Legally ‘Obscene’ – Law, Gender, and Digital Rights

Name: Smita Vanniyar

Organisation: Point of View

Email ID: smita@pointofview.org

Nationality: Indian

Country of Residence: India

Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Session Format: Workshop 90 min

Session Title: Legally ‘Obscene’ – Law, Gender, and Digital Rights         

Workshop conductors: Smita Vanniyar and Bishakha Datta

Summit Theme: Freedom of Expression

Relevance to the theme:

Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, India is the second highest-used provision in the IT Act. It regulates material that is considered ‘obscene’ and deals with a vast array of digital content: morphed images, rape videos, non-consensual intimate images, ‘revenge porn’, abusive texts, social media posts etc. But does this section strengthen freedom of expression or restrict it? How can laws that regulate such content do so in ways that uphold freedom of expression and affirm women’s rights?

Session brief:

This session is based on an in-depth research study of Section 67, which regulates ‘obscenity’ online. Section 67 is currently the second-highest used provision under the IT Act and is increasingly used to deal with gender-based online harassment. Thus it is of direct relevance to advocates of digital rights, women’s rights or sexual rights – as well as lawyers, researchers and journalists. But legal sections are often hard to analyse. Through an interactive game format, we invite workshop participants to explore Section 67 – and to analyse it through the lens of freedom of expression.

Content of the session:

The session will be divided into two big parts:

Part 1: 45 minutes A mock courtroom

A hands-on workshop in a mock courtroom, where every participant plays the role of a judge. Participants will be divided into groups. Each group will be given a big playing card (A4 or A5 sized cards) with a case from Section 67 on it. Each group will be asked to answer key questions: What is the primary harm in each case? What legal sections should ideally be used in each case? (We will provide a menu of options). Was Section 67 appropriately used in each case?

The findings from these cases will closely reflect the key findings of the research.

Part 2: 45 minutes Cases and findings

Once the courtroom session has closed, we will formally present the findings of the research study – including methodology, historical roots, strengths and limitations, trends etc. We will then lead participants through a structured discussion that understands whether this section upholds freedom of expression or restricts it. Since this is increasingly becoming a women’s provision, the discussion will also explore if this section adopts a ‘protectionist’ or a ‘rights’ orientation towards women’s online participation.

What is the USP of the session:

This session has three USPs:

-Indepth research of the second-highest section of the Information Technology Act, India

-Links with online harassment, gender and freedom of expression

-The unique format used to enable participants to directly explore the section and understand its implications firsthand

This is a fun, creative, experiential way to trigger discussion and understanding – among users and activists – of laws that regulate online content.

Relevant tags: information technology act, obscenity, gender, harmful content