August 24, 2020
August 25, 2020

“Is Roasting a Cyber-Bullying Offence”

Cyberbullying is a growing concern in India, according to 2017-18 reports cyberbullying of women and children in India has increased by 36%. Through various social media platforms and online games have been the primary cause of promoting cyberbullying, roasting happens to be a new addition in this field. Recently, we all witnessed the biggest roasting fight,  YouTube v. Tik Tok. The fight attained much of the hike, concerning the impact on the audience, the legal perspective of it remained ignored.  Despite knowing about the unfortunate effects of roasting on one’s mental health, we are still struggling with the basic question of Whether roasting comes under the ambit of cyberbullying or not?
The article here aims to answer the question by drawing an analogy between humour and bullying and applying it to roasting; It further highlights the legislations that can be applicable while considering roasting as a cyberbullying offence; in furtherance of the issue, it also includes the challenges and recommendations involved in roasting.
From Humour to Bullying
Humour as an art surprises us, grabs our attention, and diverts us from our stress. That is why humour is a slippery subject, and it is pretty hard to define what humour exactly is. This might be the reason why many of us fail to demarcate the difference between humour and bullying. Bullying generally involves voluntary acts intended to harm the victim, physically or mentally. There have been instances, where humor has crossed the limits of content produced on the digital platform to inflict harm on others which eventually leads its way to bullying. One such incident arose in 2015 when a comedy group organized a show called AIB knockout. This show came in the limelight due to various misogynist, homophobic, insulting remarks made by the roasters. The show unwittingly sparked off rage on bullying and it made it clear that the Indian audience is still very prone to any inappropriate content in the form of humour.
From Roasting to Cyber Bullying
The way humour forms the genus of Roasting, bullying forms the genus of Cyberbullying. Humour is the reason why the youth around us relate to roasting so easily. Consequently, making roasting videos so popular among youths. The way humour, if intended to harm the victim becomes bullying, online roasting videos should also be dealt from the perspective of cyberbullying.
Traditional Roasting has been prevalent in our society in the form of art. The only line of difference between traditional roasting and online roasting videos is the consent of the person. In traditional roasting, the roastmaster who happens to be the host of the shows calls the roastee as the guest of honour and it is implied that the person can take those jokes and criticism in a way of good humour and nothing serious. But online roasting involves no such consent and familiarity.
As stated by eminent criminologist Dr K Jaishankar “Cyberbullying amounts to “abuse/ harassment by teasing or insulting the victims’ body shape, intellect, family background, dress sense, mother tongue, place of origin, attitude, race, caste, or class using modern telecommunication networks such as mobile phones and Internet.” This is an exhaustive definition, even times it may include any kind of humiliation and harassment that the person might feel. It can be inferred that the elements of abuse, harassment, insulting the person concerned are involved in cyberbullying and roasting as well. The punchlines used by the roasters in the roasting videos have been punching down people based on their race, gender, and colour, intentionally abusing the minority, handicapped, and LGBTQ community. Hence such elements involved in online roasting drags this trend from the circle of humour to cyberbullying.
Applicability of legislations in cases of Roasting
India, there is no specific legislation for cyberbullying, yet legality of the issue can be viewed from the respective of 3 different legislations.
  • Freedom of speech and expression under the Indian Constitution[i]
The Constitution of India, under article 19 provides the right to express freely and speak. Although the right protects every citizen from any restraint imposed on their freedom to speak, yet there are certain reasonable restrictions to it. These reasonable restrictions involve public order, morality, and decency. Roasting that inside the ambit of reasonable restrictions, cannot be shaded under the umbrella of Article 19.
  • Information Technology Act, 2000[ii]
Section 67 of the act prescribes punishment for transmitting, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or tends to deprave and corrupt persons in the electronic form. Further publication and transmission of sexually explicit material online has been further singled out and made punishable under Section 67(A). These sections particularly provide punishment for publishing obscene material in electronic form. The term obscenity has been interpreted by different courts from time to time. One of such widely accepted interpretation was laid down in the case of Regina v. Hicklin. In this Hicklin test, it was laid down that obscenity is what reasonable man constitutes to corrupt public morals or order.
Applying the Hicklin test in the recent trend of roasting, it is pertinent to point out that roasting involves the inclusion of obscene material in the public domain. Recent roasting video by Carry Minati included some of the comments which fall inside the parameters of obscenity. The homophobic remarks made by him were considered to be enticing homophobic ideology and defamatory to the LGBTQ community.
  • Indian Penal code, 1860[iii]
Section 354 of IPC prescribes punishment for using criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty. There have been various roasting videos on social media that inflict harm on the modesty of women. Generally, the roaster has a wide colossal fan following, which further promotes these defaming statements. There have been instances where statements said by famous roasters were further used by the audience on cyberbullying women on the social media platform. One such incident was related to the fight of YouTube v. TikTok, where famous Tik Toker Amir Siddiqui stated that small roasters have been targeting few girls by their misogynist slangs and slurs. Such sexually created, body-shaming remarks should be considered under the ambit of section 354 of IPC.
Challenges and Recommendation
  • Influence is a catalyst in promoting cyberbullying
The only reason why the fight of YouTube v. Tik Tok became such a big issue was the influence Carry Minati has on the audience. He is considered as the face of Indian Roasting. His humour is the reason why millions of his fans feel connected to him. This influence acted as a fuel to his roasting video. Even after the video was taken down by YouTube, many of the slangs used in the video against the LGBTQ community, kept on floating on social media. Some of these comments were even inflicted on the posts of various Tik Tokers by the fans of the YouTuber. Hence, influence being a catalyst in these situations, there is a primary responsibility of all the influencers and people the audience looks up to, to take a strict look at the content they are posting and what consequences it causes.
  • Strict policies on cyberbullying
Though the issue of cyberbullying has been one of the most discussed issues in society, the cases reported about the same have been very low. Since we do not have specific laws for cyberbullying, most of the cases generally get trapped in the various interpretation of what constitutes as out of public morality and order. Generally, online platforms like YouTube mentions the Safe harbour clause, which ensures that the platforms cannot be held liable for the laws criminalizing obscene content on the platform if it is not aware that the video is hosting illegal content. Here it is pertinent to note that this clause only protects the platform, not the creator. There is a need to undo this clause as YouTube and various platforms own a duty to pre-screen and scan all the content before hosting them online. This could be done in the form of automatic screening. Although this might lead to over filtering, yet it is important to prioritize the cases of cyberbullying during these times. Hence initial filtering of all those obscene and abusive content including outraging humour on the name of roasts should be supported.
To conclude, it is pertinent to mention that roasting which crosses the parameters of morality and is obscene for the audience should be considered as cyberbullying. Most of the roasting video trending today, contained some of the strong insights to promote cyberbullying. And it is unpalatable to ignore such videos in the name of humour. The profound impact of outraging roasting on mental health is an issue of concern and should be dealt with sternly.



[i] INDIA CONST. art. 19.
[ii] Information Technology Act, 2000, No. 21, Act of Parliament, 2000.
[iii] Indian Penal Code, 1860, No.45, Acts of Parliament, 1860.



Ananya Bhargava is a law student at Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur.

In Content Picture Credit: Medium

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