Repeal Section 66A
The heinous murder of Pune-based techie Mohsin Mohamed Sadique Shaikh because of an innocuous post on the social networking site Facebook has once again driven home the oppressive nature of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which, for all practical purposes, criminalises any remotely dissident speech or text posted online, particularly in social media. The bunch of goons from Hindu Rashtra Sena, a fanatic group that claims to be loosely affiliated to the saffron brigade, found Shaikh’s online post offensive enough to pulp him to death. This ambience of extreme intolerance, aggravated on the one hand by hate speeches by political leaders while cashing out on existing communal divides, is equally intensified by the cruel legislation that seeks to stifle free speech online. Previous instances of abusing Section 66A included the arrest of a young girl in Mumbai when she wrote against the endless devotion shown to Bal Thackeray after his death in November 2012. Before that a university professor in Kolkata was targeted by the West Bengal government for forwarding cartoons deemed derogatory by officials. A businessman in Puducherry was put behind bars for tweeting against former finance minister P Chidambaram’s son. A cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi, was accused of violation of the IT act when he caricatured the obstructions during Parliament sessions. In sum, Section 66A, which curtails free speech and expression, is violative of the spirit of the Constitution, as well as is a breach of Articles 14, 19 and 21, which guarantee different freedoms as fundamental rights of every citizen of this democratic republic. Section 66A is a fuzzy, technocratic means to thought-police the people and prevent free exchange of ideas and voicing of opinions from all corners of the sociocultural milieu. While it must be investigated in case lies or libelous items are spread through the medium of the Internet, under no circumstances can a draconian and menacing law like Section 66A continue to exist in a democracy. Let’s hope the Supreme Court agrees to hear the PILs filed challenging the constitutionality of the legislation and repeals the oppressive law at the soonest.