The recent case of Delhi-based journalist Swati Chaturvedi, who decided to go after the anonymous Twitter handle @LutyensInsider after it unleashed a malicious and sexist social media campaign against her, could put some new "crimes against women" laws to a much-needed test.
The account – popular among both journalists and the general public – had posted sexually explicit comments linking her with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Talking about her decision to file a criminal case for online harassment against the unknown person, Chaturvedi wrote, “My reputation is my most precious asset. So after tossing and turning all night, I decided that I will do, what we as the media, keep prescribing to others – take action."
For women, the internet has often been a hostile space.
“If a woman speaks out about an issue that speaks to some deep divide in online conversation, then the more virulent misogynist of tweeters frequently lash out and target her gender,” said Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy.
At the other end of the spectrum, journalist Nikhil Wagle found himself in a soup by posting tweets that compared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a “pervert”. The Pune wing of the BJP filed a criminal complaint, saying he was “spreading hatred.”
These incidents show that one cannot always be footloose and fancy-free on the net. Even without the once-dreaded Section 66A, the Information Technology Act has enough provisions that empower police to arrest offenders, as does the Indian Penal Code.
While Section 66A of the Information Technology Act has been struck down by the Supreme Court, Section 67 equips the state to punish those found “publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form”.
Actions against posters of “revenge porn” exist in Section 66E of the Information Technology Act, and the state is empowered by Section 69A to send such persons to jail for up to three years.
The Indian Penal Code empowers citizens to call on the state to act against people they believe are defaming, harassing or spreading hate speech and animosity between different groups.
Women can specifically take action under the amended laws against stalking, voyeurism and harassment.
A recent example of this was the young TERI employee who took action for sexual harassment and stalking against the institute’s director general for allegedly making repeated advances on her through email.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand said, “This should be a prime example for everyone on the Internet. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that you demean, defame or disparage anybody. I’m glad she has invoked the section for harassment because the purpose of making it was exactly this kind of situation.”