The wrongful arrest and subsequent release of Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan for making private comments on Facebook about Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray has brought to fore the threat to our freedom of expression. Apart from the alleged misuse of law by the police, it also reflects the lack of tolerance in political-class when it comes
to facing criticism. But is it right to curb public criticism on social networking sites in our democratic set-up? Speak Up finds out...
Suppression of views is not good for democracy
An indicator of a mature democracy is how free the media is. Surely, our media while doing a stellar job is still quite far from being free. The new age media, which is the ‘social media’, is totally a different ball game and the current political-class has neither been able to take its advantage nor been able to suppress it. The kind of conversations that are happening on social media is no different from the living room conversations that take place in urban India. Any suppression of opinion is surely not a good sign for a growing democracy like ours. Section 66(A) of Information Technology Act, 2008, is so wide that it can be subject to interpretation. The following points need to be considered:
Not only the new laws like Section 66(A) but also outdated laws need to be eliminated or completely revamped by conducting appropriate debates at various government levels
Political parties have a huge role to play in shaping up the future of India through visionary thinking and ideas. Social media can be used for the given purpose. The question is are they willing to take this innovative path ?
India’s defamation laws are again subject to interpretation and worse is the arduous process of going through the courts. While the long pending judicial reforms will help, courts can also look at disposing off cases in a quick manner
Like it or hate it, social media is here to stay so the political-class needs to take advantage of this medium instead of trying to suppress opinions.
Krishnakumar Iyer, Spokesperson, PPI
We have the right to give an opinion
India’s strength lies in its democratic values and our Constitution categorically states that citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression. This right enables every citizen to criticise what is wrong in our society in a public domain, as long as it is not personal. The Constitution gives every citizen the right to actively participate in any public activity.
Giving an opinion on any public issue is the right given to us, so I don’t think action needs to be taken against people who express their opinion on public matters. Section 66(A) states that sending offensive or false messages will be penalised and it should not be mislead or misused by anyone. It is undemocratic to curb freedom of speech.
Anuradha Rao, IT Professional
Punish officials who misuse the law
It is not right to curb public criticism as freedom of speech is a right of every citizen of India and everyone should be allowed to express their opinion in whatever way possible. Instead of harassing people, the government should be more concerned with the fact that the public is not happy, which is why it is posting opinions over the political-class. The government needs to focus more on listening to what the people have to say instead of shutting them. People’s opinions need to be voiced and heard and it’s time the government starts listening, instead of misusing the law as per its convenience. The Centre needs to take action against officials who misuse the law and also educate them in order to ensure that such instances don’t ever take place again. Citizens need to feel safe instead of worrying about whether they will be arrested for voicing their opinion.
Apurva Seth, Management Student
There should be moral policing on online posts
What if you were asked to stop posting personal opinions about everyone and everything over the Internet? You will feel suffocated. That’s where we are heading, if we go by the recent events. We have grown up with freedom of speech, freedom of opinion and right to express. The recent actions taken against those voicing opinions on social media indicate that we are looking at a mixture of communism and dictatorship in our country. If the basic right of expression and communicating over social forums, blogs, newspapers, etc. start getting curbed, we shall no longer be the ‘social’ animals that we are. We will turn into controlled robots. It’s time India revisited its laws and mechanisms.
On the other hand, there should be some moral policing on posts/opinions as well that sensitise or flare up issues online. Internet can result into a wildfire like situation, which can lead to dangerous consequences. But who will define the boundaries? We are yet to find an answer to that.
Pritesh Shah, Citizen
Definition of crimes as per IT Act is vague
Curbing any form of criticism – online or offline, shouldn’t be allowed. Even the recent amendment where only the presiding DCP or of similar rank can proceed with a case under Section 66(A), seems to me like the legal version of gundaraaj. Apart from being allowed to vote freely, I don’t know what else does democracy mean in India. I’ve been denied an apartment on rent just because I’m a Muslim. If I can be denied a roof above my head, I’m not confident about being able to practice the freedom of being allowed to say whatever I want for too long. The IT Act represents only one half of the side. And the definitions of any crime perpetrated under it are too vague. That loophole needs to be fixed to ensure that the IT Act isn’t misused.
Sahil Khan, Founder, thetossedsalad.com