ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Keeping Women Safe?

Gender, Online Harassment and Indian Law

Verbal abuse faced by women online can range from sexist comments to rape threats and is a growing issue both nationally and globally. Asking as to what extent the law can provide recourse to these forms of abuse, this article raises various questions around the ways in which the Indian legal system as a whole, and the Information Technology Act in particular, constructs and responds to women's rights.

The present article is a version of a longer discussion paper co-authored by Anja Kovacs and Richa Kaul Padte. The author would like to thank colleagues at the Internet Democracy Project, and participants in both the research and national consultations.

Girls should not face these problems. Girls or females should not find themselves in a position where they have to go to the police. They should not give their personal information and should not post their original photographs on the Internet. Anyone can snatch the photograph on the Internet and use it for their own purposes. One should do those things to avoid probable offences.

– A Representative from the Mumbai Cyber Police Cell, 22 January 2013

Everyone I know, any normal person I know, is very uncertain of any law and is very unconfident about…the legal framework. First step to the police station and you know it is not going to be of any help to is going to be a headache for terms of terms of listening to you, in terms of helping you… I am always hoping that it will never ever go to the realm of actually hitting the legal framework.

–Muksaan, an active social media user, 11 December 2012
Most of what we read is how Section 66A is used against the Internet users. I am not sure that if I should go to the police if I face abusive speech online.
– Kalpana, an online activist and social media user, 22 January 2013

From sexual harassment, to rape threats, to gender-based hate speech, women face disproportionate levels of abuse online. In “‘Don’t Let It Stand!’: An Exploratory Study of Women and Verbal Abuse Online in India”, research findings indicate that this is a growing issue across the world, to which women develop various strategies and responses. However, research also shows that these strategies very rarely include the law. This article asks how and to what extent can the law in India help? 1

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