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Hate in your Inbox

February 07, 2003 11:22 IST
Is someone sending you obscene messages online? Turn to the law for help 

Archana Shah knew a lot about love on the Internet. She hadn't thought about hatred though, until it suddenly came to haunt her. It all started when a relationship the final year engineering student had, with a young man called Ankur J, failed. She forgot about it soon enough, but Ankur didn't. And he turned to the Internet for revenge.

"He started sending out malicious and scandalous email from my account and the accounts of friends," says Archana. As a software programmer, Ankur had no problem breaking into email accounts. He started with Archana's account, before moving to accounts belonging to her friends, relatives and even close family members.

Over the next few months, approximately 300 people received defamatory messages about Archana. He also sent her threatening SMS messages saying he would harm her and her close friends. With her exams approaching, Archana soon began to crack under the strain. Finally, mustering courage, she approached the Pune Police.

"I thought they would forget about my complaint," she says, "but I am happy to say that they tracked down the culprit within a mere three hours!"

Today, such cases are common. They do not come under Internet Crime, but are investigated by the cyber-crime department  of the police as cases of human abuse or mental torture. According to Abhinav Bhatt, Consultant, Asian School of Cyber Laws, "Cyber crime is considered more dangerous than conventional crime and is, therefore, dealt with more seriously. The kind of crimes vary under Indian law, and criminal liability can go up to 10 years imprisonment, fines of Rs 2 lakh and civil liability of up to Rs 8 crore."


Supriya Yadav, ACP, Pune, is well versed with the IT Act and its implications. After having handled a number of cyber-crime cases, she says: "There is little awareness about cyber crime laws and punishable offences. More often than not, we tend to delete obscene email and block senders. Sending obscene mail is a cyber-crime though, and offenders can face fines of Rs 1 lakh. Thought this ought to be a deterrent, culprits usually get away because people rarely report these cases."

If you have people bothering you via the Internet, you can report it at any police station. The crime will be recorded if it is a cognisable offence, and then directed to the cyber crime cell. Investigations are carried out to check the authenticity of the complaint and the case may be solved within hours. It is usually easy as these aren't hard-core criminals, but regular people venting their frustration.

There has been a spate of such offences in Bangalore and Pune, says Bhatt, adding that 90 per cent of reported cases have been investigated by the police and are under trial in various courts. The police are careful not to reveal the identities of victims in sensitive cases such as Archana's or in cases of 'online pornography'.

So, what happened to Ankur? "I first lodged a complaint with the Erandwane Police Station in Pune under the charge of Sub-Inspector Dhumal," says Archana. "The case was then investigated by Sub- Inspector Jangam of the cyber crime department, who works with a team of technical experts. Ankur tried influencing the police by speaking to a higher authority, but the inspector was firm about noting down the complaint and bringing him to the station for questioning."

Shaken to the core, Ankur accepted his crime almost immediately and apologised. Archana then set about sending explanatory messages to everyone at the receiving end of the offensive email. "I hope you have received an apologetic email from the adamant criminal who didn't spare a chance to torture me online," she wrote. "Ankur works at a software company and has, through the Internet and other media, been harassing me for the past couple of months. It is only after he was threatened with a two-year sentence without bail that he accepted what a rotten spot he was in society and his family," she continued, angrily.

Archana has nothing but praise for the police, cyber crime department, and Ankur's relatives, for their help and cooperation. She says that Ankur will also have to legally undergo psychiatric treatment. "It is hard to believe there are such people," she says. "I pity their families because they are the ones who are trapped. They have to take these people out of the dirt, feel guilty for what they have done, and then live with them for the rest of their lives."

The moral of this little story is this. The Internet can propagate hatred as easily as it can encourage love. When it comes to the former, however, the law is always on your side.

Here are the things you can do:

  • Block the offender becauase responding may only make it worse.
  • Inform everyone on your address book to block your current address as it has been hacked, and create a new email account.
  • If possible, shut down the account or write to the providers informing them about it being misused.
  • Make known your intention to seek legal help coolly but clearly.
  • Do not hesitate to inform the police in fear of losing your reputation.If you are a woman, your case is considered very serious.
  • If the defaulter does not accept his crime, a case is filed in the criminal law court with the police representing the victim. The criminal may hire a lawyer to defend himself, and the case is tried between the police and the defence attorney.

Dos and don'ts:

  • Don't talk to strangers online. You never know what might go wrong.
  • Avoid making enemies. If you must, do not give out your email address.
  • Be prudent in disclosing your email ID anywhere on the Internet.
  • Create accounts on sites that allow you to frequently change the answer to your 'secret question' and password. Try Hotmail or Rediffmail
  • Do not use a password that also happens to be the answer to your secret question.
  • Always remember -- your best friends can be your worst enemies.

(Names changed to protect identity)

Useful Links:

The Information Technology Act 2000
More information on cyber-laws
Life Imprisonment for hackers
Cyber Law Study
Join the cyber law mailing list
Cyber democracy


Nikita Agarwal