R.I.P. Section 66A, Long Live Free Speech

To speak freely is to live. To be steal this is to rob the river of eddies, the bird of its wings and fire of light. To speak freely without censorship is the seat of progress. Without freedom of thought and expression, there exists no humanity.

R.I.P. Section 66A, Long Live Free SpeechSycophantic bards and noblemen have always been showered with support from the totalitarian ruler. The monarch/dictator is usually a sucker for praises and entirely opposed to criticism of his rule in any form. Bans, sadistic punishments and executions have been experienced by those who stood against the oppressive rulers by expressing their concern for the society through their strong critiques. The founders of our democratic nation had this in mind before drafting the constitution.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression to the citizens of India. This ensured that an individual citizen could express his opinion to his fellow citizens no matter what the content was. About 6 years ago, the ratification of the amendments to the IT Act empowered those in power to simply dust away even the individuals who might jeopardize the politician’s position by changing public opinion against them. Free speech in its contemporarily most important form – online, was to be closely monitored and those who might even instigate a seemingly harmless public discussion could be “punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine”.

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”  ― George Washington

Citing possible prevention of acts of terrorism and Government destabilization, the Lok Sabha’s hurried ratification of the amendment to the IT Act in 2009 spelled death to free speech. Voicing thoughts of any kind had become intolerable by a small minority and punishments were swiftly meted out. The Palghar girls were arrested within a day after their Facebook update while several violent negative elements in the society roamed free (with political support). A professor who posted a cartoon ridiculing a state leader’s party and government was arrested while white collared criminals escaped (again with political support) without even minor interventions from the Police.

Rapid dissemination of information to bring about positive changes in the society is the characteristic feature of free speech in social media. Medical, socio-political and practically comprehensive educational awareness is possible only through free speech. Ironically, free speech on social media is the same strategy used by politicians for propaganda.

But the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the controversial law on March 24, 2015, has now made it possible for us to breathe freely again. Through the collective efforts of those few enlightened beings (like Shreya Singhal) fighting for the basic rights of the common man, the government’s totalitarian grasp has now been loosened. The ambiguous and unfair section 66A shall no more lead to wrongful punishment of individuals.

Score – 2 for Free Speech, 1 for Totalitarian Government.

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