Although the freedom of speech and expression was already there in our Constitution, the section 66A which was added during the UPA government had been challenged by Shreya Singhal at the Supreme Court. The social media had been overflowing with anticipation even before the judgment in the IT Act petition was pronounced. A status update later, the internet erupted with congratulatory back-thumping. The chilling effect of the Section 66A striking down, a draconian law for the free minded people, would surely bring down the fear psychosis among internet users.
The law had Ambikesh Mahapatra, a chemistry professor of renowned Jadavpur University, stay in jail for forwarding a caricature on Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Facebook. Similarly Shaheen Dhada and her friend Renu Srinivasan were detained for 10 days after Shaheen’s Facebook post questioned a spontaneous shutdown in Mumbai for the cremation of Bal Thackeray in 2012 and for Renu “liked” it only! Recently a class XI student in Uttar Pradesh was arrested for posting an ‘objectionable’ comment attributed to Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan.
This historical verdict is a victory of the common man’s freedom of speech. This verdict will surely remove the fear among internet users that they may get arrested even for innocuous acts. It has come as a relief to many who have been subject to harassment due to the legal procedures. But the Supreme Court decision to strike down Section 66A of IT Act may infuse social media addicts with a sense of unrestricted freedom of expression, but indiscrete posting or tweets could still result in arrest under similar IPC provisions.
Section 66A was not part of the original IT Act enacted during the NDA government in 2000. The UPA amended it in 2009 and brought section 66A into force. Political parties of different hues changed sides with abandon on section 66A of the IT Act. Those who had previously resolutely defended the provision expressed delight at the Supreme Court’s decision to dump it on Tuesday. However, when NDA came to power last year there was no shift in the government’s stance.
Sensing the mood of the people the government sought to throw its weight behind the concept of freedom of speech and expression on social media, but pitched for “reasonable restrictions” and “self-restraint” by the online community and social media platforms . Social media has grown in this country, people place their views there, they have a right to do so, and even the right to criticize. They also have a right to give advice. The people in power should be tolerant and must be liberal towards criticism. The platforms need to practice self-restraint although.
In democracy, the ruling party needs to tolerate unpopular views and should accept criticism gracefully. As the justice Nariman said as citizens of a democratic country we must realize the importance of giving space to the right to dissent and air views even if they were unpopular. Taking the cue from the verdict of the Supreme Court the Students Union of Presidency University has screened the BBC documentary “India’s daughter” banned by the government of India. Cheers for India’s democracy !