Updated: July 14, 2021 7:40:35 pm
How they fought, what they wrote — the men and women whose petitions and posts on social media led to the supreme court order striking down section 66A of IT Act.
Shaheen Dhada & Rinu Srinivasan of Palghar were at the centre of the first petition — by Shreya Singhal. When Mumbai saw a shutdown following Bal Thackeray’s death in 2012, Shaheen posted on Facebook, “Every day thousands of people die. But still the world moves on… Just due to one politician dead. A natural death. Every one goes crazy… Respect is earned not given out, definitely not forced. Today Mumbai shuts down due to fear not due to respect.” Rinu, who “liked” the post, commented: “Everyone know it’s done because of fear!!! We agree that he has done a lot of good things. also we respect him, it doesn’t make sense to shut down everything! Respect can be shown in many other ways!” Detained for 10 days, they were first charged under IPC for spreading hatred and then under Section 66A of the IT Act. While happy with Tuesday’s verdict, Rinu said, “While using digital space, one needs to ensure their actions don’t hurt others.” Shaheen’s uncle A G Dahada said, “The girls went through immense trauma but justice has been done.”
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Shreya Singhal, 24, a Delhi-based law student, was the first to challenge the law in court after the arrest of Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan of Palghar in 2012. Shreya contended Section 66A goes against the right to free speech as enshrined in India’s Constitution. Her PIL cited the twin arrests as evidence that the law, though meant to protect citizens from defamation, can be used to restrict freedom of expression. She described the two-and-a-half years she spent in the courtroom as a first-hand lesson. Singhal, who is not on Twitter, will be a fifth-generation lawyer from her family and has said she filed the PIL when her mother encouraged her to do so to channel her anger over the arrest of Dhada and Srinivasan.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, independent Rajya Sabha MP, filed a PIL in 2013 arguing that Section 66A is unconstitutional because in the name of securing the Internet and in the name of preventing abuse of the Internet, government and government bureaucrats were overreaching and trespassing on the constitutional right of free speech. On Tuesday, he said, “By repealing Section 66 A, India is now ready for a technological leap, which the government’s laudable Digital India program shall foster.” He tweeted: “#sec66a victory: It takes a #PIL to undo the damage that #UPA caused by passing #ITACTAmendments in 7 minutes flat! #freespeechwins” and “#section66a struck downn!! VICTORY!!!! my petition in supreme court upheld!! #transformindia.”
Faisal fariooqui, one of the petitioners, is founder-CEO of MouthShut.com, a user-generated content and consumer review website. He had challenged section 66A. “This verdict will lead to a transformation of the Indian economy into that of a digital economy. Now people have the freedom to post online,” he said. He explains why he filed the petition: “This rule hit us. We started getting legal notices — more than 800. In April 2013, we filed the writ petition and challenged the content removal aspect.” About the possibility of hate posts with Section 66A struck down, he said: “Most good websites have terms and services… Nobody would like to host libellous content.”
Cartoonist vs Didi
Ambikesh Mahapatra, a Jadavpur University professor, was among the petitioners. Mahapatra and his neighbour Subrata Sengupta were arrested for circulating a cartoon that mocked West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in 2012. The cartoon, based on a scene from Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella, showed Mamata pointing at the logo of Indian Railways and telling Mukul Roy: ‘See Mukul, Sonar Kella.” Roy points to Dinesh Trivedi and exclaims: “That’s an evil man!!!” Mamata says: “Evil man, vanish!”
The other cartoonist
Aseem Trivedi, the other cartoonist arrested under 66A in 2012, too was among the petitioners. Mumbai police arrested him for cartoons, shared on social media, that mocked Parliament and corruption in high places. One cartoon depicted Parliament as a giant commode and showed in the national emblem wolves rather than lions, with the words “Bhrashtameva jayate” instead of “Satyameva jayate”. Also charged with sedition, Trivedi refused to accept bail until that charge was dropped. On March 18 this year, the court said that even strongly worded comments used to show disapproval of the government’s actions will not amount to sedition if they do not instigate public to resort to violence.
Azam Khan reference
A Class XI student of Bareilly was arrested by Rampur police in March, after he allegedly posted a Facebook comment that was attributed to UP minister Azam Khan. The post quotes Azam as having made a communal comment. The boy’s was another case that Shreya Singhal took up. He was booked under the IT Act’s Section 66A as well as IPC sections relating to promoting enmity and inciting communal tension. Later, he got bail.
12 people & a crossword
Eleven students of Sree Krishna College, Thrissur, as well as their principal were accused under IT Act Section 66A and nine of them were arrested in June 2014. Their case was the subject of a petition by Anoop M K, one among the bunch that the Supreme Court had taken up. Their online magazine Name was found to have used “objectionable and unsavoury” language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi — in the form of a clue to a crossword puzzle. It used Modi’s nickname NaMo as the crossword clue, for which the purported solution was an invective. They were also accused of defaming Oommen Chandy, Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor as well as spiritual leader Mata Amrithanandamayi. The students, who belonged to the SFI, were later released on bail. The complaints, their friends alleged, were lodged by ABVP and KSU activists.
Author and campaigner
Taslima Nasreen too filed a petition against 66A. In November 2013, one Hasan Raza Khan Noori Miyan lodged an FIR in Bareilly accusing the Bangladeshi author of hurting religious sentiments of the Muslim community via social media. “In India, criminals who issue fatwas (edict) against women don’t get punished,” read one tweet. “Since independence, Indian politicians have been seeking help of clerics who don’t respect human rights,free speech and the Constitution,” read another tweet. A third went, “Indians shd speak up against fanatics who vitiate society & push it backward & politicians who encourage them. Else, it’s bad news for democracy.” The police this year filed a closure report; the court went on to acqui Taslima.
Compiled by aleesha matharu; Vishnu Varma spoke to Faisal Farooqui.
Karti’s critic, obscene uploads and others 66A got to
Tamil Nadu: Twitter Ravi vs Karti
In October 2012, Ravi Srinivasan, owner of a small plastic manufacturing unit in Pondicherry put a post on Twitter saying that P Chidambaram’s son Karti had amassed more wealth than Robert Vadra. This would make him “Twitter Ravi”. “I put up that post after reading media reports about the wealth of Chidambaram. By that evening, Karti had sent a complaint from the US by fax message to Pondicherry police,” Ravi says. “I had no personal or political agenda. The next day, around 5 am, police arrested me under Section 66A from my home near Pondicherry town. I only had 16 followers on Twitter then,” adds Srinivasan, who now has more than 2,000 followers. “Although I got out on bail the same evening, I am still fighting the case. I have already spent more than Rs 40,000 on this legal battle,” says Srinivasan, father of two daughters in their twenties, as he welcomes the court order.
Maharashtra: Palghar, cartoonist and more
Besides Palghar girls Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan and Kanpur cartoonist Aseem Trivedi (arrested by Mumbai police), another prominent case in Mumbai involved two Air Indian employees, Mayank Mohan Sharma and K V J Rao, who were arrested in November 2012 for uploading content against the PM and allegedly insulting the national flag. They were kept in custody for 12 days before being granted bail. In Pune, the cyber cell in 2012 arrested Amit Chandrakant Jadhav, 27, of Mumbai for allegedly uploading a doctored image of Ajit Pawar on Facebook. The same year, following attacks on people from the Northeast, the cyber cell arrested Mumbai-based teacher Sharif Ahmed Bashir Siddiqui for allegedly uploading a provocative video on YouTube.
Karnataka: Wrong arrest and obscenities
Last May, Bangalore police arrested MBA student Syed Vaqas, 23, following a complaint by social activist Jayanth Tinaikar, who accused Vaqas of circulating a WhatsApp message supposedly showing Narendra Modi’s “funeral” with the words “Ab ki bar antim sanskar”. He was released after police found he was innocent. Many of the cases in Karnataka relate to obscene remarks. Last July, Bangalore police arrested Vishnu R Bhat, 45, a newspaper columnist with right-wing leanings, for posting a obscene comment on the Facebook wall of a rationalist, Prabha N Belavangala, after she had questioned the need for pujas and religious ceremonies while inaugurating government projects. He later got bail. In November, Bangalore police arrested two persons for posting obscene comments on the Facebook page of a woman. Also, farmer Sanath Palapaddi and insurance agent Santosh were arrested for abusive and obscene posts questioning the virtues of a young woman on her Facebook page. They too got bail.
Orissa: Sexual references on Facebook posts
Last July, Dilip Kumar Panda, 25, of Puri was arrested by Rourkela police after a man lodged a complaint that his wife’s photographs were published on a Facebook page, ‘Find Odia Sex Partner’. The police claimed to have found that the creator was Panda, an IT expert, who is now on bail. In August, Orissa’s cyber crime cell arrested Rajaram Biswal, 28, a computer applications graduate, for posting obscene photos of a woman on Facebook after opening an account in her name. She had rejected his proposals; he remains in jail. In September, the cell arrested Panchu Pan, 36 and based in Bangalore, for allegedly posting morphed nude photos of a college student in in Cuttack. The girl had never met him. He is yet to be chargesheeted.
Gujarat: Lok Sabha candidate and a husband’s girlfriend
Roshan Shah, 40, an NRI who contested the Lok Sabha elections as an independent from Ahmedabad, was booked by the Ahmedabad crime branch under 66A after he posted a comment on Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel on Facebook. The case is still being probed. In January, Harpreet Kaur, 20, and from Rohtak, was arrested on a complaint that he had posted posted abusive language and obscene pictures on the Facebook account of a woman. “Harpreet was the girlfriend of the woman’s husband,” says V J Rathod, police inspector (cyber crime). Harpreet is on bail. Surat police arrested Raju Chunilal Shah, 38, and Manojkumar Shah, 25, (they later got bail) for allegedly posting a photoshopped picture of a Muslim place of worship, which apparently caused communal tension in Olpad town.
Mizoram: Father and son in Battle with CM
In 2013, residential-school owner K Chhawnthuama allegedly sent “malicious SMS” to Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and was arrested, though not under Section 66A. This month, his son was arrested for a Facebook post in which he said he would “tie up the CM and drag him around on the street” after the CM took a swipe at his father saying he “uses his deceased wife to make money”, referring to a marble tomb the school owner built and which has become a tourist attraction. Other arrests include that of a 19-year-old for Facebook posts blaming a doctor for causing the death of patients, an Aizawl resident for sending a girl’s “dirty pictures and offensive messages” through WhatsApp, a 33-year-old woman for circulating the names and photos of four juveniles in conflict with the law, and a 22-year-old woman for spreading false news about a gangrape and murder.
“I love you hudhud. You are teaching a lesson to all those who betrayed by battering them. Love nature’s fury,” posted C Rahul Reddy, a law student and YSR Congress Party, apparently a reaction to YSR Jaganmohan Reddy’s mother loss from Vizag. He was arrested. In 2013, civil rights activists Vindyala Jaya was arrested for an online post about a Congress MLA from Chirala, saying he was involved in child trafficking, and land and sand mafia.
Chandigarh: 75 cases under 66A, including against Satinder Singh and Jasbir Singh for a WhatsApp message mocking Dera Saccha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
West Bengal: Around 100 cases in last one year.
Chhattisgarh: Youth Congress leader Rais Khan arrested for Facebook posts about Hindu gods, journalists Rajkumar Soni and Narayan Sharma booked for defamatory articles.
Jharkhand: 13 cases in 2013, 23 in 2014 and five in 2015.
Himachal pradesh: Not one case.
ENS, various centres
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