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Padawan v/s Master: The Need for Revamping the Laws Relating to Online Harassment

The World Wide Web has been evolving and yielding day – by – day. The occurrence of Novel Corona Virus as a global pandemic has amassed a major of the offline assignments and spadework to carry on through the World Wide Web. The Novel Corona Virus has not only affected the way business, individuals and MNCs used to operate but has also changed how subjects of the state access the World Wide Web and the Internet adjustment. With a world ranging from Online Zoom Meetings to online classes.

With the onset of Novel Corona Virus as a global pandemic, the offline classes being shifted to online have described the gravity and nature of seriousness of the students.[i] While most of the students are serious and strive towards working for the betterment of their successful and bright future, and a major of the students are involved in creating havoc and/or binge-watching TV Series or Web Series using OTT platforms that are easily accessible. The Online classes have been organized for the improvement and furtherance of the education of the students of numerous colleges and classes, this also ensures that their learning and education are not halted by the pandemic.

In an adjustment like that of an Online Class or a Zoom Meeting, it is immensely uncomplicated to turn off your video/audio and to pretend that you are listening. However, it is to be taken into notice that Online Classes have been a blessing in disguise for students, but the situation is dauntingly not the similar for teachers and faculties who are thriving day and night to clinch that learning never stops. There have been numerous instances where many videos of faculties and teachers have been made a mockery of because of the conspired and consorting behavior of the students to tease the teachers,

These forms of mockery include joining the classes by vulgar names, portraying tasteless and gross scenes and playing offensive audios.[ii] And, the fact that the students involved capture the occurrences of such instances through a screen recording device and share these videos on their social media to make ridicule and insult of the teacher. Little do these munchkins know, this gala time can end up having numerous extreme consequences and can also land these students in jail.

There is still an existing Digital Divide in India, i.e., the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. And, instead of making productive and fruitful use of technology, it is being put to antipathetic and detrimental use.

Statistical Increment In Data Of Students Using Technology Amidst Covid–19

The following statistics show the increment in the amount of technology that was and is now being used amidst the Novel Corona Virus pandemic. It is important to look at the statistics to measure the amount of Digital Divide and the impact that technology has on the growing youth. Following is the data which portrays the same:
  • It has been observed that only 12% of students have access to Wi-Fi and internet facilities in their households.[iii]
  • Almost 15% of households are entitled to electricity at a regular and constant rate.
  • More than 30% of the households of the population received electricity for more than 12 hours.
  • A close to 50% of the households received more than 12 hours of electricity every day for every day.
  • More than 80% do not even own a smartphone to attend online classes.
  • More than 90% do not have ready access to Laptops and Desktops.
  • A percentage of 15 of the total 66% population only receive internet services and access to the Internet.[iv]

The following data portrays that most of the students across different households do not own Smartphones, Laptops, Tablets and Desktops. Therefore, the amount of population that is accessing the online classes is minimum and the attendance is not up the mark. However, the students that attend online classes create otherwise havoc for the faculties and the teachers, therefore, the situation for the students on both of sides of the Digital Divide is similar to some extent.

Online Harassment & Bullying Of Teachers

With the occurrence and a shift of everything from Offline to Online, remarkable developments have taken place. Students are distressed to continue their learning via the World Wide Web, and there have been ongoing concerns also about the possibility of educational institutions.[v] The youth and youngsters have been enjoying their time at their houses, but the point to be noted here is that their education is halted because they are not focusing aptly on their education and learning.

There has been a recent vogue amongst the youngsters to harass and torment teachers online by playing vulgar audios, videos and even abusing the teachers by changing their identity and disguising as somebody else. For the state of Uttar Pradesh, students have portrayed vulgar gestures and even dozed off while their video was on while taking their online classes.[vi] This type of behaviour is not constant to the state of Uttar Pradesh but is similar in colleges and schools of other states also.[vii]

It is also a preconceived notion that trolling and fishing with the teachers portrays the student performing such dangerous and illegal actions as cool. However, such actions are supposed not to belong to a civilized society. And, any student who is initiated with a bright future can think twice about preforming such activities, because it can have legal consequences and can end up a student in a jail destroying his whole career.[viii]

Recent Trends Of Teacher – Cyber Harassment

Because of the disruption of the global pandemic of Novel Corona Virus, the world is following a system of online setting, in which it is very easy to disguise and even not participate in the class activities. However, there have been numerous instances where it has been observed that this liberty has been misused and mistreated by the individuals involved in such an online setting.

In a Vocational College of Kochi, there was a teacher named Arooja who was very excited, thrilled, and exhilarated to teach through the World Wide Web. Therefore, to bring the engagement to the maximum level, many videos were recorded and uploaded on the website of the college that had featured Arooja in it. However, it was observed that Arooja’s lectures and videos went vigorous and viral expeditiously. After some time, there were also sexual, abusive remarks, and loads of memes were created using her photos. Later, she was associated as the Blue Sari Teacher. However, the Kerala police took strict cognizance of the issue and also resolved it.

Arooja was trolled miserably, and it is pertinent to note here that this is not the first time that such an adjustment has occurred. There have been numerous instances in the past where the goal of the students was to the detriment and demean the teachers that only want the betterment of them and their future.

It was also observed that a woman set up a YouTube channel to teach the students of Class 9th Geometry, but she had been immensely subjected to frequent and plenty of comments that harassed her.[ix] Such comments and instances not only disturb the mental peace of the person who is inflicted with these but also puts a negative impact and makes us rethink our decision of visiting these websites and opting for distant learning because the option of physical learning is not possible in a world suffering from the pandemic.

Is The Motive Of Education Being Fulfilled Through Online Classes?

The change in the mode of teaching from the conventional offline method to the online platform was the only way to continue the educational sector amidst the pandemic. Initially, not many reckoned that it would bring about a huge change in the teaching-learning process, but it proved to be otherwise. Both imparting knowledge and grasping concepts have been tedious tasks, and it took a while for teachers and students alike to get accustomed to online learning.

While many students who weren’t too comfortable in face-to-face discussions benefitted from this arrangement by being able to learn at their own pace and also view the recorded lectures for reference, many took undue advantage and misused the platform.

One of the major problems that many teachers face even today is navigating through the software and usage of other digital tools to teach and take assignments, as many of them are using this platform for the first time, without prior training in the same.

Numerous students have also complained of the unavailability of gadgets and stable internet connections, which has created a chaotic situation and has hindered the process of recording attendance. However, these problems have proven to be trivial in front of the misbehavior during the classes, which has proven to be the major concern for the teachers.

The mischief in online classes has ranged from playing obscene audios/videos to drawing or altering the content written on the screen by the teacher. This problem escalated to a level where a school located in Kengeri, Bangalore had to drop the idea of using Zoom app for conducting classes after a student played a pornographic video during an online chemistry lecture.[x]

Teachers have repeatedly complained that maintaining the decorum and dignity of a classroom in the online medium has been highly problematic as many students join the class, make obscene gestures, flash suggestive photographs, wink at teachers, wear inappropriate clothes and conveniently log out thereafter, causing both embarrassing and harassing the teachers.[xi]

Another attribute of online classes that have been misused by students is the feature of ‘anonymity’, where they can join the class by concealing their identities. This has continued to encourage numerous students to display unethical conduct in the class, as their name and other details can be hidden from the teacher. This possibility has been acting like a veil under which students get an option to misbehave in the class.

Numerous female teachers have been harassed by students entering the class using anonymous names and passing misogynistic comments and abusive language. This situation hiked up to a level where one teacher got rape threats for taking an extra class by an anonymous attendee and was traumatized to a level that she was unable to resume teaching for over a month.

The problem however isn’t limited to female teachers only and male teachers have also faced such issues. One such instance is that of the harassment of a Physical Education teacher from West Bengal who was imitated, ridiculed and given violent threats by a ‘masked-man’ in an online class.[xii]

The teachers have found it difficult to comprehend such situations, and they have had to suspend the meeting abruptly as they have been unable to find any other alternate action that should be taken against such attendees, as they conceal their identity. Many instances of unknown people entering the video conference on the Zoom app have also been recorded. The reason is that the link of the class is often forwarded by students who invite their friends to create disturbance during the class.

Paradigm Shift From Offline To Online: A Major Failure

There has been a devastating and detrimental failure because of the shift of conducting classes from offline and face – to – face mode to online and social distant learning way (s). The reason why negative words have been used to indicate a shift in the paradigm is that the purpose of education, that is to make students, citizens and netizens of this country a better human being is not being saturated and attained equilibrium.

Every day, teachers are being harassed, the only fault that they have here is that they are the employees of the training institute and are subjected to the immense amount of harassment. As responsible human beings and the future of the country, it is high time for the population of students to realize that such mockery and harassment is not only legally wrong but is also morally unacceptable.

Judicial Stance: Online Classes & Dogma Of Harassment

The incidents of sexual harassment in the virtual world have increased so much that today they mirror the incidents that take place in the physical world, and are still escalating day by day. As the practice of taking classes completely online is relatively new, it is imperative to determine the legal remedies available for online harassment of teachers.

The Indian Penal Code, Sexual harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, the Information Technology Act, 2000, etc. include various provisions against incidents of cyber-crimes including cyberstalking, bullying, and various other forms of online harassment. The question here is to analyze the provisions under which these incidents of harassment during online lectures will fall. The situation gets more complex as a line has to be drawn between the right to freedom of speech and expression and cyber-crime.[xiii]

Many teachers have been aggrieved by students posting their videos on social media and mocking them. This also includes morphed and sexually obscene videos of female teachers who have gone viral and subsequently woven their derogatory image on the internet. This can be categorized as a visual representation on the internet that harms the image and reputation of the teachers. [xiv] The usage of photos/videos to create adult content without the permission of the person can also constitute cyber pornography.

Provisions have also been laid down for instances where women are intimidated or threatened anonymously online.[xv] However, there are no concrete laws for trolling or sharing a person’s private details without consent, and such activities continue to fall in a grey area and are dealt with under other provisions, following their similarity with other offences.[xvi]

The Trigger Of Harassment – Unveiling The Complexity Of The Online System

Although there have been certain milestone amendments in the legislation in India, the terms ‘sexual harassment or ‘online sexual harassment’ has not been defined in clear words, either in the Information Technology Act, 2000 or the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH), and the measure used to check the seriousness of the issue is that whether the activity makes a woman feel ‘uncomfortable’.[xvii]

This gives rise to various concerns concerning the convention of teaching online, as the clear – cut determination of the type of crime committed by students is like a complex web. Many students troll and traumatize the teachers to have fun, not knowing that this can go on to become a serious offence.

Moreover, the entire world is witnessing such a situation where everyone has been bound to work from home for the first time without anticipation, and hence the problems arising while teaching through the internet is also relatively new.

Are The Existent Laws Satisfactory?
The first and foremost requirement for interpreting a statute is an unbiased analysis of the intention of the legislature behind it. This helps in the removal of arbitrary views. While specific legislation does not exist for the prevailing situation, it is imperative to integrate the present scenario in the existing legal framework itself.

Hence, the POSH Act was specifically made with the intention of protection of women at the workplace, which currently is the World Wide Web for most of them. With problems like cyberbullying, stalking and online harassment reverberating manifolds, it is the need of the hour to use connotations of this act. Hence the interpretation needs to be liberal, as even though teachers continue to impart knowledge from their respective homes, the internet has become their workplace, and many are tormented during online lectures regularly.

The sexual/online harassment of male teachers is yet another challenge that is brewing in the country. With no laws against such offences, the bitter truth is that even though the number of male teachers facing harassment issues is lesser than the number of female teachers, granting a remedy to them is several notches higher. There are no legislations to shield men against such vicious acts, as the laws relating to sexual harassment in India are not gender-neutral.

Moreover, the entire process of tracking the miscreants have been extremely difficult in many situations, as the students joined from anonymous names, and the teachers panicked and ended the lecture seeing the horrific activities during the lectures.

Recommendations: The Road Ahead
In light of the recent events, the following recommendations can be inculcated to eliminate any sort of harassment being faced by teachers
The link to Online Classes could be sent to the official E-Mail ID given to the students.
Amendment of existing harassment laws and making it gender-neutral to provide deterrence in case of male and transgender harassment.
Spreading awareness in students and spiking cognizance in them relating to consequences of harassment and the trauma that a person has to go through.

Conclusive Remarks
Teachers have been subjected to an immense amount of harassment and atrocities in the event of hosting online classes because of the onset of the global pandemic of the Corona Virus. However, it is to be taken into due consideration that such cases of online harassment are not even reported because of the fear and trauma faced by the victim.

Teachers and students share a very fragile and exceptional relationship, that is surely difficult to maintain and adhere to, but once it is covered by the student and the teacher, it results in improving and incrementing the standards of living of the students as a mentee. Teachers have been employed in due faith by the respective school and college authorities, and it is to take into consideration that they strive towards framing a better future for all of their students.

Some laws can help the victim secure justice if she approaches the Hon’ble Court with the grievances, however, it is pertinent to take into consideration that unlike special laws for women, there are no special laws for harassment and atrocities inflicted upon men.

This is the part where the legislature needs to improve and also take speedy cognizance of, to ensure that justice is granted to every human being because the law runs on the foundation of the Lady Justice, who does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, however, such a scenario is not the same for distinct genders. In the interest of the teachers who strive day and night for improving the nation’s future and shaping it, the laws should be amended.

End-Notes:
  1. Byju Raveendran, Lessons on Learning: How the Pandemic Changed Education, Forbes, available at: (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021
  2. Sadia Akhtar, Teachers work hard to deliver online classes in tough conditions, Hindustan Times, available at < https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurugram/teachers-work-hard-to-deliver-online-classes-in-tough-conditions/story-NOoFDYyy9fk9GPp4LyIk8O.html> (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021).
  3. Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay, Who goes online to study in Covid Times? 12.5% homes of Indian Students have Internet Access, The Print, available at (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021).
  4. Provita Kundu, Indian Education Can’t Go Online - Only 8 of Homes With School Children Have Computer With Net Link, Scroll, available at < https://scroll.in/article/960939/indian-education-cant-go-online-only-8-of-homes-with-school-children-have-computer-with-net-link > (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021).
  5. Covid 19 Schools, Colleges reopening in 2021; mixed response in Delhi, Careers 360, available at < https://news.careers360.com/covid-19-schools-colleges-reopening-in-2021-mixed-response-in-delhi >
  6. Online Classes A Tool for Harassing Teachers in UP, Times of India, available at < https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/online-classes-a-tool-for-harassing-teachers-in-up/articleshow/77915822.cms > (last visited on Feb. 09. 2021).
  7. Kritika Sharma, Peeping Parents, Sleeping Students, bullying – online classes are a nightmare for teachers, The Print, available at < https://theprint.in/india/education/peeping-parents-sleeping-students-bullying-online-classes-are-a-nightmare-for-teachers/458522/ > (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021).
  8. Parvathi Benu, This English teacher is an instant hit for her online lessons, but trolled mercilessly, News Indian Express, available at < https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2020/jun/03/this-english-teacher-is-an-instant-hit-for-her-online-lessons-but-trolled-mercilessly-2151427.html > (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021).
  9. Sumanti Sen, Woman Taking Online Classes Objectified with Comments Sexualizing, Harassing Her, The Logical Indian, available at < https://thelogicalindian.com/gender/teacher-harassed-online-23757 > (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021
  10. Sandra Marina Fernandes, Teachers face challenges as online classes gather steam, The Times of India, available at < https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/teachers-face-challenges-as-online-classes-gather-steam/articleshow/76201847.cms > (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021).
  11. Supra note 6.
  12. Anthony Rozario, Porn to Rape Threats – Online Classes A Horror for Many Teachers, The Quint, available at < https://www.thequint.com/news/education/porn-to-rape-threats-online-classes-a-horror-for-many-teachers#read-more > (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021).
  13. Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, SCC 2013 SC 73.
  14. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Act 45 of 1860), s. 499.
  15. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Act 45 of 1860), s. 507.
  16. Anubhuti Matta, Know Your Rights: Online Harassment, The Swaddle, available at < https://theswaddle.com/know-your-rights-protection-against-online-harassment/ > (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021).
  17. Rishabh Chhabaria, Prevention of Sexual Harassment at ‘Online’ Workplace, The Leaflet, available at < https://www.theleaflet.in/prevention-of-sexual-harassment-at-online-workplace/# > (last visited on Feb. 09, 2021).
Award Winning Article Is Written By:
  1. Anshit Minocha - 3rd Year Students at the School of Law, UPES. and
  2. Nikita Chauhan - 3rd Year Students at the School of Law, UPES.

    Awarded certificate of Excellence
    Authentication No: JL118706233955-06-0721

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