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‘Annoyed’ Someone On The Internet? Get Ready To Be Jailed!

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By Karthik Shankar:

There was very little discussion about it, but February 26, 2015, was a landmark day for India as far as our freedom of speech is concerned. Yesterday was the last day of Supreme Court’s hearing about one of the most contested provisions of the IT Act. The much excoriated Section 66A allows the centre to arrest any individuals who post ‘offensive’ messages on social networking websites.

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This clause is not only poorly defined, it has rampant potential for misuse. An infraction under this law can send someone to jail for three years (Just for reference, the Commonwealth Games scam sent Suresh Kalmadi to jail just for nine months). In the aftermath of Bal Thackeray’s death, two girls were arrested under the provision. Their crime? The first had posted an innocuous comment questioning why the state had to shut down because of his death. The second had simply agreed with the post. I shudder to think of the blow back if they had actually posted something edgy. Others have faced the brunt of it too, like the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for his astute political cartoons or businessman Ravi Srinivasan who had the temerity to tweet against Karti Chidambaram, son of the former finance minister.

It’s interesting to note how the definition of offensive varies. Are we really living in a democracy where Sakshi Maharaj’s comments are not legally counteracted but anything that questions our state’s moral credentials are? It’s also disappointing that the BJP has taken U-turn on the issue. After criticising 66A during UPA’s reign, they are now using that unassailable argument of ‘national security’ to justify its existence.

Shreya Singhal, the budding law student who filed a PIL against Section 66A, explained in an interview last year that anything as small as a person commenting on Zomato could be booked under this act because it literally criminalises causing ‘annoyance’ online. That’s not something that should be codified in laws. I find almost everything that comes out of Subramaniam Swamy’s mouth annoying, but there don’t seem to be any cases filed against the man who said all Muslims were previously Hindus.

So why isn’t this causing more of a furore? Most of the people who are raising a voice against this are young educated netizens. As of 2014, we have over 200 million users, less than a fifth of our population. Not to mention a very small fraction of those will be active considering the fact that uninterrupted internet access is a luxury not afforded to many. However, the number of internet users are set to double by 2018 to more than 500 million. It’s hardly going to be a niche issue when it’s something that will affect people across the youngest country in the world.

Additional solicitor general, Tushar Mehta, said that the internet needs more checks because it does not ‘exist in an institutionalized form’. That’s exactly why it’s so valuable for freedom of speech and expression.

The thoughts and views that come through the mainstream media are filtered through the prisms of editors, writers with personal connections to the ruling elite and multinational conglomerates. The internet, on the other hand, is a domain of the common public. The internet is the medium all of us use to express our opinions. The very reason it works is because we don’t have a filter. And in this era of social media, a comment made by the common man can capture the zeitgeist as much as one made by a prolific columnist. It’s what makes the internet so powerful. Such laws will only ensure we pre-censor our words and I can’t think of a more frightening thing than that. Then our transition to the kind of dystopian political environment that exists in the pages of Orwell’s 1984, will only hasten.

 

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  1. ABs

    Ah, another post, lampooning Sakhi Maharaj, but sparing Assaduddin Owaisi. Complaining about Subramaniam Swamy, but mum on Digvijay Singh’s comments. It is one thing to be against the ruling of a Law, but it is a separate issue when it comes to roping in the BJP, Subramanian Swamy, Sakhi Maharaj catchwords which seem to be the “in thing” nowadays. I think that this is a poor, politicized, argument, primarily because it trivializes the core problem of Internet Censorship. You lost the argument the moment you said “Sakhi Maharaj”. That man also has a freedom of speech, and it is his opinion that Hindu women should have four children. Why, the tenets of Islam say that a Muslim Man must have four wives, but there is no outrage from people like you. Let us face it, you are a typical, pseudo intellectual, pseudo secular Marxist who thinks that insulting Hindus, or Hindu beliefs is good, but whose nervous system breaks down if there is a critique of Islam or Christianity, because then it becomes “Minority Harassment”. Get a grip, and grow up.

    1. Xyz

      Dear ABs.

      Please get your facts right. Nowhere in any law of Islam it is said that a Muslim must have 4 wives. It is permissible provided a strict set of conditions are followed. And please understand the article before labelling someone. The author is just giving examples to point out how the said law can be misused. He is not targeting anyone in particular.

    2. anand

      Your comment is off-topic and has annoyed me no end. I think you should go to jail.

    3. ABs

      I think that your audacity to try and threaten me has not only annoyed me, but is also an example of harassment. I think that you should e jailed for threatening comments.

  2. Anusha Khanna

    The matter is highly sensitive and the government should put all aspects around the issue in consideration. Since India is a democratic nation, the Government should consider public’s opinion before taking any major steps in this matter.
    See what others have to say about this
    http://www.iamwire.com/2015/02/section-66a-leash-free-india/111051

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