Cyberbullying Laws in India

By | May 16, 2020
Cyberbullying Laws in India

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Cyberbullying Laws in India | Overview

This article attempts to give an insight over the various Cyberbullying laws prevalent in India. To define bullying the most acceptable definition of cyberbullying which has been used is,

“an aggressive, intentional act or behaviour that is carried out by a group or an individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over-time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.”

There have been variations to this definition explaining the meaning of bullying but cybercrime experts have accepted this definition. Bullying can happen online as well as offline such as when brat students resort to bullying in schools and torture innocent students. When the bullying happens online with the help of technology it is cyberbullying. However, there is a need for specific legislation as it would bring clarity on different legal aspects of bullying, ease the judicial process as well lead to a better working environment. This article discusses the existing laws helpful to deal with cyberbullying.

Introduction to Cyberbullying Laws in India

In today’s world, anything and everything is available at the click of a button as it is a fast-developing technological age. The cyber-world is known to have opened various opportunities and has given rise to an ocean of information which in turn has widened the base of our knowledge. As known, everything comes with its own pros and cons. This makes us think of the evil as a result of knowledge and connectivity which is cyber-bullying.

Words scar, rumours destroy, and bullies kill

As the quote goes, “Words scar, rumours destroy, and bullies kill” there are many people who die as a result of bullying and the victims are mainly of the age group 8 to 18 years. The worst thing in cyber-bullying is that the perpetrator could be an acquaintance but hide behind the mask of anonymity online.

In general, the term “bullying” is said to be 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. Superiority can be achieved virtually in the form of shameful pictures, videos, fake profiles, etc. In this manner of constant humiliation, insults, false allegations, and threats through social media platforms, in the long run, creating a hostile environment for the victim. It may cause psychological and emotional drain/damage, insecurity, stress, anxiety, depression and constant mental trauma leading to the culmination of suicidal behaviour. This act of cyber-bullying can take place even in gaming platforms. Some victims if not physically they tend to commit a spiritual suicide i.e., they would isolate themselves from the society.

Cyberbullying is a practice that is causing hue and cry in the whole legal system but till date, there is no special legislation to deal with cyberbullying in India. It is a new phenomenon which has arisen in this internet age. Cyberbullying can be defined as “The use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.”[1]

Also, it is important to define the academic or legal definition of bullying. In his book ‘Cyber Bullying: Profile and Policy Guidelines’, eminent criminologist Dr K Jaishankar defines cyberbullying as

“abuse/ harassment by teasing or insulting the victims’ body shape, intellect, family background, dress sense, mother tongue, place of origin, attitude, race, caste, or class using modern telecommunication networks such as mobile phones and Internet.”

I. Different Types of Cyberbullying

At the surface of it cyberbullying involves various kinds of offences, including humiliation via hateful comments or SMS or messaging. In addition, it also comprises posting or sharing negative, fabricated information about an individual in order to assassin the individual’s character. Similar to social media, the nature and forms of cyberbullying also have a widespread sphere. They are:

  1. Posting hurtful, or humiliating rumours or comments about an individual online
  2. Publishing an embarrassing or nude/inappropriate photo or video
  3. Creating a fake or inappropriate webpage about another individual
  4. Issuing online threats provoking an individual to kill themselves or hurt someone else
  5. Triggering religious, racial, ethnic or political hate online by posting hate comments or videos
  6. Faking an identity online with an intention to deceive or extract information

India too has no exceptions from cyberbullying. With an increase in the availability of data services and with the presence of social media, our country has witnessed a sudden rise in the cyberbullying cases. Adults and young adults across the nation tend to become a victim of horrendous cases of cyberbullying.

In this digital era where people live in digital and online platforms, it is inevitable that a person doesn’t come across it at least once. Hence, its important to come with measures to prevent and deal with cyber-bullying. It is possible to tackle it by using the appropriate laws to punish the perpetrators in order to discourage the act of cyber-bullying in India.

The Raghavan Committee report recommended that teachers and the principal shall be held liable if any act of bullying takes place in the school premises.[2] In the case of University of Kerala v. Council, Principal’s colleges, Kerala & others[3]

Now the question arises, why should the Indian penal laws not apply to a school? You may say that the school boys are only in late teens but do not forget that there are several crimes in various cities including murders which are committed by teenagers today[4]

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

II. Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking and cyberbullying pose dangerous threats to internet users, as in modern times we use the technology to connect, communicate and socialize. Cyberstalking is stalking or harassing that are carried out over the internet that might target individuals, groups, or even organizations and can take different forms including slander, defamation and threats. Cyberstalking involves a series of behaviours and actions over a period of time that is intended to intimidate, alarm, frighten, or harass the victim and/or the victim’s family, partner, and friends. Cyberstalking may take form in various ways, in the broadest sense, it is harassing or staking which takes place through online means such as social media, forums, email and so on. It is typically planned and sustained over a period of time.

Cases of cyberstalking can often begin as seeming interactions which may appear harmless to many persons. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, a few strange or perhaps unpleasant messages may even amuse you. However, if they become systematic, it becomes annoying and even frightening. Motives may be to control or intimidate the victim or to gather information for use in other crimes, like identity theft or offline stalking.

III. Cyberbullying vs. Cyberstalking

First and foremost, both the cyberbullying and cyberstalking are the same because both involve the following aspects, Threat to harm, Insults or degradation, Spreading rumours or defamation, Identity theft and Constant provocation. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between the both, except for serious cases of cyberstalking, when you “know it when you see it.” And the difference between “cyberbullying” and cyber-harassment is the age of both the victim and the perpetrator.

Cyberstalking is one of the serious forms of online harassment. In some cases, cyberstalking is much like cyberbullying, as it involves the sending of repeated annoying and unwelcome messages. But cyberstalking goes far beyond cyberbullying in terms of motivations and tactics. Cyberstalking involves a disturbed obsession with the target, and a perverse desire to control that target in some way. Cyberbullying is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is never a cyberbullying.

IV. Cyberbullying in India

Cyberbullying is one of the major issues, which has shown up in reason years in India due to increasing of availability of data services and presence in social media. The main victim to these bullying cases is the student community. One of the sensational incidents which had occurred in recent years was the suicide of an MBBS Student in Kerala as she was provoked by the inappropriate comments in her Facebook post by one of her collegemates. Also, another incident which is to be mentioned here is the cyberbullying which occurred to the political campaign in online platform started by a student of Lady Shri Ram College.

These incidents showed up only in the recent years when internet had become a tool accessible for each and every person in the country. The Raghavan Committee report recommended that teachers and the principal shall be held liable if any act of bullying takes place in the school premises. This was stated in the case of University of Kerala v. Council, Principal’s colleges, Kerala & others. In order to discipline the behaviour of students and evict the cases of bullying and abuse within the college premises UGC (University Grants Commission) brought uniform anti-ragging rules to be followed by the universities and colleges across the country and they could even forfeit their recognition if they fail to abide by the anti-ragging rules which have been legislated by the UGC.

“UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Education Institutions, 2009” was enacted by the government of India as a special regulation to curb bullying at higher education institutions which imposes that even students may have liability under different section under Indian Penal Code.

The Supreme Court bench has also recommended the Indian government to legislate a law similar to Children Online Privacy Act which was legislated in the USA to guard against the cyberbullying of minors. Similarly, India needs such legislation to protect women and children from bullying and abuse.  But still, Cyber platform has been used as a ground for occurrence of various cybercrime which is mainly due to inefficient protection provided by the service provider and the officials.

We could have seen how the Blue whale challenge had victimised people, this was mainly due to lack of awareness among our community and delay of action taken by the officials in this case without knowing the seriousness of this issue. The online platform has also severely caused a breach of privacy of an individual. For example, we could see some of the television channels streaming the Tik Tok videos of the users without their permission.

V. Cyberbullying laws in India

In India, there is no specific provision under any legislation to deal with the issue of cyberbullying. However, there are various provisions in the existing laws which can somehow be related to the various forms of cyberbullying. Among other existing laws the role played by the Information Technology Act however partial is very significant. The IT Act is enacted to primarily deal with matters related to e-commerce which is evident from its preamble. However, it has been interpreted by the courts to deal in such cyberspace issue relating to cyberbullying, cyberstalking, etc.

Chapter 11 of the Information Technology Amendment Act consists of offences, where there is no clear definition of the offence of cyberbullying. Still, the act provides remedies against the same under Section 66 and Section 67. Some key provisions of the IT Act which deals with cyberbullying

Sec. 66A that deals with sending offensive messages through communication service, etc

S.66A provided an opportunity to genuine victims of cyber harassment to obtain immediate relief against content that may be insulting or injurious in nature, abrogation of which has now made Police authorities toothless in dealing with the growing menace of cyberbullying. No doubt S.66A could be used arbitrarily, but by doing away with the provision on account of its potential misuse, the Court has also discarded a remedial mechanism available to the common man to counter actual cyber offences.

The Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal and Ors. v. Union of India[5], struck down Section 66A of the Information & Technology Act, 2000. The ruling which is being lauded by the common man and legal luminaries alike, found the Cyberlaw provision to be open-ended, vague and unconstitutional owing to the restriction it caused to the Indian citizens’ right to free speech.

  • Sec.66C that deals with Identity Theft
  • Sec.66D that deals with Cheating by personation by using the computer resource
  • Sec.66E that deals with Violation of privacy
  • Sec.67B that deals with Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material depicting children in any sexually explicit act, etc. in electronic form
  • Sec.72 that deals with Breach of confidentiality and privacy

Remedies under Indian penal code provided remedies against a defamatory act or an act outraging the modesty of the women. The amendment of the Act in 2013 introduced other offences and also made cyberstalking as an offence. The following provision of IPC in some way or the other deals with cyberbullying,

  • Sec. 292A – Printing, selling, advertising grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended for blackmail
  • Sec. 354 A – Making sexually coloured remarks, guilty of the offence of sexual harassment

Under Section 354C, a cyberbully can be punished for taking pictures and can be held liable under this section along with other sections if he transmits or publishes the same.

  • Sec. 354D – Stalking and contacting, or attempting to contact a woman
  • Sec. 499 – Sending defamatory messages by e-mail
  • Sec. 500 – email Abuse
  • Sec. 503 – sending threatening messages through email
  • Sec. 509 – Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman
  • Sec. 507 – Criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication

By considering the present scenario of the society, many offences still need to find a place under the IT Act as the developmental and innovative reach of the technology is unimaginably fast. Offences like cyberbullying, chat room abuses, watching pornographic websites etc are outside the purview of IT Act even though some of these problems are attempted to be tackled with existing provisions and other laws.

Conclusion

Although there are laws to penalise bullying, only a few victims and their families report instances of cyberbullying. A majority prefer to stay silent and hope that things will improve on their own.

Cyber-bullying is, arguably, a milder offence when compared to murder and organized crime. Thus, if convicted, a cyber-bully would be housed and disciplined with other juveniles in conflict with the law who may be habitual offenders or may have committed heinous crimes. This may jeopardize the cyberbully’s safety or influence him to go deeper into crime and become a habitual offender. Thus, criminalizing minors for cyber-bullying can be counterproductive. To bring about a change in the mindset, there are some key issues that policymakers should consider. For example, the policymakers should adopt child-friendly policies which explain why cyberbullying is dangerous to children as well as to society.


By: Aparna Ramamoorthy


[1] Oxford dictionary

[2]Anti-bullying laws in India” Bar Association of India, 2015, < https://www.indianbarassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Anti-bullying-laws-in-India.pdf> Accessed on 15 May 2020

[3] (2011) 14 SCC 357

[4] Supra 5

[5] [1982] 2 S.C.R. 272


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  • Swasti Salecha says:

    This has helped me a lot as a reference for my internship work. Thank You 🙂