This article has been authored by Ekta Agarwal, a first year student at NLUJA, Assam.
When the whole world was striving to put up an effective and efficient fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Indians were made aware of a rather deep-rooted problem, highlighting the importance of sex education for young students or teenagers in schools. It all started when outlandish news surfaced on social media platforms, initially on Instagram which spread rapidly to other platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, where the screenshots of several chats among a group of teenage students from Delhi were shared. The name of the group was “Bois Locker Room” and its purpose was to share nude pictures of girls, most of who were underage, and indulge in body shaming them and passing sexist and objectionable comments. This incident led to a huge backlash against the boys for their indisputably shameful acts. The Delhi Commission for Women took suo-motu cognizance of the matter to get to the root of the problem and sent a report to the Delhi Police and Instagram to look into the matter immediately.
Legal Perspective of the Case
Besides the sociological impact the incident has had on the society by bringing into light the bane side of social media platforms and most importantly lack of sex education on the part of the students, the particular case also has a legal side to which the case was subjected.
● The Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act, 2000”)
The Delhi Police Cyber Cell lodged an FIR against the unidentified teen boys under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the IT Act, 2000. There are certain legal provisions that are explicitly crafted to address such issues. Section 66-E of the IT Act, 2000 lays down the law for violating the privacy of a person by sharing the pictures of private areas of a person without his/her consent. The punishment it renders for such an act is either imprisonment for not less than three years or a fine of rupees two lakhs maximum or both. This is to be read in conjunction with Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which entitles a person to the right to privacy which forms a part of the person’s personal liberty and life and has recently been given legal recognition in K.S Puttaswamy v. UOI, and Section 66E protects the right to privacy or personal space of a person which is not to be infringed by anyone. As per the reading of the case of “Bois Locker room”, it is crystal clear that the boys infringed the personal space of the girls which they should not have done at any cost.
Yet another legal provision that is applicable to the above mentioned case is Section 67 of the IT Act, 2000 which addresses the publication or transmission of obscene material in electronic form which may be lascivious or arouse prurient interest in a person. The punishment entailed under the section is imprisonment extendable upto three years and a fine of upto five lakh rupees. The specific provision under Section 67 under the act which would necessarily address the case of “Bois Locker room” is Section 67-A of the IT Act, 2000 which provides for punishment for any person who publishes or transmits any electronic material that contains sexually explicit content or acts which may subject the perpetrator to an imprisonment of a term extendable upto five years and a fine which may go upto ten lakhs rupees. The content shared in the chats among the boys constitutes sexually explicit content. Furthermore, Section 67-B of the IT Act, 2000 also applies to this case, as the girls whose images were shared by the boys in the group chat were mostly minors falling under the category of a “child”, as mentioned in the above section. Section 67-B talks about the publication or transmission of materials or contents depicting children in sexually explicit acts, etc. in electronic form. This particular section not only covers the arena of sexual acts or conduct but also the distribution of any digital texts or images that feature children in obscene or indecent or sexually explicit manner. The offence attracts a punishment which includes imprisonment of a term extendable up to five years and fine of up to ten lakhs. The sharing of sexually explicit images of the minor girls falls very neatly within the ambit of this particular section.
● The Indian Penal Code, 1860
Apart from the IT Act, 2000, the IPC, 1860 also addresses the issue of sharing or distributing sexually explicit content. Section 354-C of IPC deals with and lays down punishment for the criminal offence of voyeurism, which describes the offence as watching or capturing the image of a woman indulged in private acts in such a circumstance where she expects privacy but is observed by someone without her consent, which also extends to the dissemination of the images by the perpetrator. This section also includes and addresses the instances where the woman consents to her images getting captured but does not consent to the dissemination of the images by the observer or any third person and hence, the section specifies punishment for such cognizable offences as, imprisonment for a term of one year extendable upto three years in addition to a specified fine. As it is clear from the facts and instances of the case that the sexually-explicit images of the girls were shared among the boys without their consent, the case falls under the ambit of this section. Furthermore, another specific section that is applicable is Section 354-D, which defines stalking as “monitoring the use by a woman of the internet, mail or any other form of communication” and entails a punishment of imprisonment of upto three years in addition to a fine. In the present case, looking through the social media accounts of women and collecting their pictures from their handles falls well within the ambit of the above mentioned section.
● POCSO Act, 2012
We already know that the perpetrator of the offence were also mostly minors of about 15-16 years. Most of the girls whose images were shared were of about 15 years and so the incident predominantly also falls under the POCSO Act, 2012. Section 14 and 15 of the POCSO Act, 2012 deal with “child pornography”, which covers images of the sexual organs of the child or their obscene or uncalled for depiction. Moreover, the storage of any child pornographic content with an intention to disseminate them is covered under the Section 15 of the Act. Hence, the sharing of the images of the minor girls in the group chat is a violation of the aforementioned sections. The punishment prescribed for the offence perpetrated under Section 14 is imprisonment of upto five years in addition to a fine and Section 15 specifies imprisonment of upto three years besides a fine.
● Juvenility of the Offenders
A lot has been discussed about the legal provisions that are applicable to the ‘Bois Locker Room’ case, and how the perpetrators of the act can be brought to task on account of their shameful act, yet there is another angle to the whole case which makes it a little complicated. As most of the boys who had perpetrated the acts were under 18 years of age, one of the most important aspects in the whole case is with regards to the ‘juvenility’ of the boys. As is known, a juvenile is a person who is under 18 years of age and such a person is not put under trial the same way as an adult. There is a whole act crafted to address the crimes committed by juveniles, which is, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (“JJ Act, 2015”), and children who commit an offence are known as “children in conflict with law” under the specified act.
Although there are certain extraordinary circumstances in which even a child is treated as an adult who is provided for in the JJ Act, 2015. One of the prerequisites that need to be fulfilled for a child to be tried as an adult is that the perpetrated act must attract a punishment of imprisonment of a term not less than seven years. Hence, the children or juveniles, in the case being analyzed do not come under the category of “children in conflict with law” who can be tried as an adult and be punished accordingly because under any circumstance and legal provision that applies to the case, none of them provides for a punishment of seven years. Therefore, the perpetrators in the particular case would be treated as a juvenile. The JJ Act, 2015 encourages reformative measures instead of retributive measures because there is a presumption that a child is often unaware of the nature and consequences of his/her act, because of the lack of maturity. Due to this, they need not necessarily be punished but can be given a chance to reform and rehabilitate themselves. Therefore, the legal manner in which the juveniles of the act would be held accountable depends on the provisions of the JJ Act, 2015.
On concluding the article on the aforementioned topic, one thing that strikes the mind is that even after committing a shameful and wrongful act of sharing sexually explicit images of girls and passing sexist and derogatory remarks about them, the boys will be left unpunished just for the fact that they are below 18 years of age and may not be mature enough to understand the consequences of their actions. Crimes against women know no minority or majority and it is often said that the internet and social media has made our life easier and convenient but at what cost? We need to get to the root of the problem as to why boys feel that it is okay to do such acts because if we do not address the problem now, it will only worsen and will eventually give rise to an additional misogynist generation which will always think less of women. We also need to impart sex education to teenagers so that they do not get overwhelmed by the information they discover themselves as they grow up and misunderstand them. When we address this legally, we also need to address this sociologically.
The goal is to provide freedom to women and everyone for that matter, where they can do anything they want without the fear of getting judged, ridiculed, degraded, and put down in front of the society.