The Exigency of Anti-Troll Laws in India: A Critical Analysis


The Exigency of Anti-Troll Laws in India: A Critical Analysis

[This post has been authored by Amartya Sahastranshu Singh and Kumar Dhruv, students at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi.]

Recently, Tanishq released an advertisement that mustered up colossal outrage on social media. The advertisement showed a pregnant Hindu woman, married into a Muslim family who was performing a Hindu ritual in their house for their Hindu daughter-in-law. The advertisement depicted the tenderness between the woman and her mother-in-law and its core objective was to outline harmony among the two communities. Trolls on social media, however, perceived it as a depiction of ‘love jihad’ and subsequently, bashed it with demeaning remarks over the internet. Ultimately, Tanishq had to pull the advertisement down as the jewellery company began losing goodwill.

Lately, this issue of online trolling has become quite persistent in India. Social media, being more than a tool for expressing one’s opinion and criticism, has manifested into an instrument for cyber-bullying and online harassment. Thus, the authors, via this article, seek to scrutinize the stance of the Indian legal system on this matter and present an analytical juxtaposition of the foregoing case of Tanishq with laws of some other major democracies.

Although Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution bestows to the people of India, the right to freedom of speech and expression, it is subject to restrictions. The grounds for these restrictions, inter alia, include protecting national security and integrity, prohibiting defamation, inciting offence, or contempt of court. However, in reference to advertisements, which may demand space for artistic freedom, how far can these restrictions be imposed?

In Hamdard Dawakhana v Union of India, the Supreme Court clarified that advertisements can be subject to the restriction of expression if they offend morality or decency and in any way promote malpractices such as self-medication of prohibited substances or advocate evil. Additionally, Chapter II of the regulating code of the Advertisement Standards Council of India (ASCI) elucidates the meaning of ‘morality’ and ‘decency’, by adding social propriety along with sexual morality, to facilitate their interpretation. However, in Tansihq’s case, what is anomalous is that the advertisement was neither indecent nor did it harm any social propriety, but still faced vicious discredit from anonymous trolls on social media.

Does India need Anti-Troll Laws?

Ironically, India did have an anti-troll law. Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 contained provisions for internet trolls who posted ‘offensive content’ online. However, in the 2015 case of Shreya Singhal v Union of India, this law was challenged for being violative of the right to freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution. The Supreme Court, in its judgement, elucidated that the importance of freedom of speech outweighed the significance of this law and subsequently, the provision was rescinded.

However, this liberty did not give people a licence to cause discord amongst the political and social harmony of the country. An online misdemeanour can be charged under offences listed in Chapter XI of IT Act, 2000, or sections of the India Penal Code such as defamation (S.499) or criminal intimidation (S.503). But considering the immense rise of cases like these, what becomes questionable is the efficacy and adequacy of these laws in protecting people from online trolls.

International Standpoint

The United Kingdom, in 1988, enacted the Malicious Communication Act for the prevention of offensive content online. Further, in 2003, the UK Parliament passed the Communication Act to expand the scope of the 1988 Act. The Communication Act, 2003 engendered OFCOM(Office of Communication) that setup norms for lawful online communication. Section 3 of the code of OFCOM extended protection of people against online hate, offence, and threat.

The foregoing case of Tanishq can be concretely analysed from these laws. The online trolls can be charged under Section 1 of the Malicious Communication Act,1988 and Section 127 of Communication Act, 2003 which criminalizes online threats, hate, and indecent messages. Moreover, in cases like R v College of Policing, where a man was charged for spreading online hate against the transgender community, the functional efficiency of these provisions has been well verified.  Apart from these two provisions, a new statute called the Criminal Offence (Misuse of Digital Technologies and services)(Consolidation) Bill has been recently introduced in the UK which aims to enhance the substantive and procedural laws on the matter.

This newly introduced law resonates with the ‘Harmful Digital Communication Act’ of New Zealand which was legislated after the controversial ‘Roast Busters’ case. Several clauses of the law, Section 22, for instance, encompass the offence that is relevant to the case of Tanishq.  Not only is the offence well-defined but also the corresponding punishments and penalties are described therein. In the foregoing case, the offenders might have to face imprisonment for up to two years with or without a fine.

The United States, however, does not have the same standpoint. The First Amendment guaranteed the right to freedom of expression to the people and the American Jurisprudence crowns it with supreme importance. No law can abridge the American freedom of speech.


The current status of Indian laws on internet trolls reflects the nuances of the American approach to the issue. However, this liberty to speak online, in a culturally and politically sensitive country, has caused lethal socio-political issues in recent times. Even the Supreme Court, in October 2020, stated that the right to freedom of speech is the “most abused right” of India.

Freedom of speech is unquestionably the cornerstone of a democracy, but unrestrained rights carry chaos with them. Although the online platforms do have their guidelines and regulations for the issue, India needs to tailor laws that fit its socio-political variables. On the lines of the UK and New Zealand, it should constitute a duly-empowered regulatory body and define laws and penalties, not only for the user but also the online host to control the activities of online trolls.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *