India: Revenge Porn And The Efficacy Of Indian Laws

Last Updated: 26 October 2015
Article by   LawQuest

The Internet age has provided us a new medium to express ourselves. But the misuse of this technology is rampant. The need to document every aspect of our private life on the Internet has created new and complex problems.

Numerous websites have now become a platform for a new form of online abuse that is bringing out the uglier side of relationships when breakups are less than cordial. Posting explicit pictures or videos of an ex-lover or spouse has become the all-new rage to let off steam and get back at your partner. This is called 'Revenge Porn'. Although this form of harassment is not particularly new, the term "revenge porn" has been coined only recently.

Revenge porn is a trend that has taken over the cyberspace and is fast becoming the cruellest method of coping for jilted partners or lovers. The perpetrators are almost always those closest to us. Thus, moments captured privately are no longer private if you decide to dump that partner or divorce a bitter spouse.

Several cases of revenge porn have been reported in the media in the last few months. In March, a man was arrested in Ranchi for creating a fake account of his ex girlfriend and posting obscene pictures of her along with her phone number on a social networking site. The victim had a horrifying experience when the man tagged her as a sex worker and posted intimate clippings of her following which she received dozens of calls from strange men and was forced to switch off her phone.

Many a times ex lovers use intimate pictures and videos as tools for blackmailing their exes in a bid to either get them back in their lives or to completely malign their reputation. In January, a college student from Udupi was blackmailed by her boyfriend who posted pictures of them in compromising positions on social media and pornographic websites.

The competency of Indian IT and other cyber laws has come into question recently due to the growing number of revenge porn cases that are being reported in the media. Because of the unique nature of the internet medium, it is difficult if not impossible to completely obliterate something posted on the internet. So even if you are able to get one website to take down certain images that are defamatory in nature, there is a high possibility that other websites have already copied and posted them.

Thus the impact of revenge porn is more than the shame and shock that one might feel when they discover themselves to be the victims of this crime. The immediate real time effect is the social stigmatization of the victim by blaming them for the pictures and questioning their character. This can and has lead to depression, social alienation and in some extreme cases suicide attempts by the victim who cannot handle the pressure of dealing with such targeted vengeance.

The important question that arises is whether our legal machinery is sufficiently equipped to deal with such cases and prevent them in the future.

Although there is no specific provision that speaks of revenge porn offences, the 2008 amendment to the Information Technology Act, 2000 has inserted three important sections that can prove to be extremely useful in taking action against the perpetrator of any kind of online revenge porn.

  • S. 66E of the IT Act 2008 provides for punishment for violation of privacy: Whoever, intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with both and
  • S. 66E of the IT Act 2008 provides for punishment for violation of privacy: Whoever, intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with both and
  • Under S. 67A the offence of publishing material which contains sexually explicit act or conduct has been added which carries a punishment of imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years with fine up to ten lakhs.

These provisions have been employed in some cases of revenge porn in India by the victim. However the IT Act does not carry any provisions by way of helping victims take down obscene material posted on the internet by way of revenge.

The Copyright Act, 1957 which has been debated upon as a possible source of relief is anything but a remedy in cases of revenge porn. The Copyright Act essentially provides protection to any original dramatic, literary, musical and artistic works, cinematograph films and sound recordings. Although it might seem like a good option, the Copyright Act insofar as revenge porn is concerned, does not provide any solid remedy to the victim and any case instituted on the basis of the Copyright Act may not stand as well in court as the use of the IT Act provisions which are known to have been used in several instances of abuse of a person through obscene pictures taken knowingly or unknowingly.

The emergence of this new and shocking form of abuse on porn websites as well as on popular social networking websites needs the construction of a specific legal mechanism to effectively combat the negativity being propagated.

The already shy Indian society which is not accustomed to openly talking about sex and looks at it as a tabooed subject, it is difficult to imagine the pain and extent of social alienation that a victim of such 'revenge porn' can face in the context of Indian Society.

Several steps have been taken by the international community where nations like Israel have brought out a specific Anti-Revenge Porn Law and the US is hoping to bring in a federal law against revenge porn following the legal provisions constituted by the states of California and New Jersey against this internet menace.

It is now important for India not only to look at this as a serious threat to the people attacked through this medium but it also raises important questions on how careful can one be in a relationship or even a marriage. It seems that the world is becoming a less safe place every day and we are running out of ways to fix the many damages being done to victims of sexual abuse and harassment both physical and online.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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