It is often asked if we humans are inherently violent and vicious. That, if we are not bound by social parameters of judgement and punishment, will we descend to our primitive, crude reality where we are not much more than an animal?
Recent cases of online harassment, unfortunately, corroborate this theory. These cases show that if we are convinced that there will no be no repercussions to our actions, we won’t baulk from abusing people, humiliating them or even hurting them.
Recently, a man from Kolkata sent rape threats to a girl, just because she deleted his comment from a picture of her. The threat, also commented on one of her pictures, is so grotesquely detailed that it makes you wonder if this person even fits in the definition of a human being. But as you would know if you are an active netizen that this case is not an isolated one; online harassment is becoming more and more common every day. According to a report published in The Hindu, 8 out of 10 Indians face online harassment in one form or another, with the majority of victims being women.
Just because there is a word “online” preceding it, it doesn’t dampen the intensity of the harassment. Online harassment is as dangerous a crime as any other. There have been cases of online harassments where the victim ended up committing suicide. In many cases, it results in depression, low self-esteem, isolation, anxiety, or frustration. In other words, it has the ability to wreck your life completely. Therefore, combating online harassment begins with the most important step: recognising it for what it is, a crime, nothing less.
An important takeaway from the case mentioned above is that a FIR was filed against the culprit and he was arrested soon after. Speaking out about the harassment is not the most taken recourse in online harassment cases. Usually, we tend to ignore such cases, often underestimating the gravity of the situation.
A major reason behind this silence is also a lack of awareness about options available to us.
Section 354A of the IPC defines sexual harassment as “advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures, showing pornography against the will of a woman, making sexually coloured remarks” and punishment for it extends up to 3 years of imprisonment, or fine or both.
Similarly section 354C provides remedies for voyeurism and specifies – “Any man who watches, or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator or disseminates such image shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to three years.”
Furthermore, sections 66E And 67 of IT Act provides options against violation of privacy of a person while section 499 of the IPC defined laws against defamation.
Though legal regulations form a base for countering online harassment, it alone cannot help us eradicate it. Society itself has to become aware of this new form of crime, those who have faced it should come forward to share how it affected them, the more we talk about it, the more it will make people confident to counter it when it happens to them.
Hatred is empowered by silence, so talking and getting it out in the open has a far-reaching impact on control of online, or any other forms of harassment. We witnessed it in the Kolkata incident where an open rebuttal and a police complaint landed the perpetrator in jail.
Because, at the end of the day, the Internet is the manifestation of a free, open globalised world where there are no restrictions on opinions, where we are all together and it’s imperative that we don’t let it turn into a place where fear and hatred prevails and everyone is afraid of speaking their mind.