Act reiterates the IPC provision adding the term “electronic form” to the law.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.
7. Section 354D: Online Stalking
No means NO! Bollywood has made it charming to follow and chase a woman without her consent despite her making it clear that she needs space. The chasing, stalking and trying to communicate with your dream girl online is also an offence.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.
8. Section 354C and 66E: 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, is held 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.
9. Bullying ( A part of online harassment)
Most people who are bullied online are also bullied in person. However, while offline bullying allows one the chance to avoid areas and situations that will put them in direct contact with a bully, cyberbullying offers no such reprieve. Cyberbullying can follow victims wherever they go, whether they are in a crowd or alone. Cyberbullies can reach their victims, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They often post hurtful content online, often anonymously, so that they cannot be traced or stopped. Given the nature of social media, such content is quick to go viral, and reaches a large audience in the blink of an eye, making it difficult, at times even impossible, for authorities to delete the harmful content before it wrecks damage and destroys the victim mentally and socially. The solution is to make cyber laws stricter. Unless you have deterrence in law, it will continue to be a prevalent offence.
Freedom of expression and speech is a sword sharp at both edges. While you can use it to make public your own ideas and opinions, people with contradictory views can also do the same.
But there’s a difference, a line which needs to be seen more clearly when doing this. Arguing with someone doesn’t need to include defaming them and being immoral. You don’t need to attack someone to prove your point. Trolls need to understand the moment they resort to anger and threats is when they lose an argument. If you have some logical argument, you don’t need to make someone feel bad about themselves. 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 exist 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 criminalizing 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).
To conclude, DO NOT HARASS PEOPLE ONLINE (Or anywhere else). Be productive and a tad more sensible.
Post your views and opinions on the same, and DO NOT…..