In India, irrespective of whether we live in the urban or the rural area, one of the things that remains a constant is misogyny. We face misogyny from our births till the end of our lives, right from female infanticide to child marriages and dowry deaths; from sexual harassment at workplace to marital rape and eve teasing; and from eve-teasing to acid-throwing and rape, women are at the receiving end of each ill-treatment. And as offended as we are with what happens in the offline/tangible world, this blog post is not about that. Slowly, like a sickly disease, this very prejudice against women can be seen permeating the digital world as well. It is kind of scary when we think about it. The online world was and is still a safe haven for many, including me. People were protected by the computer/mobile screen which does not allow for direct face-to- face communication or real relationships. Now, not so much.
Why is this so scary?
Crimes in India are all governed by the substantive law formulated under the IPC (Indian Penal Code). This means that possibly every real world offence (either a committed or an omitted act which is a violation of a legal right) that you can think of has been defined and has a quantum of punishment under the Indian Penal Code. For example, assault and battery, rape, murder, culpable homicide, theft, trespassing, outraging the modesty of women, etc. The list is endless, really.
Crimes of a sexual nature need such a great amount of evidence that most accused are acquitted (pronounced not guilty). Either the trial takes too long, or the investigation is botched, or the accused gets away on the basis of a technicality. Thus, the reality is that not all offenders are caught and put behind bars to suffer the consequences of their actions.
In comparison to other crimes against women, cyber-bullies often do not realise the nature of the wrongful act being committed by them.
Sexual harassment is a punishable offence in India, irrespective of whether it is in tangible or intangible form. It is imperative to know which acts constitute sexual harassment, and how to fight sexual harassment to have an understanding of its online aspect. Sexual harassment is defined as the unwanted intrusion of a sexual nature in the personal space of an individual.
Online sexual harassment can be punished under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 along with relevant provisions of the IPC. For example, outraging the modesty of a woman, showing pornographic content without consent, making sexually coloured remarks or asking for sexual favors online are punishable offences under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act. This act makes transmitting or publishing obscene material in electronic form punishable by imprisonment upto 3 to 5 years and a fine of upto 5 to 10 lakh rupees.
Online sexual harassment has been found to manifest into three large categories:
a. the victim is on the receiving end of pornographic material, lewd comments and insults.
b. offensive material is posted about the victim on a public platform; or
c. offensive material of/about someone is posted without their consent.
Online sexual harassment has now become a harrowing reality faced by more than 70% of women in urban areas. In such a reality, it is of paramount importance that you know how to protect yourself from it.
Here is a step-by- step guide on how you can protect yourself against online offenders:
Step 1: Proceed with caution
A precautionary method to protect yourself is to privatise your social media accounts. This way, no anonymous user will ever be able to harass you as your posts will not show up on their feed. Also, make sure that the information you post on social media is not sensitive, i.e., photos of yourself and/or your phone number on public access networks. These can be used in a wrong way.
Step 2: Block, Block, Block
If the privatisation of your accounts is not enough and you still receive or are tagged in offending material, then you can block such a person. If anyone emails or texts you with objectionable material, block them. It’s the simplest way of protecting yourself from online trolls. All social media sites provide the facility of blocking hostile elements from your feed.
Step 3: Report to the host website
Any material which you find as derogatory to yourself or your views can be removed when you report such material to the host website. You can also report a person repeatedly for making derogatory remarks. This can get that person’s account shut down permanently by the host website.
Step 4: File an FIR
If a person is repeatedly sexually harassing you through multiple fake accounts, or publishing derogatory content posing as you, then you can file a police complaint against him/her to protect yourself.
Many women feel helpless when faced with online sexual harassment. However, one doesn’t need to live in fear anymore. Have faith in the judicial system and your modesty will be protected if the necessary precautions and actions are taken at the right time. Remember that Indian Penal Code as well as the Information Technology Act, 2000, have your back. One protects you in the real world whereas the other, in the virtual one. It must be kept in mind that the wheels of justice may be slow, but they exist nevertheless.
Now that you know about what steps to take in case you are ever faced by online trolls, let others gain from it too. Share the post, and let it reach far and wide, because someone somewhere might be facing an online harassment and may need help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Khadija Khalil is currently pursuing 3 rd year of BLS/LLB course at Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai. With a love for the smaller things in life (being 5 ft tall), she is a geek who found law to be her fandom. Also a moot court enthusiast, because, why not.