THE Madras High Court recently quashed a criminal complaint against BSNL employees who put ‘smiling face with tears’ emoji in the official WhatsApp group.

A lady officer in BSNL had filed complaint against other employees who put the emoji reacting to a video she had posted in the official WhatsApp group. The group was intended to share the complaints and deficiencies in the service of BSNL and to rectify them and improve the quality of service. The video featured three BSNL customers complaining about deficiency of service.

The complaint was registered under the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act. In the complaint, she stated that because of the posting of crying smiley faces, she was put to mental agony and hence, she could not sleep and she was crying all the night on the said day.
Before the high court, the accused employees stated that the posting of crying smiley faces were to express their feelings in response to video footage and that it is not intended to harm the officer.

Justice SS Sundar observed that an emoji is sent to express one’s feeling about something, it cannot be treated as an overt act on others and Section 67 of the IT Act will not attract as there is no obscenity in the emoji. The court also observed that as the posting of emoji is to express one’s feeling, though it may offend the officer, it is not an act attracting Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 1998. Further it was observed that the complainant had no case that smiley was intended to humiliate her for being a member of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes.


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