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As the nation collectively strives to fight the spread of COVID- 19, rather outlandish news surfaced the social media platform in the recent past. Given the fact that more and more people are active on social media due to the ongoing lockdown, the news did not take much time to break the internet which lead to sprouting of heated debates and discussions among the foyer of feminists. The debates and discussions revolved around the much deliberated issues in India which included patriarchal mindset of the society and misogyny.
Brief facts of the controversy– A group of South Delhi teens, studying in 11th and 12th grade created an Instagram chat room named “Bois Locker Room” where they allegedly shared pictures of women (most of them being underage). In addition to this, they were even alleged of passing sexist and objectionable comments on these girls. Further, they even went to extend of chatting about raping them. As and how the issue surfaced social media, the Delhi Commission for Women took suo moto cognizance of the matter and brought it to book by sending a notice to the Delhi police and Instagram and asked them to file a report.
FIR lodged by the cyber cell of Delhi Police
With the Delhi police lodging FIR against unidentified persons under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, this infamous case became historical as it was the first legal case to come out of the Instagram chat room.
Timeline of events followed by the FIR
- 5th May 2020– The initial probe identified a number of students from three of the prominent schools in Delhi to be participants of the Instagram chat.
- 6th May 2020– As the investigation set forth, the cyber cell of the Delhi Police took into custody a 15-year old boy from one of the prominent schools. In addition to this the police went ahead and identified 10 more boys who formed a part of the infamous group. These boys were questioned regarding their activities in the aforesaid group and further, the devices used for engaging in the offensive and vulgar communication were also seized by the police. It was found out that most of these boys were school going kids while some of them were college students.
- 8th May 2020– Facebook, owner of Instagram reacts to the controversy. They state the following- “We unequivocally condemn the behavior which promotes sexual violence in any way or exploits anyone, especially young people and women”. It was further stated that they have policies which call for disallowance of sharing non-consensual intimate images.
- 12th May 2020– In the meantime, a completely new twist is seen in the ongoing controversy, as it is revealed that the conversation which was seen casually discussing rape and gang rape never happened on the private chat room, it was rather a separate snapchat conversation between a girl and a boy (both being juveniles). The girl is said to have started the conversation of hatching a plan to gang rape herself, using a fake identity by the name ‘Siddhart’.
This snapchat conversation between the girl and the boy coincidentally got mixed up with the bois locker room controversy and surfaced online. This triggered loads of people on social media which will be analyzed in the next segment.
Relevant legal provision applicable to bois locker room controversy
There are numerous legal provisions which can be taken into account and applied in the context of bois locker room debate which have been discussed as under:
- Information Technology Act, 2000- Section 66 of the IT Act, 2000awards punishment for communicating grossly offensive content. The punishment ranges from imprisonment for a period of 3 years of fine or both. Throwing light on other relevant provisions related publishing or sharing obscene content, the following sections are to be looked into;
Section 67, 67A and 67B provide punishment for publishing or transmitting any kind of material which is:
- Obscene or
- Encloses sexually explicit act,
- Portrays children or minor in sexual or obscene way
Considering these three scenarios, such a transmission or portrayal should be via electronic media. There are also exceptions granted to these Sections, only on the ground of public good and knowledge of masses.
- The Law of Obscenity- Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with obscene content. The elements of this Section are as follows:
- The matter should be obscene and
- The accused should have sold or distributed or published or imported or printed such a material.
In the current scenario, the accused has in fact distributed the said pictures in the Instagram chat room. In addition, the accused has also roused the feelings by passing lewd comments along with his friends on the said pictures.
Section 292 of IPC defines the offensce of obscenity while Section 293 specifies the punishment for the same. The punishment extends for a period of 3 years and also fine on the first conviction.
- Offence of Forgery- The rapidly growing technology comes with a set of disadvantages one of them being easily able to morph photographs. This task can be accomplished within a fraction of second.
Section 463 deals with forgery. It defines forgery as- ‘Any instrument which fraudulently purports to be what it is not’. Section 464(1) deals with forged documents specifically transmitted through electronic mode. Further Section 464(2) deals with modification or alteration of any kind of document without lawful authority.
In this controversy, the accused allegedly used the pictures of the victims without any kind of explicit permission and in addition there were also altercation or modification made to these pictures. Hence, it can be concluded that the accused exhibited clear intentions to belittle the reputation if the victim by way of morphing the photographs and this attracts punishment under Section 465 of the IPC which states- Whoever commits forgery will be punished for a period of 2 years or fine or both.
- The POCSO Act- The preamble of the Indian Constitution categorical provides for the protection of children from sexual assault, pornography and also from sexual harassment. In addition, there have also been special courts set up for speedy disposal of such matters and wherein a child friendly environment is also maintained.
The matter with regard to the bois locker room controversy can also be tried under Protection of Children against Sexual Offence (POCSO) as one of the prime purposes of bringing the legislation to the present nature was to grant protection to children from offences like that of sexual harassment, sexual assault and further protect the interests of a child and also uphold the dignity of the child.
The concept of sexual intent here is actually a matter of fact and it is up to the court to determine the same. The punishment for the offence if proved will be a term extending upto 3 years imprisonment with fine.
Section 42A of POCSO deals with alternate punishment; in addition to this the provision is also supplementary to that of IPC and whenever there arises an inconsistency, POCSO provisions will tend to have an overriding effect over the other laws.
- Criminal Intimidation- Section 503 of IPC deals with criminal intimidation and there are two elements required for this which are:
- Threat of causing injury and causing apprehension
- Inherent intention
The essence behind this section is that- mental injury caused to the accused is sometimes more agonizing than physical injuryand in addition such an intimidation should be illegal in nature. In the present case, sharing morphed pictures of women and some of them being minors attracts the punishment under Section 506 of IPC which states there would be imprisonment upto 2 years or fine or both.
- Outraging the modesty of a woman- Section 509 of IPC speaks about modesty of women. It states- If any word, gesture or action made by the offender seems to be intentionally intruding the privacy of a woman, then such an offence will fall under the category of outraging the modesty of a woman.
Social issues involved: The new angle to “bois locker room”
With the Delhi Police revealing that the private conversation on snapchat hatching a plan to grape the girl was started by the girl herself, the incident saw a humongous uproar among the public regarding the silence of the feminists over the plot twist and there were questioned raised as to gender issues in India and various men accusing women of judging and arriving at conclusion too soon.
However, there exists a dire need to look at this matter from both sides. There are millions of women who are sexually harassed and there is a need to take a stand for them. At the same time, a lot of innocent men also get falsely implicated in these cases (Though the ration as compared to the harassment cases is low, it doesn’t mean one should consider it a small price to pay for a bigger problem).
Principle of Natural Justice upholds the notion that- no one should be punished for something they haven’t done and at the same time, not even a single offender be spared and in order to attain this there is a dire need collectively address the problem and help each other. Awareness programs should be created about the legal implications and there should be discussions as to the options available to the victim in such a circumstance.
Critical Analysis: A paradigm shift in ‘bois locker room’
The main element which requires all the attention is future course of action to be taken with respect to the bois locker room controversy and the need complete the investigation on the said matter. With the plot twist in the bois locker room controversy surfacing the internet, people rather began to blame those who were quick to judge the issues and accused various boys from the Instagram chat room to be glorifying rape culture than to take a keep look at the matter.
Bois locker room still at fault– The important aspect to be understood here is the fact that- only the screenshot of conversation initiated under the fake name ‘Siddhart’ was that from snapchat and it had no links with the bois locker room chat group. But there is ample evidence as to participants from the bois locker room sharing pictures of minor girls and passing lewd comments on the same. This aspect needs to be investigated to the earliest and the offenders should be brought to book.
Status of the investigation on the bois locker room controversy
Despite the fact that the screenshot of conversation between ‘Siddhart’ (fake named used by the girl) and another minor boy was not related to bois locker room, the Instagram chat room named Bois locker room is still at fault as many of the participants belonging to this chat room have passed lewd comments and shared morphed pictures of girls (some of them being underage)
In the light of these events, the Delhi High has issued directions to the police to conduct the investigation expeditiously which should be in accordance with law and submit a report regarding the same. The chat room was primarily used to share compromising and morphed pictures of teenage girls and pass comments on them.
There has been protection granted to girls and women who highlighted the crime and brought it to the notice of the public. Advocates Om Prakash and Dushyant Tiwari, who filed the plea have sought directions to arrest those involved in the chat room immediately. The Delhi police has arrested the admin of the chat room who is an 18-year old boy. He belongs to a school from Delhi NCR; along with this, 4 other boys who are majors (above 18 years) have joined the probe. Other juveniles who happened to be a part of the chat room are being probed by the police from their homes in the presence of their parents and the members of NGOs.
Lastly, this whole controversy regarding the bois locker room happened to raise various questions as to whether right sex education is being imparted to kids at schools in India, about the glorification of rape culture, the gender inequalities which have been deep rooted in our systems and the appropriate solution which is required to be found out for all these ongoing issues. Finally, after a thorough analysis of the issue, it can be stated that there needs to be proper attention given to all the above stated matters and impart sex education among students and spread awareness among people as to dire consequences of sharing obscene material online.
Author: Namrata Kandankovi from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
Editor: Avani Laad from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.