Onus on All to Honour Right to Free Speech

Published: 25th March 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th March 2015 10:41 PM   |  A+A-

The Supreme Court has struck down Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, which allows police to arrest people for posting “offensive content” on the Internet. It, however, allows the government to block websites if their content have the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India’s relationship with other nations. The verdict is a timely intervention as the provision made sending information of “grossly offensive or menacing character” punishable by up to three years in jail and was being widely abused by state governments to target opponents and dissidence.

Unfortunately for the Modi government, the court verdict has caught it on the wrong foot. The BJP could have been on the winning side of the battle over Section 66A as it had dubbed it draconian when the UPA introduced it. Nothing would have signalled a dramatic break from the UPA’s past as much as the new government telling the Supreme Court it recognised that Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act was unconstitutional, untenable and violated the right of citizens to freedom of expression. Instead by supporting the provision it now has to suffer the ignominy of being told all those things by the Supreme Court.

The apex court has not just restored a sense of balance on which democracy rests, it has also quelled tendencies of hyper-reaction from those in positions of power to the new modes of instant communications that the social media provides. It’s in fitness of things that the course correction has happened during the tenure of a prime minister who grasped the transformational role of the new media before any other Indian politician of his generation and who uses it on a daily basis to keep the citizenry abreast of his views. While the political class needs to learn to be less touchy, it devolves upon the citizen not to get carried away and fritter away a hard-earned right to free speech through irresponsible acts and utterances. As the saying goes, it always takes two to tango.


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