Social media platforms, whilst offering abundant opportunities to thrive, have unfortunately, also created an arena where the vulnerable can be bullied by anyone sitting safely in the vicinity of her/his home, commonly referred to as cyberbullying. In this paper, we look at one type of cyberbullying, religious bullying, that has evidenced an increasing rate in recent times. India registers the most cases of religious cyberbullying. This is because the Indian people identify themselves significantly with their religious identity. Although cyberbullying is a new concept and it is not physical like the traditional forms of bullying, it has equally, if not more, devasting and longer-lasting ramifications than traditional bullying. Additionally, cyberbullying creates an easy cloak of anonymity making it difficult to bring the cyberbully to book. Further, the interconnectivity afforded by the world wide web allows cyberbullying to pervade even transnationally with the click of a button. Importantly, cyberbullying provides the cyberbully with a public audience, which motivates the cyberbully to leverage the humiliation inflicted on the victim. To combat this soaring issue of cyberbullying, a separate law with distinct unique provisions should be enacted without giving any opportunity for loopholes so that cyberbullies face consequences for their actions, swiftly and in a measure directly in consonance with their crimes.
Today the technology has made the world smaller than before, where anyone can reach anybody throughout the world. Technology has opened doors for human development, where communities can interact with each other, allowing us to know the world a little better. Social media is a platform where everyone can voice their opinions freely, where young minds can develop and flourish their skills through social interaction and networking. The question that we need to ask ourselves is whether the social media platform that offers abundant opportunities to thrive, has somewhere or other exposed the vulnerable, the weak to a deep dark world of web where anyone can bully them while sitting safely in the vicinity of their homes? (Rao, Bansali, & Chandran, 2018)
Religious bullying is not a new practice rather it has existed since India’s Independence. Religious bullying occurs when a religious or religiously unaffiliated person chooses to intentionally or unintentionally degrade another person emotionally, mentally, or physically based on actual or perceived religious or religious unaffiliated identity. (Chan, n.d.) Religious bullying is based on the doctrine of belief, where they bully other people to eliminate the threat to their individual or collective identity. (Chan, n.d.) Most of this bullying is verbal but can turn into physical in some exceptional scenarios. With the changing era and development of technology, the traditional religious bullying has transitioned to religious cyberbullying, where the bully uses the social media platform to channel their voice and to harass or degrade the religion of the other.
As digital technology has created new ways to interact, new arenas for harassment have also emerged such as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is when someone threatens, harasses, or embarrasses the victim using technology through digital devices. The rise of social media has opened up a universe of ways in which cyberbullies can hurt their targets or victims. (Shalini, 2019) There are various types of cyberbullying from cyberstalking to masquerading to fraping which can be used by the bully. Often these forms of cyberbullying overlap so it depends on the bully what they use to hurt their targets. (Maryville University, n.d.) Today cyberbullying can be done through almost any digital device from mobiles to laptops/computers to tablets via SMS, Emails, instant message services like WhatsApp, Telegram, etc. and social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Cyberbullying includes a variety of things from using abusive language, starting rumours, stalking to the hacking of accounts, posting of vulgar messages to threat of child pornography or threat of committing a violent crime. (Shalini, 2019)
Cyberbullying, a rising trend in India has proved that how social media can be used to do more harm than good. India ranked 3rd in cyberbullying index falling just behind China and Singapore making cyberbullying a major issue in the country. (Shetty, 2012)Intel Security teens conducted a study called tweens and technology over a period of 5 years in India which discovered that 81% of children from 8 to 16 years of age are active on social media, where 77% of these children had made their accounts on Facebook before or at the age of 13 years. Out of these almost 22% of these children are victims of online abuse or cyberbullying. (Dhapola, 2015)
Now the question that arises is why do people bully or cyberbully? There are various psychological reasons for which one may bully or cyberbully another person. The major influence for these bullies comes from their peer norms of behaviour which exist both in cyberspace as well as the real world. These norms work as a code of conduct which if violated by someone then they become a potential target for these bullies thus justifying the acts of such cyberbullies. In most of these instances cyberbullying with these victims seems acceptable or even positive behaviour that is demonstrated in tune with so-called peer norms thereby encouraging more and more people to engage in cyberbullying without thinking about the negative impacts it may have on the victims. (Bauman , Cross, & Walker, 2015)The people who cyberbully have a sense of detachment with themselves, where one says or does something online which they might not have done or said otherwise if the same would have happened face to face. The reason why people detach from their behaviour is the fear of consequences. When one is online bullying the other person, they believe that they can easily escape the consequences of their actions as compared to face to face where it is near impossible to escape the consequences. Most of the bullies don’t realise what their actions are doing to the victims, due to which they have no conscious or remorse for their actions. (Owaida, 2020)Another reason why people like to cyberbully is that in doing so they feel powerful, superior to others, they feel that they can dominate others and through this they try to overcome their insecurities. Simply put bullies feel good about themselves and their insecurities through hurting and making others insecure.
Within the purview of bullying, lies religious cyberbullying that has been on an increasing rate for a long time. One of the main reasons for such an escalation can be credited to the role of religion in the lives of Indians. Indians tend to identify themselves with their religion. Their identity transforms from a boy or girl to a Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh. The topic of religion itself becomes a sensitive area for them to such an extent that any negative comment is deemed as unholy and against their religion. Such intolerance has led to the birth of stereotypes wherein by developing a pre-conceived notion about a religion, others tend to identify people of that religion in the same way. A Hindu is considered to be a Muslim hater or Christians use service or other incentives to convert people, or that all Muslims are terrorists. The presence of such pre-conceived notions combined with people’s identity to their religion leads to a catastrophic effect. When a person targets another or bullies another based on their religion, due to such existing factors in play, such religious bullying has a bigger social impact than bullying in other areas. This is an essential reason why India faces the most cases of religious bullying and cyberbullying. One such cyberbully was apprehended by the police in April 2020, who made several Facebook accounts under pseudonyms just to instigate hate between two religions by posting comments from various IDs. (The Hindu, 2020)
But if India comprises a majority of Hindu religion, is religious cyberbullying restricted solely to religious minorities? Religious bullying can happen to religious majorities as well as minorities, but the particular religion bullied is a minority in that particular area. In a recent example, a woman doctor was beaten up by some men while she was catching a stray dog. (WEBQOOF, TEAM;, 2020) On social media, this particular news spread like wildfire as it was falsely reported that she was a Muslim and was beaten by some Hindu party workers. On hearing this false accusation, she was bullied for being a Hindu and spreading hate against Hindus even though it falsely represented by media. In yet another case, while distributing CAA pamphlets, an image of a Muslim woman became viral in which it was shown as she was accepting the pamphlet. (Shaurya, 2020) She was cyberbullied for her religious beliefs and her life was made into a living hell by her community members for merely accepting the pamphlet. In India, most cases of religious cyberbullying are against a particular religion that is Muslim but that does not rule out the possibility of a majority religion being bullied. In the newly recognised union territory of India, Kashmir is a region with a majority population being Muslims. Even though India is a Hindu majority country, in Kashmir, Hindu pandits are the ones who are being bullied on both social as well as physical platforms. They are hated for their religious affiliations where from time and again they have been forced to leave their hometown because of their beliefs. Therefore, restricting cyberbullying to religious minorities but that particular religion (even though it may be a majority religion in other states or areas) is a minority in that particular area.
But then again, the question arises why should one worry about cyberbullying if it is such a new concept? Although it is not physical like traditional forms of bullying, it has much more devasting and longer-lasting effects as it follows the person home giving him no relief and refuge from harassment, where harmful messages intended to undermine the reputation of a victim can be far more damaging than face-to-face altercations. (Storm & Storm, 2005) With the world digitalising at such a fast pace, it has started to pose some unwanted challenges in front of its users. The biggest of them is anonymity. Cyberbullies have an additional bit of leeway: as the web gives them an additional layer of obscurity. The domineering jerks hole up behind pen names, fake profile pictures on public forums, or web-based life, keeping themselves out of harm’s reach. Since the victims don’t have the foggiest idea who their harassers are, it decreases the opportunity that the antagonizer will be apprehended and thereby reduces their dread of being penalized. But that’s not the only benefit these bullies have. Due to digitalisation, as against the traditional form of bullying, the whole world has become their canvas. A person residing in America can easily cyberbully another one who may reside in a far-off region like Australia. By means of connecting people on social media platforms, it has posed the problem of them being bullied by an anonymous user, who could be their next-door neighbour or a random person in a far-off country.
On account of the web, what goes there remains there, despite the fact that it is a long way from private. Anything that goes on the web can never be erased or deleted completely. Tragically, this additionally applies to the bits of gossip or pictures that digital harassers may post on the web for others to see. What once posted seems to stay there forever. The anonymity of the user also opens up another field of cybercrime which is a little different than cyberbullying, called cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is a form of harassment wherein the harasser rather than physically stalking, texts regularly and stalks the pictures of the victim. These messages are often no longer just offensive or rude, but more threatening in nature. Messages may escalate to threaten the victim’s physical safety. Cyberstalking can quickly lead to in-person harassment or stalking. (Maryville University, n.d.) The biggest problem with cyberbullying is that it provides one with a public audience. Religious cyberbullying in India attracts a larger audience wherein people tend to support the views of their religion blindly. In an instance of bullying of a person, it generally remains between the bully and their victim, but in case cyber bullying it is open to all which gives the bully an incentive to humiliate the victim further ahead. An even shoddier outcome of this can be if more than one bully joins in such a charade just to stoke the fire and making the victim powerless.
Religious cyberbullying is a rising issue in India where the main problem lies in unawareness of the people about the depth of this issue. Such online comments or lewd remarks are considered to be trolls or jokes by people thereby denying the presence of such an issue in the first place. Such unconscious reaction may lead to further mental torture of the victim who is subjected to a constant 24×7 cyberbullying. Even the state of the law in India concerning cyberbullying is very poor. There is no definite or separate legal provision or Act dealing with cyberbullying. Some sections and provisions of the IT Act and IPC tend to incorporate these offenses. These sections are as follows, section 66e of the IT Act that deals with the violation of privacy (S.66E, IT act (2000)), section 67 that deals with publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form(S.67, IT act (2000)), section 67A dealing with publishing or transmitting material containing sexually explicit act, etc. in electronic form (S.67A, IT act (2000)). Under IPC, section 292A deals with printing of grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended for blackmail(S.292A, IPC (1860)), section 354A deals with making sexually coloured remarks, guilty of sexual harassment(S.354A, IPC (1860)), section 354D dealing with stalking that further incorporates in it cyberstalking(S.354D, IPC (1860)), section 499 dealing with defamation(S.499, IPC (1860)), section 507 dealing with the criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication(S.507, IPC (1860)), section 509 deals with words, gestures or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman(S.509, IPC (1860)). Apart from the provisions of IPC and IT Act that cover cyberbullying, for children below 18 years of age a separate act was incorporated in 2012 named as The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. As far as universities are concerned, UGC has issued special regulations called UGC regulations on curbing the menace of ragging in higher educational institutions, 2009 that deal with cases of ragging and bullying both traditional and cyberbullying.
SUGGESTIONS & CONCLUSION
Over time, the IT act and IPC have defined and accommodated cyberbullying under some sections and provisions of bullying and stalking but there is no separate section or provision that deals only with the issue of cyberbullying. Seeing as how cyberbullying is rising to be a major issue, it is the need of the hour to make separate sections and provisions that deal only with the issue of cyberbullying, cyberstalking, etc. ensuring that there are no loopholes that can be used by the cyberbully to escape the offence. In the same regard, a law should also be passed according to which it shall be made mandatory for social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to remove hateful content within 24 hours of being flagged by the users, where failure to this shall lead to various penalties either monetary or non-monetary. (Chhibber, 2020)
With India progressing towards a digitalised economy, it is essential to create awareness among children as well as adults regarding the issue of cyberbullying and how it can be prevented and avoided. Today almost everyone is using social media, which is why it is a major platform for cyberbullying also. Some simple security set up by the users for their social media handles can easily prevent bullying. Apart from awareness about security, the users should be made aware of what to do in a situation of cyberbullying, like how to report and block the bully in a proper manner. Along with this, the social media platform should develop their tracking and security system which will help them to effectively track and prevent the bully from creating further IDs.
As explained by Doctor Mary Aiken in her book “The cyber effect”, the diffusion of responsibility phenomenon- it can be understood as the greater the number of people witnessing a crime, the likely result is that most of them don’t feel the responsibility to respond. (Aiken, 2016) In the case of cyberbullying this effect is called the bystander effect, where thousands of people witness bullying on a regular basis but don’t step up to resolve it. (Rao, Bansali, & Chandran, 2018). So if we want to reduce any kind of cyberbullying, it is important for people to feel the responsibility to step up in case of any wrong happening, for this not only helps the victim but also sends a message to the cyberbully, that the victim is not alone and the cyberbully will face consequences for their actions.
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- The Indian Penal Code, 1860
- The Informational Technology Act, 2000