In the rapidly evolving digital era, the pervasive influence of the internet has revolutionized the way we live, connect, and communicate. This technological leap, however, has brought forth a parallel surge in cybercrimes, a concerning trend with far-reaching consequences. Amidst this digital transformation, women in India face a growing threat as cybercrimes become a sinister extension of the broader issue of crimes against women. The virtual world becomes a battleground for harassment, stalking, and exploitation.
The vulnerability of women to cybercrimes is pronounced, with offenses ranging from online stalking to the malicious dissemination of personal information. In response to this alarming trend, legal frameworks have evolved, introducing measures to safeguard women in the digital realm. This article delves into the intricate landscape of cybercrimes against women in India, exploring the varied offenses, existing legal safeguards, and available remedies. From the nuances of filing a First Information Report (FIR) to examining pivotal case laws, this exploration unveils the legal mechanisms in place. As we unravel these complexities, it becomes evident that empowering women with knowledge and reinforcing legal frameworks are essential steps in cultivating a digital landscape where women can navigate securely.
1. Cyber Stalking
Cyberstalking, mirroring its physical counterpart, poses a significant threat to women in the digital sphere. This includes stalking through the internet, computer stalking, and stalking via email. The cloak of anonymity and ease of online communication exacerbate the prevalence of this form of harassment.
Cyberbullying involves the use of internet communication to send threatening or frightening messages with the intent to defame a woman or/ and to achieve some other ulterior motives. This insidious form of harassment seeks to tarnish the reputation of the victim, leaving lasting emotional scars.
The unauthorized alteration of original photographs, known as morphing, is a tactic employed with the malicious intent to malign or seek revenge against the victim. Perpetrators download, edit, and upload images, often leading to potential blackmail and emotional distress to women.
4. Online Trolling
Online trolling manifests as the delivery of offensive or provocative comments to women in various online forums or social media platforms. Professional trolls may fabricate identities to foment conflict, contributing to a hostile online environment.
The distribution of sexual images and films on pornographic websites, coupled with threats against women, constitutes cyberpornography. The accessibility of explicit content online has facilitated an increase in these crimes, posing a significant threat to the safety and dignity of women.
This is one of the most lethal and dangerous forms of online crime. Deepfake is an act of using Artificial Intelligence tool named ‘deep learning’ to create fake videos or/ and photos to target individuals. This crime has taken a surge in India wherein various celebereties like Alia Bhatt, and Aishwarya Rai, etc., have become the targets. The offenders of such crime are hard to find, and thus making harder for the authorities to counter such crimes.
1. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)
i. Section 354A: Sexual Harassment
Section 354A of the IPC explicitly addresses acts of sexual harassment. It encompasses a range of offenses, including demanding or requesting sexual favors, showing pornography against the will of a woman, and making sexually colored remarks. Offenders under this section may face rigorous imprisonment for up to three years, fines, or both, depending on the nature of the offense.
ii. Section 354C: Voyeurism
This section defines 'Voyeurism,' criminalizing the act of capturing and disseminating images of a woman engaging in a private act without her consent. Offenders can face imprisonment for up to three years on the first conviction and seven years on subsequent convictions.
iii. Section 354D: Stalking and Cyber Stalking
Section 354D introduces provisions specifically for stalking, covering both physical and cyber stalking. It penalizes a man who follows or contacts a woman against her clear indication of disinterest. Cyber stalking involves monitoring a woman's online activities, and the penalties include imprisonment for up to three years for the first offense and up to five years for subsequent convictions.
iv. Section 499: Defamation
Defamation, as addressed in Section 499 of the IPC, involves harming the reputation of an individual through false imputations. To constitute defamation, an act must be performed with the intention of damaging the person's reputation. This section serves as a vital legal tool to protect individuals, including women, from false accusations and malicious attacks on their character.
v. Section 503: Criminal Intimidation
Section 503 addresses criminal intimidation, which involves making threats to a person with the aim of causing alarm or coercing them to change their course of action. In the context of cybercrimes against women, this provision becomes relevant when individuals employ online platforms to threaten, intimidate, or coerce women, often with the intent to silence or control them.
vi. Section 507: Criminal Intimidation by an Anonymous Communication
Section 507 provides for the quantum of punishment when criminal intimidation is carried out by a person whose identity is not known to the victim. In the context of cybercrimes, this becomes particularly pertinent as anonymity on the internet can embolden offenders to engage in intimidation without fear of immediate consequences.
vii. Section 509: Insult to Modesty
Section 509 addresses acts that insult the modesty of a woman, either through words, gestures, or the exhibition of any object. In the digital landscape, this could encompass online behaviors such as sending explicit messages, sharing inappropriate content, or engaging in online activities that demean and insult the modesty of women.
2. Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act)
i. Section 66C: Identity Theft
Section 66C of the IT Act makes identity theft a punishable offense. It applies to instances of cyber hacking where individuals fraudulently or dishonestly make use of the electronic signature, password, or any other unique identification feature of another person. The penalty for such offenses includes imprisonment for a term extending up to three years and a fine up to one lakh rupees.
ii. Section 66E: Violation of Privacy
Section 66E addresses the violation of privacy, criminalizing the act of capturing, publishing, or transmitting images of a person's private area without their consent. Offenders may face imprisonment for up to three years and/or fines.
iii. Section 67: Publication and Transmission of Obscene Content
Section 67 of the Information Technology Act serves as a robust deterrent against the publication, transmission, and dissemination of obscene content through digital means. The term "obscene" is defined in alignment with Section 292 of the IPC, establishing a clear benchmark for determining the nature of objectionable content. Violations under this section attract legal repercussions, with potential consequences including imprisonment of upto 5 years and fine of upto Rs. 10 lakh.
iv. Section 67A: Punishment for Publishing or Transmitting of Material Containing Sexually Explicit Acts
Building upon the foundation laid by Section 67, Section 67A specifically targets the publication and transmission of material containing sexually explicit acts. This provision recognizes the evolving nature of cybercrimes, addressing the challenges posed by the digital dissemination of explicit content. Offenses under Section 67A carry severe penalties, including imprisonment of upto 5 years and fine of upto Rs. 10 lakh, underscoring the gravity with which the law views acts involving sexually explicit material.
v. Section 67B: Punishment for Publishing or Transmitting of Material Depicting Children in Sexually Explicit Acts
Section 67B further heightens the legal safeguards by specifically addressing the publication and transmission of material depicting children engaged in sexually explicit acts. Recognizing the vulnerability of minors in the digital age, this provision imposes stringent penalties to combat the heinous crime of child pornography. Offenders face significant imprisonment of upto 5 years and fine of upto Rs. 10 lakh, reflecting the severity of the offense and the commitment to protecting children from exploitation.
Victims of cybercrimes have several legal remedies at their disposal, and they may avail any one or more than one of the following remedies in light of the peculiar facts and circumstances of a given case.
i. FIR (First Information Report)
Lodging an FIR with the police initiates a legal investigation into the cybercrime, documenting the incident and setting the legal process in motion. It is apposite to mention that FIR is the first step in police cases, and police get empowered to investigate thoroughly, and file chargesheet after the registration of an FIR.
Legal provisions, such as Section 499 of the IPC, address defamation, allowing individuals to file cases against those responsible for spreading false and damaging information. Additionally, the victims can also sue for civil defamation seeking requisite compensation for the harm and loss of goodwill incurred by a victim.
iii. Complaint/Reporting to Intermediary
Reporting the crime to intermediaries, such as social media platforms or internet service providers, can lead to the removal of offensive content. Quick and efficient reporting mechanisms are crucial for preventing the further spread of harmful materials.
iv. Injunction Order
Seeking an injunction order from a civil court can prohibit the further transmission or/and publication of defamatory and harmful content. This legal remedy ensures immediate action to curb the impact of cybercrimes.
i. State of Delhi v. Rakesh Kumar
This landmark case centers on online defamation. The accused created a false Facebook profile to post disparaging remarks about a woman. The Supreme Court found the accused guilty under Section 66A of the IT Act, which criminalizes using a communication service to convey offensive messages. However, it's crucial to note that the Supreme Court later declared Section 66A unconstitutional, highlighting the delicate balance between free expression and the need to safeguard individuals from online harassment.
ii. State of Tamil Nadu v. Dr. Prakash
A pioneering case under the IT Act, this scandalous matter involves pornography, sex crimes, and online activities. The accused, purportedly a doctor, was engaged in creating and selling explicit content globally. The case sheds light on the international dimensions of cybercrimes and the need for stringent legal measures to combat the exploitation of individuals, particularly women, through online platforms.
iii. Shreya Singhal v. Union of India
This historic case challenged the validity of Section 66A of the IT Act. Shreya Singhal, a law student, contested the provision, which criminalized the online communication of information deemed "offensive" or causing "annoyance." The Supreme Court, in 2015, declared Section 66A unconstitutional, emphasizing the importance of protecting freedom of expression. This case has set a significant precedent, influencing how countries approach online expression and regulation.
In the dynamic realm of cyber law, these cases showcase the evolving judicial response to cybercrimes against women. They underscore the challenges of maintaining a balance between protecting individuals from online harassment and upholding fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression. As technology advances, these cases serve as benchmarks for legal frameworks to adapt and provide effective remedies against emerging forms of cybercrimes.
In the evolving digital landscape of India, cybercrimes against women present a critical challenge. As the virtual realm becomes a battleground for harassment and exploitation, legal safeguards have adapted to combat these multifaceted offenses. The Indian Penal Code, with its provisions like Sections 354A, 354C, and 354D, addresses sexual harassment, voyeurism, and stalking, while the Information Technology Act fortifies the defense against identity theft and privacy violations. Landmark cases like State of Delhi v. Rakesh Kumar and Shreya Singhal v. Union of India underscore the delicate balance between free expression and safeguarding individuals from online harassment. As technology advances, the commitment to empowering women through legal frameworks, education, and societal awareness remains paramount, ensuring a safer digital future.
 2017 SC Del 11927
 AIR 2002 SC 3533
 AIR 2015 SC 1523