Madras High Court: The Single Judge Bench of S.S.Sundar, J. quashed the criminal complaint against BSNL employees who had put smiling emoji with tears in response to a video footage posted by the second respondent on the official WhatsApp group.

The second respondent (the applicant) posted a video footage of three customers expressing their grievance about the BSNL coverage on the official WhatsApp group which was intended to be used by the members for sharing of any innovative works or ideas for improving the quality of service of BSNL. The conversation was taken as an act to degrade the indoor staff by the petitioners who then along with few others have posted an emoji, namely, a smiling face with tears. They requested the members of SNEA by sending similar emojis in the ‘WhatsApp’ group to be shared by other members of the group. Annoyed by this, the second respondent filed the complaint under various provisions.

The Court said that when it is accepted that an emoji is sent to express one’s feeling about something, it cannot be treated as an overt act on others. It is a comment that may be intended to ridicule or to show one’s disapproval in a given context. Such emojis would not hit Section 67 of IT Act as its object is concerned with publication revealing an overt sexual interest or desire or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters. Further, the Court found that the act under consideration may offend the second respondent but it does not attract Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 1998. As it was also not the case in the complaint that the smiley was intended to humiliate the second respondent for her being a member of SC/ST, the complaint under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 was not sustained. Court concluded that everyone has a right to express their feelings and share their idea. Every person has got indefeasible right to express what he feels. However, on Court’s insistence, the petitioners through an affidavit expressed their regret over posing of such smileys. After that Court decided that the matter should rest here and it will be neither in the interest of justice to permit such complaints to stay. [I. Linga Bhaskar v. The State through the Inspector of Police, CRL.O.P.(MD) No. 3110 of 2017 and Crl.M.P. (MD) Nos. 2366 and 6773 of 2017, order dated 05.06.2018]

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