By: Natasha Meserve
Section 66 provision of the Information Technology Act passed by India’s legislature attempted to control cyber bullying, stalking and other online threats. In this effort however, the law was implemented in a very broad manner by the authorities. This led to the arrest of two women who posted on their own social media sites about the city of Mumbai shutting down after a notorious politician’s death in 2012. This criticism of local government was all the grounds needed for authorities to take matters into their own hands. Other arrests have been made since then regarding comments posted on social media sites, with the government holding to its original reasoning that it prevents people from posting offensive material online against the Act.
The Supreme Court of India took the case after a law student decided to take action by starting a petition in 2012 against the harsh implementation of the Act, challenged the provision. The provision carries a three-year jail time for violations, which included simply “liking” one of the supposedly offensive comments. The Supreme Court stated in their opinion, ““Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19 (1) (a) and not saved under Article 19 (2),” the court said in its judgment, referring to the portion of the Indian constitution that guarantees every citizen the right to free speech and expression.” The actual wording of the law describes content that is “grossly offensive” and “causing inconvenience, annoyance…or hatred” which was said to be too vague to be construed properly and was thus stuck down. There are still other provisions that sallow the government to block certain online content from YouTube and Facebook if the sites do not comply with their censorship requirements.
In addition to this law, the recent political party in power in India has passed a number of bans. Considering India is the world’s largest democracy, the amount of control and oppression against the people in regards to online content and personal freedoms is shocking. These laws are being implemented to their full power and as a result, innocent people are giving jail time for posting their opinions on their own social media page. This control can be traced to the fact that despite a freedom of speech and expression in the constitution of India, the amendment is not that similar to the First Amendment rights in the United States Constitution. Society and cultural norms dictate a tremendous amount of law and implementation of principles in India, the traditions are old and change is slow. The government enacts legislation that seeks to minimize turbulence in the country that leads to the laws passed to be at odds with the democratic ideals that are looked to in a democratic state.
Given the additional bans on beef in the state of Maharashtra and the very controversial ban of the BBC documentary, “India’s Daughter,” which was filmed on the topic of the incessant violence and disregard of women in regards to the sickeningly rising number of rapes and sexual assault of women in India. The idea of freedom of speech and expression should be allowed to its full extent, by making the government come out of their comfort zone to face the dark side of India’s society in order to create a better society and country for its people. Merely shutting down any visible signs of violence or offensive material will not stop it, these large, sweeping bans do nothing but incur secrecy and illegal markets to flourish. As an American citizen, I hold dear my right to critique and express myself on any subject, which in its irony I can do so in the United States but might face penalties if I posted this blog in my home country of India.
India needs to begin to change its legislation and methods of thinking to keep up with the rest of the world. In this modern age of technology and transparency, every possible subject matter will come to light, and India should seek to use it for good. Realizing that open debate and criticism of politicians allows for a better democracy and government legislation, which benefit and positively impact its people is what is needed to put India at the forefront of the global scene. Hopefully, now that this provision has been struck down, the other laws will come under scrutiny and the Supreme Court will make objective, fair and helpful analysis of overbearing laws passed in this country. India needs this now more than ever, because it is falling back into medieval control of its people instead of evolving itself to be a great democracy and truly being as great as it has the potential to be.