The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court recently quashed the complaint of a BSNL employees against her colleagues. The complaint was regarding a WhatsApp group the employees are a part of, where the woman had posted a video of customers complaining about the service. In response, the colleagues posted the ‘laughing-crying’ emoji – and got other colleagues to do so as well.
Feeling bullied and humiliated by the mass posting of the emojis, because she had raised an issue with the service, the woman filed a complaint of harassment, and under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
The incident took place in 2016. In her complaint, Vijayalakshmi said that she had uploaded the video on the instructions of her superiors, as the purpose of the WhatsApp group was to share the complaints and deficiencies in the services of BSNL, and to rectify them and improve the quality of service.
However, her colleagues claim they saw the video as an attempt to ‘degrade’ them. The people against whom the complaint was registered, filed a counter petition for the quashing of the FIR.
“It appears that the petitioners are mainly indoor staff of BSNL whereas the second respondent (Vijayalakshmi) is an officer engaged as an outdoor staff. Since the conversation uploaded by the second respondent was taken as an act to degrade the indoor staff, the petitioners and few others have posted an emoji, namely, a smiling face with tears,” the June 5 order by Justice SS Sundar quotes the colleagues.
And so, they decided to gang up against the woman for the video. “Some of the petitioners felt that the conversation uploaded by the second respondent is likely to de-motivate the executives and is likely to tarnish the image of BSNL, they requested the members of SNEA by sending similar emojis in the whatsapp group to be shared by other members of the group. Following this, the petitioners who are the accused in the complaint have posted the same emoji, a cartoon face with joy but tears in the eyes.”
Upset with this, Vijayalakshmi filed a complaint against her colleagues, and said that their action had caused her mental agony and a sleepless night. She said that their intention was to humiliate her.
A case was registered for offences punishable under Section 4 of Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 2002, Section 3 (1)(r), 3(1)(t), 3(1)(u) of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 and Section 67 of Information Technology Act.
However, the case was quashed on June 5. Justice SS Sundar observed that the case cannot be processed under any of the above mentioned sections. He further said, “Everyone has a right to express their feelings and share their idea. The face of crying smiley is to comment about the idea of second respondent in publishing or uploading a video of complaints made by BSNL customers regarding deficiencies in BSNL coverage. Every person has got indefeasible right to express what he feels.”
But he also cautioned the employees against acting in such a manner ‘in the interest of BSNL.’ In the same breath, the court criticised the complainant.
“The petitioners who are working as executives and staff of BSNL along with second respondent ought not to have indulged in posting such emoji in the interest of BSNL since whatsapp group is formed to promote team spirit. Such complaints by the second respondent who is working as a Divisional Engineer (Rural) will pave way for other complications and friction among members which will be detriment to the interest of BSNL,” the order said.
“This Court wanted the petitioners to express their regret as the de-facto complainant in her individual perception felt offended by the posting of such crying smiley. Accordingly the first petitioner has filed an affidavit on behalf of all the petitioners, recording their regret for posting such smileys. The matter should rest here and it will be neither in the interest of justice to permit such complaints to stay,” the court said.