The Supreme Court today quashed Article 66A of the IT Act that had a provision for arrest for posting "objectionable content". Of course this definition of "Objectionable" was conveniently interpreted by the powers-that-be landing several youngsters in jail for merely expressing their freedom of speech. You can read the story on misuse of Article 66A by India's powerful politicians to silent dissent.
Almost everyone condemned the arrest of the two girls for posting comments on the Mumbai bandh (post Bal Thackeray's death) on Facebook. When she was 21, Delhi girl Shreya Singhal decided to do something about it. She filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in the Supreme Court challenging Section 66(A) of the Information Technology (IT) Act. This PIL went on to become the first of many formidable attacks against the autocratic legislation that gave the government (both the BJP and Congress governments) power to jail you for an "offensive message". The problem was that the definition of "offensive" was very subjective.
Shreya challenged section 66(A) under which Shaheen Dhada and her friend Renu Srinivasan were arrested. The section makes causing annoyance or inconvenience online criminal. The PIL was presented at Chief Justice Altamas Kabir’s court who wondered why no one had thought of challenging this provision of the IT Act. Singhal who is back after studying in the UK for three years, is looking to get into a law school. “Expressing your views is something everyone does every day. If this goes on, we will have a mute society,” she says.
Singhal’s petition was sent to Attorney Genera G.E. Vahanvati so that the Maharashtra government is involved in the matter. Shreya who is obsessed with reading the news thought that the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on charges of sedition was a one off case. She also noticed that a businessman in Puducherry was arrested for criticising finance minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti. But when she read about the arrest of the two girls over a Facebook comment, she was really angered.
According to her, section 66 is vague in defining what causes annoyance or inconvenience on the Internet. A heated discussion with her mother regarding the same lead Shreya to file a PIL. Her mother Manali, a Supreme Court Lawyer has helped and encouraged her daughter all the way.
This story was originally published in iDiva | Inputs from Kunal Anand