Why privacy laws in India need a revamp?

The viral news about recording and the circulation of Chandigarh University hostel girls’ private videos set off a storm of panic and anger leading to calls for a fool proof Right to Privacy.

Tehelka Cover Story in this issue by Dr. Sangita Laha, Associate Professor & Dean, National University of Study and Research in Law, “ Peeping Toms are on the rise” explains why the recent row over the alleged leak of private videos of girl students of Chandigarh University, Mohali, on internet has brought home the vulnerability of women to digital voyeurism.

The incident hogged national limelight after protests by students erupted and anxious parents rushed to the university campus to take their daughters home. The reported sharing of “objectionable videos” of fellow boarders at the hostel plunged the private university into a spiral of fear, rumours and unrest, culminating in few arrests though the authorities claim there had been no privacy breach.

But by the time Dr R.S. Bawa, Pro-Chancellor, Chandigarh University, in a statement said, “There were reports that 60 objectionable MMS were shared on the social media following which some girls attempted suicide. This is totally false and baseless. During a preliminary investigation by the university, no video was found from any student, except a personal video shot by a girl which she had shared with her boyfriend”, the news had already spread like wildfire. The students question if there were no videos, why a first year PG student of the university who was at the epicentre of the controversy was arrested, along with her reported boyfriend from the Army and two other persons, one of them being a native of Rohru village in Himachal Pradesh’s  Shimla district.

The incident has raised pertinent questions  before the authorities and the society as it amounts to breach of privacy.  It’s a wakeup call because similar incidents keep happening every day and every hour in the country, and the majority of those are not reported due to lack of awareness about relevant legal provisions, fear of social stigma and trust deficit as far as law enforcing agencies are concerned.

In this case, the Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann instituted a probe into the episode, pointing out that “daughters are the dignity and pride of Punjab”. A magisterial probe and the constitution of a special investigation team followed.  The Chairperson of National Commission for Women, Rekha Sharma, too wrote to the Punjab DGP urging him to deal with the matter strictly. Subsequently, an FIR of the incident was filed under Section 66E of IT Act (violation of privacy) and the accused as of now have been charged with section 354C of IPC (voyeurism) after the harrowing incident.

The incident has once again resulted in clarion calls for Right to Privacy because the violation of the privacy of the students is a concern which remained completely amiss amidst the public rage given that the laws have barely kept up pace with cyber-crimes.