Tag: freedom of speech in India

Risky private talks: what women must be aware of

CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER

Gone are the days when young women preferred to secretly seek information from friends, cousins or aunties residing in neighbouring houses about periods, sexual behaviour of men on nuptial nights or about pregnancy and related issues. Hush hush talks about delayed periods,  sex etc  slowly shifted to digital communication mediums and gradually women are now talking about these issues openly, breaking gender  based myths  that periods make women ‘untouchable’ or delayed periods may signify obvious pregnancy. This would not have been possible without the social media as a positive platform for letting women express their feelings and seek information from various groups , pages, websites etc. This is the main reason that social media is also called infotainment as well, which signifies information-entertainment. While this is the worldwide trend now, in India women are still gathering courage to speak about these issues openly on social media platforms.  For many women, it is still a matter to be shared either by phone calls or by way of Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail chat messengers, or by way of WhatsApp, Vibe, WeChat etc.  Often women may not only seek to gain information on these information by sharing ‘private secrets’, they may also like to know about fellow women’s sexual relationship with their husbands or boyfriends. There was this report by Porno-Hub which showed that women in India are no less porno viewers compared to their male counter parts (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160103/jsp/7days/story_61762.jsp#.Voj9msLUnQ0.facebook). Women, like men are inquisitive to know about the sexual behavior of other couples and truely speaking, there is no wrong is sharing such secrets.
But wait!
There are risks involved in sharing sex-secrets with other women even in closed groups.  The language used by women inquisitive to know about sexual behaviour of friends  may not always be comfortable for others; such communications are supposed to be ‘not serious’ and women may tend to use ‘sex jokes’ which are supposed to be exclusively meant for men. But do remember, women have equal right to expression: then where is the problem?  Many a times, women friends may pester each other to share private photos on WhatsApp or similar mobile messaging platforms. These are not typical sexting, but clearly photos in a compromising position with the male partners , or simple photos of embracing or hugging each other on bed . While the earlier may be extremely risky since it may attract legal liabilities of creating sexually explicit images and distributing the same (if not kept in the owner’s own possession for private viewing), the later may look perfectly safe to create and distribute. But when seen from the perspective of online safety of women, distribution of both sorts of images may be risky. This is because, the recipient of the message asking to share the photographs, may never know whether the message was generated by the friend whom she knew since her childhood or she is truly her best friend. The sender may be the adolescent child of the friend who helps the ‘cyber illiterate mom’ to send messages, may be her husband who wishes to monitor her and her friends or may be any other stranger who may have gained illegal access to the phone either physically or digitally. The caution note for sharing sex-secrets by plain texting is also similar. The information that is sent out may be misused if the same is shared with public by others who may want to harass or blackmail the sender of the information. It takes a few seconds to text a sex joke or share the ‘bed secrets’ with friends, but may take huge time to remove the unwanted information from public viewing and manage reputation damage. Women who may pester their friends to get indulged in such secret talks through digital communication platforms may not be fully aware of safety risks. It is therefore better to be aware than to be ‘less serious’ and ‘popular’ only to attract more danger for oneself and her friends. Let us keep our secrets to ourselves and let us enjoy real life socialising for the sake of online safety of us, the women.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2016), “Risky private talks:  what women must be aware of
11th March, 2016, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/

66A on the judgement day

CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER

When you read about S.66A of the Information technology Act, 2000(inserted through amended Act, 2008), the first thing you may note is its broad scope on censoring freedom of speech.  The provision is named as “punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services etc.” I had been an ardent fan of it since it came into effect in 2008 especially because it promised to prohibit harassment, threatening, defamation (call whatever name you wish to) not only against all netizens, but especially against women. in 2008 India did not see Nirbhaya uproar, which finally gave birth to some meaningful laws including anti-stalking (which included cyber stalking) law in the form of S.354D of the Indian Penal Code. India neither had Protection of women from sexual harassment at work place Act, which was ‘born’ in 2013. This law while grouping certain behaviours as ‘penal’, also included conveying of harassing messages through emails or other communication services as offensive behaviour. Most notable of the present laws which penalises sending offensive messages through communication services is obviously the protection of children from sexual offences Act, 2012. Each time I go through these provisions, I find the shadow of S.66A. Consider the first category of offensive message that has been laid down by 66A: “any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character”, send by ‘any person’ send by computer resource or communication device.  While this has attracted most of the controversies and has created shock waves for those who oppose S.66A, the second categorisation is contrarily more focussed. It categorises “any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device” as offensive communication, liable to be penalised.  I call it ‘more focussed’ because it has mentioned certain human emotions which can be triggered due to sending of particular messages and which the sender sends with particular malicious purposes. But still, this categorisation also attracted controversies due to linguistically twisted presentation of the provision. The third and the last categorisation of offensive messages create even more ‘shock’: it includes “any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages”. This is not the repetition of the earlier paragraphs or categorisation, but it is actually for broadening the scope of 66A to mail or messages  and not just only ‘information’.  People who oppose 66A, take up the defence of its almost open-ended scope which can involve anything and everything as offensive speech.  Since the internet has offered anonimity or no initial policing by the service providers  while generating the message, sects of people have started to use internet as a platform to express their opinion. One of the very first oppositions for 66A came up when  Aseem Trivedi , the political cartoonist was nabbed by the crime branch for his politically satirist cartoons depicting anti-corruption movement in early 2012; soon it followed by more oppositions due to the arrest of Palghar girls Shaheen Dhada  and her friend for their post in Facebook on Mumbai shutdown on the occasion of the death of Balasaheb  Thakre.  Needless to say, such arrests were made by the police on the instigation of political people who took full liberty to (mis)use 66A for curtailing the freedom of speech of common individuals. The latest being the arrest of a school boy on the alleged post targeting another political big shot in Uttarpradesh. Unfortunately 66A always found a slippery way in the hands of police who were ‘instigated’ by some people who wished to take the law in their hands in literal meaning. Added with it, s.66A being a provision which proscribes punishment which may extend to three years, also attracts the issues of cognizance and bailability. S.77B says any offence which is punishable with three years imprisonment or more, is a cognizable offence and bailable. It becomes an obvious fact that if and when any one intends to misuse the law, may use the penal objective of the same with fullest meaning so that the ‘accused’ gets a life time lesson. This is exactly what happens each time 66A is used for curtailing free speech especially in cases of opinions regarding political matters or consumer matters.  I say this, because these arrests were also challenged by Markendeya Katzu, who was a former Supreme Court judge.
But 66A also offers a wonderful safeguard against defamation and other harassment if it is read properly. Consider Article 19(2) of the Indian constitution which lays down reasonable restrictions for freedom of speech.  I see 66A in that light shredding those ambiguous categorisations. it is accepted that 66A lacks clear definitions which is extremely important for any restrictive law. But needless to say, we still do not have any provision to regulate online bullying, trolling or even harassment to women by way of insulting posts. S.509 of the Indian Penal Code may fulfil the gap since it punishes any word, gesture etc to insult the modesty of women. But again, when applying 509, many women may face the problem of ‘what is modesty’ types of questions by the police itself. I have known many victims who have been blamed by the police on this very basis.  Police still depends upon related laws to book the offender and many a times the case becomes extremely complicated due to misunderstanding of the issues. 66A may provide a wonderful solace in such cases.  But still, 66A has been used in many cases of harassment of women in the internet and it proved fruitful as well.
When I write this blog, I understand that within a few minutes or a couple of hours, the Supreme court of India may take its landmark decision on 66A on the grounds thus presented by the defenders and supporters of 66A.  I remember seeing a very meaningful observation in Twitter by none other than Pavan Duggal who mentioned that scrapping of 66A would not serve the purpose. I am an ardent fan of 66A and I would continue to support restrictive laws such as this one(off course when it is read and used in positive lights) if at all Supreme Court  shows lenience towards 66A’s opponents.  I really wish that 66A comes back, but not in its old form. It should be re-born with clear language and purposes.  66A may then mother many other laws which may be beneficial to not only women and children, but also groups of persons including racial minority, gender minority etc.

Wish you good luck 66A!
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2015), “66A on the judgement day” 24th March, 2015, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/

No more slangs: it may land you in jail…….……….really?

CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER

The last page of the newspaper  The Hindu always offers some amusing news for me . Today was no exception. I was pleasantly “surprised” when I read the news “Pakistan bans 1,695 words on cellphone” ( see http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article2642848.ece). The news report gave a strong suggestion that activists within Pakistan have condemned it. True, in any democratic country the government can not ban the freedom of expression unless it falls within the strict criteria of constitutionally frame-worked “banned words”. Further, the government can not suomotu shut the mouth of citizens unless it has been proved that some one/group of people are really hurt and such activities will bring in huge chaos in the country. But the news report further suggested that Pakistangovernment has taken this decision after a series of court orders came out  “favoring reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech” . The Pakistantelecom authority (PTA) has ordered for content filtering for all the mobile phone service providers of some words including words like “Jesus Christ”.  Well, if this act is done to prevent mobile harassment especially for women, I am for it ( off course not for curbing other words which do not carry offending or sexually harassing or obscene motives). But one needs to see that whether this act of the government resulted from huge complaints from women regarding this. In Indiasending offensive communications via digital media is considered as an offence under section 66A. Along with this Section 509 of the IPC is  also  used in some cases when modesty of women are targeted, i.e, they are targeted with words which actually sounds very nasty. Not to forget the power of sections 69 and 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2008, which gives enough power to the government for intercepting, monitoring and even blocking the free flowing of informations through digi-tech services; India can also probably take up such action as her neighbor to prevent individuals from using slangs targeting women.   

Now, coming to the arguments against such government acts, I will sum up my points as below:

1.      women are targeted with slang words, men are neither spared. It has become a new fashion among some people to use abusive words, including slangs while texting or even speaking with friends……forget about the heated up arguments which often carry ‘unwanted words’.

2.     How far the government can check? Checking the usage of  words with double meaning  will become a huge task. Probably for this a new academic course would be needed to study the changing trend of  words with black and white meanings. Don’t forget, we in this peninsula speak both English and vernacular language and majority have excellent ability to use “Hinglish” to express thoughts.

3.     We get to see so much ***ing words/images in popular social networking sites which are hugely shared and also enjoyed by many of us… would government go ahead with banning these social networking sites too? Well, once Pakistan did ban Facebook for insulting Islam. But in India no such act was taken except the 2006 ban on an Orkut community which triggered tension for insulting the great Maratha king Chatrapati Shivaji. But note that Orkut as a site was not banned.

It is no wonder that the concept of unprotected speech and expression, seen from the aspect of Article 19(2)(v) under Indian constitution is becoming more narrowed. This provision speaks about curbing right to speech on the ground of morality and indecency. But at the same time, it lies upon the users of the free speech guarantee to use it in a proper fashion, so that the government need not step in to curb the right. Once the individual users, irrespective of their gender, decide the level of decency for usage of language themselves, the problem of objectionable words and government’s “Big Brother” attitude towards free speech guarantee may be  set at rest to a certain extent…..if not fully.     

Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2011), “No more slangs: it may land you in jail…….……….really?”20th November,2011, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/