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Little relief for social media users

Little relief for social media users
While the Supreme Court’s order on Thursday saying that no person could be arrested for posting ‘objectionable comments’ on social networking sites is a welcome development, it really is woefully inadequate to tackle the blitzkrieg of state-sponsored assaults that the users of social media have had to face for putting up remarks that even scratch the surface of the corruption-infested political morass. According to the apex court’s direction, no arrests or other forms of coercive measures could be taken without prior permission from senior police officials. But this instruction falls painfully short of the level of deterrence needed to prevent zealots in the government, the police force and even amongst the various party cadres, from launching into attacks and assaults on the technosavvy political protesters and those participating in civil unrests through the medium of social media. In the past year alone, several instances of police atrocity on users of Facebook, Twitter and Gmail were reported. Particularly striking among them were the cases in which one, a chemistry professor at a Kolkata university was beaten up and arrested for forwarding a cartoon of the West Bengal chief minister, and two, a young Mumbai girl was kept in police custody for a few days for posting a remark questioning the state funeral given to the former Shiv Sena supremo, the late Bal Thackeray. It is obvious that none of these arrests occurred without the implicit nod from the government authorities or party top brass, who in turn had directed the senior officials in the police force to go ahead and handcuff the hapless dissenters, whose only crime was to post witty and intelligent questions that unsettled those occupying the high seats of power.  

While the Supreme Court has rightly observed that it cannot pass an order banning all arrest in such cases as operation of Section 66A (pertaining to objectionable comments) of the Information and Technology Act, because the apex court is still examining the constitutional validity of the legal provision, it nevertheless, needs to take into account the public anger and outrage at the rampant misuse of the particular act, that is cited to quell all kinds of virtual and online dissent. The judiciary, which is otherwise the last bastion of truth and justice in this country, and has been doing a commendable job in promoting the cause of the Indian citizen holding the fort against the ribald political-corporate offensive in the form of endless scams, must also take into account the emerging realities of the Indian political and civil societies. The recent slew of arrests over ‘liking’ a particular post on Facebook amounts to gross violation of fundamental rights, such as right to free speech. Hence, the Court’s decision to stick to the Centre’s earlier advisory to all states which limited arrests unless directed by a senior official in the Indian Police Service not below the rank of Inspector General in metropolitan cities, is not sensitive enough and disregards how the social media has emerged as the new vehicle of public sentiment.
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