In 2018, online trolling can easily be identified as the digital equivalent of a mob lynching. With an omnipresent monster such as the internet that stands within the reach of as many as 3.58 billion users globally, it is very important for female Indian users to know the laws that they can look to when in need.
With public figures such as actors, politicians and journalists landing on the receiving end of internet trolls, several social activists have spoken out about the harassment served to digital citizens under the garb of ‘hurt sentiments’.
In an attempt to secure the freedom of speech and expression of Indian internet users, the Supreme Court of India struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in 2015 which encompasses the punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services.
However, in spite of the apex court’s move, there exist laws in India that provide legal redressal to females who become victims of online harassment.
While it must be noted that not all such laws explicitly mention the term “internet”, they can be interpreted in cases where a female individual is subjected to harassment on social media platforms or on e-mail.
Following are the laws that can be referred by victims of online trolling.
Section 354A of the IPC:
People posting lewd comments on social media are liable under this law and can be punished with one-year imprisonment and fine.
In addition, posting/messaging content related to pornography against the will of a woman or requesting sexual favours are punishable by a fine along with three years of imprisonment under the same provision.
Section 354C of the IPC:
This act deals with voyeurism which is a criminal offence under both the IPC and the IT Act. It deals with cases where a man, without the consent of a woman, captures an image/video of her engaged in a private act. Such an act is punishable by one to three years of imprisonment along with a fine. This provision can be referred to especially in cases when the woman does not expect to be observed by the accused.
Section 354D of the IPC:
This provision of the IPC deals with what is commonly referred to as “online stalking”. The provision covers the grounds of a case where an attempt to contact a woman is made via the internet, e-mail or any other form of electronic communication with the intention of establishing personal interaction despite her visible disinterest. Such an act is punishable with three years of imprisonment on the first count followed by five years of imprisonment on the second count both of which are in addition to a monetary fine.
Section 499 of the IPC:
Any individual who believes that his/her reputation is being harmed by a visible representation published on the internet can invoke this provision which exclusively accounts for remarks on social media or obscene images or videos posted for public consumption. Under this provision, defaming a woman online will land the perpetrator in jail for a period of two years.
Section 503 of the IPC:
In the case of an individual threatening a woman with the intention to either alarm her or malign her reputation, the former is liable to be penalised with a jail term of two years.
Section 507 of the IPC:
Under this provision, any individual who acts in the interest of intimidating or threatening a woman by anonymous communication is liable to be punished with two years in prison.
Section 509 of the IPC:
Under this provision, a person distinctly posting sexual remarks/pictures/videos comprising of sexual insinuations on social media is liable to three years of imprisonment along with a fine.
Section 66E of the IT Act:
Publishing a visual image of a person in print or electronic form that would result in the violation of the privacy of the individual would lead to three years imprisonment or a fine ranging from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 10 lakh.
According to this provision of the IT Act, while the first conviction would result in three years of imprisonment, a second conviction under the same provision can lead to a jail term spanning seven years along with a similar fine.
Section 292 of the IT Act:
Any book, paper, drawing, painting or figure used via an electronic medium that can be proved to contain “obscene” content falls under this provision. One can refer to Section 67 of the IT Act to gain more clarity about the territory that falls under the category of “obscene” content.