India lacking laws to curb cyberbullying

By : |December 9, 2007 0

MUMBAI, INDIA: Thirteen-year-old Megan Meier of Missouri, US, committed suicide in November. A message from ‘Josh Evans’, with whom she had been ‘dating’ online for a few weeks, had earlier told her, “The world would be a better place without you.”

In Tennessee, US, a teenage girl stabbed another. Reason: the victim had posted an ‘irritating’ comment on the accused’s page in the social networking site, Facebook.

Welcome, dear reader, to the dark side of new media technology! Though the second case sited above is an act of cyber-rage, Megan was a victim of increasing cyberbullying in the West.

Cyberbullying

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Cyberbullying is when a child, preteen or even a teenager is mentally tortured, pressured, harassed by anyone else by employing cell phones, Internet or the digital expertise. In Cyberbullying the victim is always a child, preteen or teenager. If the victim is an adult, it is then cyber stalking or cyber harassment.

A bully can send harassing e-mails or instant messages, post obscene, insulting, and slanderous messages to online bulletin boards, or develop web sites to promote and disseminate defamatory content. Besides, harassing text messages can be sent to the victim via mobile phones.

According to two researchers, Justin W. Patchin of University of Wisconsin and Sameer Hinduja of Florida Atlantic Univerity, "Cyberbullies are malicious aggressors who seek implicit or explicit pleasure or profit through the mistreatment of another individual. Violence is often associated with aggression, and corresponds to actions intended to inflict injury (of any type). One instance of mistreatment, while potentially destructive, cannot accurately be equated to bullying, and so cyberbullying must also involve harmful behavior of a repetitive nature."

Due to the very nature of the behavior, the researchers say in their research paper, Bullies Move Beyond the Schoolyard: A Preliminary Look at Cyberbullying. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, "cyberbullies have some perceived or actual power over their victims. While “power” in traditional bullying might be physical (stature) or social (competency or popularity), online power may simply stem from proficiency. That is, youth who are able to navigate the electronic world and utilize technology in a way that allows them to harass others are in a position of power relative to a victim."

Home truth

At a time when Indian developers too are sprinting ahead along with others towards Mobile 2.0, CyberMedia News takes a look at the country’s preparedness in tackling cyberbullying.

Apparently, India, which figures prominently in world’s IT map, has not taken cognizance of this menace that affects children and teenagers. It seems the country is waiting for a tragedy to strike before it pulls up its socks and joins the post-tragedy finger-pointing exercise.

The Indian children and teenagers are potential sitting ducks for cyber bullies, as there are no effective mechanisms to curb cyber bullying.

 

The law is silent

“Currently there are no laws in India pertaining to cyberbullying,” says cyber law expert and Supreme Court advocate Pawan Duggal. “It is indeed correct that there have been reports of a couple of suicides having been committed by individuals due to cyberbullying. Cyberbulling is also taking serious roots in India. This is also so given the pent-up tendency amongst people in this part of the world to give vent to their suppressed feelings.”

Duggal is bang on target when he says cyberbullying is taking serious roots in India. Remember the MMS scandal and the clip of two Delhi schoolchildren in a compromising position? The boy who shot the video sent it to his friends, after the girl broke up with him. The clip was later found all over the cyber space and even in an online auction site.

When the late Pramod Mahajan tabled the Bill on Indian Information Technology Laws in the Parliament, it seems, he was unaware of cyberbullies. However, India failed to look into this world in the amendments it has proposed to the Information Technology Act 2000.

“The existing cyber law, the Indian Information Technology Act 2000 is completely silent on the issue of cyberbullying. It is unfortunate to note that even the proposed amendments to the Information Technology Act 2000 do not cover the issue of cyberbullying in a comprehensive manner. India requires a distinct legislation or separate provisions on cyberbullying,” says Duggal.

Awareness drive

However, the Cyber Crime Cells of various State police have been looking into this matter, albeit without mentioning the term ‘cyberbullying.’

The term does not find any place on the Cyber Crime Cells’ websites of various states, though they provide ‘do’s and don’ts’ regarding cyber security, including tips to children and parents.

But then, how many children – or parents – in India visit these web sites? Apparently, not even a clutchful. In Mumbai and in many other places, the police are trying to create awareness regarding cyber safety to citizens.

“Our aim is to educate parents and children. We also go to colleges and educational institutions and offer tips on offences related to cyber,” avers DCP Enforcement – Mumbai, Sanjay Mohite.

This move by the police, though a welcome one, falls short. Educational institutions and the government need to do more.

 

Limited options

With current laws not dealing with cyberbullying, Indians are left with limited options. One could file a complaint with the police who could then try to cover it under some existing crimes under the Indian Penal Code including creating nuisance.

“In case if the identity of the cyber bully is known, then the victim could also seek for injunction and damages from a civil Court under existing Specific Relief Act 1963 as also under the existing Tort law of the country,” adds Duggal.

The limited options must make India realize that preventing such activities at the grass root level is the best bet. For starters, it is advisable for parents to monitor their children’s activities.

Children given cell phones should be instructed not to misuse them. Computers at home should be placed at a common area where parents would know what their children are browsing and they should be made to understand that their passwords of emails should not be shared with anyone.

Monitoring your children at home by being alert and aware of the newer technology is one of the ways of to ward off embarrassments and possible tragedies like that of 13-year-old Megan Meier.

Call for stringent law

“Cyberbullying needs to be made as a penal offence punishable with minimum seven years imprisonment and fine, which should extend up to Rs 50 lakhs. In addition, cyberbullying should also be made a ground for seeking damages by way of compensation up to Rs 50 crores,” opines Duggal.

All may not agree with Duggal. There are views that cyberbullies need counseling, as most bullies are youngsters. In such a case, a combined effort from the law enforcement agencies, ministries of Information and communication technology, and health, is required.

Post script

Cyberbullies need not be always children or teenagers. In the case of Megan – mentioned at the beginning of this article – the bully was the mother of her 16-year-old friend. Both the girls were best friends before they fell out with each other. The elder girl’s mother created a persona – Josh Evans – and wooed the gullible Megan. The little girl fell victim to the woman’s designs and paid for it with her life.

Dear reader, is this woman the only one to be blamed? If you think so, consider this: Little Megan had informed her mother of the online ‘lover’, and the mother didn’t take it seriously.

(With inputs from Bhaskar Hazarika in New Delhi)