I. Linga Bhaskar v. State

The Cyber Blog IndiaCase Summary

Whether sending an emoji (smiling face with tears) in a WhatsApp group can be considered obscene?

I. Linga Bhaskar v. State
In the High Court of Madras
Crl. O.P. (M.D.) 3110/2017
Before Justice S.S. Sundar
Decided on June 05, 2018

Relevancy of the case: Whether sending an emoji (smiling face with tears) in a WhatsApp group can be considered obscene?

Statutes and Provisions Involved

  • The Information Technology Act, 2000 (Section 67)
  • The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 (Sections 3(1)(r), 3(1)(t), 3(1)(u))
  • The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Harassment of Women Act, 2002 (Section 4)

Relevant Facts of the Case

  • The petitioners and the second respondent, employees of BSNL, were members of an official WhatsApp group. The second respondent is Divisional Engineer (Rural). The purpose of this WhatsApp group was to share innovative ideas to improve the service provided by BSNL.
  • The second respondent shared a video of three customers in which they spoke about their issues related to BSNL coverage.
  • The petitioners, who are indoor staff, considered the video as a means to demean the indoor staff, thus few petitioners uploaded an emoji, namely, a smiling face with tears.
  • Some of the petitioners felt that the video footage would demotivate the executives or taint the image of BSNL and asked other members of SNEA (Sanchar Nigam Executives Association) to post the same emoji. Annoyed by the same, the second respondent, filed a complaint.
  • The second respondent, in her defence, said that the group was formed as asked by the senior to discuss the issues customers were facing and to resolve them.
  • The petitioners misunderstood it to be against them. Moreover, the second respondent alleges that the accused numbers 1 and 2 not only conspired against her but also lured other people to do the same against her.
  • Because of such acts, the respondent stated that she could barely sleep, felt agony and cried all night long on 31. 07. 2016, therefore she decided to file a case against them.

Prominent Arguments by the Advocates

  • The petitioner’s counsel submitted that the posting of crying smiley faces was to express their feelings in response to the video footage and that it was not intended to harm the respondent. The learned counsel further stated that there is no prima facie evidence to attract the above-mentioned sections.
  • The respondent’s counsel argued that the smileys have definite meaning and the face with tears of joy conveyed hatred and humiliation. An emoji is a comment intended to ridicule or to show disapproval.

Opinion of the Bench

  • The Court was of the view that Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 talks about the publication or transmission of any obscene material which is sexual in nature. The same is not found in the present case, and Section 67 is not applicable.

Final Decision

  • Criminal Original Petition allowed.
  • First information report quashed.

This case summary has been prepared by Tuba Aftab, an undergraduate student at IIMT & School of Law, GGSIPU, during her internship with The Cyber Blog India in May/June 2021.