The latest newsmaker about town, the one who has helped the Supreme Court strike down the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act is a young Shreya Singhal. Born into a family seeped in the legal business, she herself was aspiring to become a law student and had taken a gap year in 2012. Her mother is a Supreme Court lawyer and her grandmother was a judge. The story of her involvement in fighting the draconian law dates back to the 2012 arrest of Kanpur-based cartoonist Aseem Trivedi which alerted her to the ramifications of the use of this law. The arrest of the Palghar girls for their Facebook remarks on Bal Thackeray‚Äôs funeral and that of a Puducherry businessman for criticising Karti Chidambaram urged her to wage a court battle against the misuse of the law.
‚ÄúIt really got me enraged,‚ÄĚ she said at a media interaction. ‚ÄúThe law was being wantonly misused and it seemed blissfully unaware of the intricacies of what constitutes the Internet.‚ÄĚ
According to her, ‚ÄúCourts are the one place where every citizen can go. If you say something in a newspaper or on TV, that‚Äôs fine, but if you say it on Facebook, you get arrested. I think there are so many people in India who are tech-savvy and very vocal about their views. It‚Äôs a natural revolution,‚ÄĚ she said about the Section 66A.
Today, Shreya Singhal is a much relieved person. Hailing the Supreme Court‚Äôs decision to strike down the Section 66A of the IT Act, she felt that no one would fear expressing their opinions online anymore.
According to her, ‚ÄúUnder Section 66A, you cannot be jailed anymore because the Section stands invalid. I am not advocating the defamation of someone but there are other provisions in the IPC¬†(Indian Penal Code) that ensure hate speeches are dealt with. However, there is no blanket provision that will curtail your freedom of speech. No one should fear putting something up online anymore.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThere were two tests that were put to the Section 66A ‚ÄĒ specific and present danger and the probability of inciting hatred. The Section 66A has failed those tests because the posts that people were jailed for did not incite public hatred or disrupted law and order,‚ÄĚ she added.
There were scenes of jubilation at her place after the verdict. Her mother Manali was delighted with her daughter‚Äôs efforts, too. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre very happy. The consequences are going to be very positive. Now people are not going to be scared to exchange and freely put their views on the Internet,‚ÄĚ she said.
Even as reports began trickling in about how Rinu Srinivasan, who had been arrested a little more than two years ago for using Facebook to question the shutdown of Mumbai for Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray‚Äôs funeral, felt hugely vindicated, the view across the spectrum dovetailed this latent optimism as the apex court had reinforced the basic right of free expression by striking down the provision in its entirety, leaving little scope for any dangerous ambiguity.
Fundamental civil liberties now have a distinct stamp of jurisprudence, say Ujwala Uppaluri and Sarvjeet Singh of Delhi University. The court simply found the Section 66A egregious and unsalvageable.
Amid fears of a creeping nanny state, online censorship was acquiring increasingly hideous overtones. ‚ÄúInstead of promoting freedom of expression, the said Section effectively throttled it,‚ÄĚ says an academic Meenakshi Mukerjee.
A cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, whose political interpretation of the prevailing reality more than two years ago landed him in trouble, simply said: ‚ÄúIt is a big day and a huge victory for idealism and freedom.‚ÄĚ
One leading voice in favour of doing away with the patently obnoxious Section of the IT Act has been lawyer Aparna Vishwanathan, who has written extensively on the issue. She has put on record how on 6 February 2013, Sanjay Chaudhary was arrested under the Section 66A of the IT Act for posting ‚Äėobjectionable comments and caricatures‚Äô of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Union Minister Kapil Sibal and Samajwadi Party President Mulayam Singh Yadav on his Facebook wall.