Cyber-bullying in India and Applicable Laws
Cyber-bullying is a crime that is done by an individual or a group of people with an intention to bully or harass someone repeatedly. Generally, victim of cyber-bullying are those people who cannot easily defend themselves. Cyber-bullying can include leaking someone’s personal information or pictures publicly on the internet, sending indecent/sexual messages to someone, stalking someone, hacking someone’s account, among others. There are various mediums through which cyber-bullying can occur, like, social media (Instagram, Facebook, etc.), text messages, E-mail, Instant messaging services (WhatsApp, messenger, etc.).
Cyber-bullying in India
India has ranks number 3[i] for cyber-bullying crimes, and this is not even shocking anymore as the number of users are rising day by day and most of them are fake accounts. According to a survey conducted by an NGO, CRY (Children Rights and You) it was found that approximately 9.2% of children are being bullied online in Delhi NCR and half of the children do not complain about the incidence to their parents, teachers, or guardians. Similarly, as per the nationwide survey conducted by Symantec, around 8 people out of 10 people are a victim of different-different types of cyber-bullying. Among these, around 63% of people were a victim of online abuses or harassment and 59% of people were a victim of fake gossips and rumours destroying their image. On analysing these survey reports, the main question that arises is why the kids/children refrain from informing their parents, teachers, or guardians about the cyberbullying they are dealing with- The answer is ambiguous but it may be assumed that they are embarrassed to tell, or they might think if they will complain it to them, they (children) will get bullied even more there might be many reasons because no one knows what is running on their mind at that moment.
Some common cyber-bullying faced by people in India are:
i. People calling them by offensive names on internet;
ii. Spreading rumours that are false;
iii. People sending them vulgar images;
iv. People giving physical threats;
v. People harassing or messaging them un-necessarily;
vi. Commenting mean things on someone’s pictures or posts;
These are only some of the major types of cyber-bullying that are faced by people in India and out of these, half of the victims do not report or file a complaint against the accused thinking they will harass them even more if raised voice against them. And cyber-bullying can take an ugly turn and it can turn into someone’s worse nightmare.
Cyber-bullying vs. Cyber-Stalking
Cyber-stalking is when a person keeps an eye (stalk) on someone and on their day-to-day activities on the internet or social media without their knowledge with an intention to harass them or hurt them whereas, cyber-bullying means, when a person is continuously harassing or threatening you through messages or other ways on the social media or the internet.
Laws against cyber-bullying in India
1. Information Technology Act, 2000: The Act of 2000 (Amendment 2008), was passed by the Government of India for dealing with crimes on internet. Cyber-bullying is one such crime which happens on the internet and leaves a life-time impact on the victim but sadly the offence of cyber-bullying has yet not been introduced in this Act. However, there are some remedies for the victims provided in this Act against cyber-bullying:
i. Section 66(D): This Section states that, if a person cheats someone by portraying their image someone else on the internet or the social media, he/she shall be punished. The imprisonment may be up to 3 years and/or a fine of Rs. 1 Lakh.
ii. Section 66(E): Under this Section one can be punished for capturing someone’s private pictures intentionally and putting it on the internet or social media without their consent. The imprisonment may last up to 3 years and/or with a fine of Rs. 3 lakhs.
iii. Section 67: Under this Section one can be punished if they transfer, circulate, or upload vulgar or improper material on the internet or social media. The imprisonment may last up to 5 years and/or with a fine of Rs. 10 Lakhs.
2. Indian Penal Code, 1860: IPC is the official criminal code of India. There is no specific provision mentioned for cyber-bullying under the act. However, there are some sections which may deal with the offenses against cyber-bullying:
i. Section 507: If any person frightens the other person anonymously on the internet or social media and threatens them or forces them to do something without their will, he shall be punished under this section. The imprisonment may last up to 2 years.
ii. Section 509: Under this Section one can be punished if he tries to insult the modesty of a woman, this can also be on internet or social media, The imprisonment may last up to 1 year, with/without fine.
iii. Section 354(C): Under this Section one can be punished if he captures a woman’s images without her consent or permission when she is in her private space. The imprisonment may be of 1-3 years and still if the accused continues the offense, he shall be imprisoned for 3-7 years.
iv. Section 354(D): Under this Section one can be punished if they stalk someone or monitors their day-to-day activities on the internet without their knowledge with an intention to cause them harm or to hurt them. The imprisonment may last up to 3 years.
v. Section 499: Under this Section one can be punished if they defame someone. Defamation can also be on internet or social media.
Case Laws related to cyber-bullying in India
1. State of West Bengal v. Animesh Boxi[ii]: In this case, Animesh Boxi was found guilty of uploading his ex-girlfriend’s pictures and videos on internet (pornography websites). Animesh was changer under many sections ofInformation Technology Act, 2000 (Sections 66C, 66E and 67/67A) as well as IPC (Sections 354A, 354C, 354D, and 509) with an imprisonment of 5 years with a fine of Rs. 9,000. This case was a historic impact as it was the first verdict in a revenge porn case in India.
2. Prakhar Sharma v. The State of Madhya Pradesh[iii]: In this case, the accused created a fake Facebook account by the name of the victim and used to post vulgar messages from that account with the victim’s pictures (which he downloaded from her original ID). The accused was found guilty and was punished under sections 66C, and 67/67A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
3. Shreya Singhal & Ors. v. Union of India and Ors.[iv]: In this case, the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Under this Section one used to get punished for sending offensive, threatening, abusive, etc. messages through the internet. It was argued that section 66A was unconstitutionally vague and were beyond the scope of legal limitations of Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution.
Therefore, in India as the number of users on the internet and on social media is rising the cases of cyber-bullying/stalking is also rising and is prevalent mostly among the children. Although there are remedies provided under the Information Technology Act and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for cyber-bullying/stalking still some people prefer to stay quiet thinking the person will bully him more or after a while the matter will be resolved on its own. Thus, it becomes imperative that; the people be made aware about their rights and remedies which is provided to them, Moreover, parents, teachers, or guardians should talk to their children about cyber-bulling which is happening on the internet so that if it happens to them in the future at least they can communicate and share their problems instead of getting mentally tortured.
~Authored by Soumya Tripathi
Endnotes [i] Swati Shalini, What is Cyber Bullying or Anti-Bullying Laws in India, MYADVO (2019) [April 28, 2021, 8:06 pm] [https://www.myadvo.in/blog/must-read-what-is-cyber-bullying-or-anti-bullying-laws-in-india/]. [ii] State of West Bengal v. Animesh Boxi, GR No. 1587/17 [iii] Prakhar Sharma v. State of Madhya Pradesh, MP High Court, MCRC No. 377-2018 [iv] Shreya Singhal & ors. v. UOI, AIR 2015 SC 1523; Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 167 of 2012