Feb 9, 2024

Should Poonam Pandey go to jail?

Note: This Weekly does not intend to validate, promote, or encourage the PR campaign undertaken by Ms Poonam Pandey on 2nd February 2024.

The country woke up with mixed reactions to Ms. Poonam Pandey’s video on 3rd February 2024, when she announced that she had faked her death as a publicity stunt to spread awareness about cervical cancer. This news of her death was earlier shared on her Instagram profile and was alleged to be true by her publicist. Her actions have been denounced by many as unethical, immoral, insensitive, and offensive to cancer survivors. 

This incident raises important conversations on the duty of the press to fact-check viral social media information and the ethics around using shock value as a tool for creating awareness. However, there were also people who  claimed that her actions were not only insensitive but also illegal. They filed multiple FIRs against her. 

What exactly is the charge against her?

The FIRs filed against Poonam Pandey and her publicist accused them primarily of spreading fake news for a publicity stunt. They have been accused of committing the criminal offense of cheating under Sections 417 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. 

What is fake news?

Fake news is often confused with misinformation and disinformation. However, misinformation is false information that is spread with a belief that the information is correct. Disinformation, on the other hand, is misleading or biased information that is known to be incorrect but is deliberately spread to cause harm. Fake news, on the other hand, is purposefully crafted, sensational, emotionally charged, misleading, or fabricated information that mimics the form of mainstream news. 

Poonam Pandey’s publicity stunt can fall under the definition of fake news. However, spreading fake news in itself is not a crime in India, if the intention is not to harm or defraud someone. 

When is spreading fake news a crime?

Spreading fake news becomes a crime when it is done to: 

  • promote enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc
  • offend religious feelings
  • harm a person’s reputation 
  • provoke someone into disturbing the peace of the country 
  • deceive someone into delivering a property, or destroying a valuable property. 

So, what matters is the purpose of spreading false information. The act of spreading false information in itself is not a crime. Similarly, “pseudocide”, which is the act of faking death, in itself is not a crime in India. It can become a crime depending upon the purpose for which death was faked. For instance, you might be punished with jail time if you fake your death to:

  • secure life insurance money from insurance companies, 
  • get unlawful access to money in wills,
  • defraud someone to receive money, property, interest, or benefit from them, 
  • avoiding financial obligations like paying back loans, alimony, child support, etc,
  • avoid a penalty or jail sentence, or
  • marry someone during a pre-existing marriage. 

Assisting someone in faking their death for any of the above reasons is also a crime and can land you in jail. 

According to Ms. Pandey, the purpose of faking her death was to raise awareness related to cervical cancer. It was not to deliberately deceive or defraud people into doing any act that would have benefitted her. Since her motive was not to commit a crime under the guise of her death, her actions cannot be considered criminal.. 

That being said, her controversial act can be deemed irresponsible and capable of causing deep distress in people who are cancer survivors, caretakers, or who have lost their loved ones to cancer. While a discussion on the legal ramifications of this act might not lead us to a satisfactory conclusion, the ethical ramifications remain open for discussion.

Related Weekly Posts

March 04 2022

What is the Freedom of the Press?

The Editors Guild of India(EGI) has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the reports of state surveillance of journalists, activists and politicians using the Isreali spyware Pegasus. The Guild discusses in the petition how the freedom of the press relies on non-interference by the government and its […]
Read More >

February 24 2022

Fooled by a product too similar to your preferred brand? You have the right to file a complaint!

The Delhi High Court has restrained the brand Joy from using, manufacturing, selling, advertising, or dealing in cosmetic products that are deceptively similar to Nivea in terms of label and appearance. The Court found that the shape, size and colour product of “Joy Intense Moisture” lotion was deceptively similar, even if not identical, to that […]
Read More >

December 01 2023

What We Can Learn From Rashmika Mandana’s “Deepfake” controversy

Recently, actor Rashmika Mandana was targeted in one of the most covert and sinister forms of online abuse; deepfake technology. A mix of “deep learning” and fake content, deep fakes manouevre artificial intelligence technology to create false images of a person with such close resemblance that it can become impossible to tell them apart. From […]
Read More >