The first ever documented facts on freedom of speech were way back in 399BC when Socrates speaks to jury at his trial: ‘If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind… I should say to you, “Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”‘ Cut two, 2015: Supreme Court struck down Article 66A and the freedom of speech and expressions prevails. Will it happen? Not until we decide to take care of the following:
Awareness of rights and responsibilities
We all know that the rights and responsibilities are the two sides of the same coin. Before demanding for your rights as the citizens of a country, one must abide by the rules too. While the article 19(1)(a) does gives us the right to freedom of speech and expression, it also has the conditional clause of “reasonable restrictions” under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India, on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression on the following grounds:
• Security of State
• Friendly relations with foreign states
• Public Order
• Decency or morality
• Contempt of Court
• Incitement to an offense
• Sovereignty and integrity of India
So next time you are too excited to share your opinion in any of the public forums, keep the above in mind.
Expanding the horizon
The bone of content during the recent petition filed was between the people exploiting their rights in uniform or position and the young innocuous people who are not even aware of the consequences of their remarks on the social networking sites. With the exponential rise in both, the cyberspace users and the cyber crimes in India, the government needs to have the proactive approach rather than reacting late. An annual training to all the stakeholders from the police to the investigators and courts must be made mandatory. Also, NGO’s, educators and cyber experts can be roped in to educate all the citizens in the responsible use of Internet of everything (IoE). A basic toolkit will also be a great idea that can be provided to all those involved in skill development programmes. Cyber literacy should be integrated into the curriculum rather than having the highest statistics in blocking the content and websites.
Decoding the Indian constitution
“It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately, invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right. The definition of offences under the provision was “open-ended and undefined”. The information dispersed over the Internet need not be information which ‘incites’ anybody at all. Written words may be sent that may be purely in the realm of ‘discussion’ or ‘advocacy’ of a ‘particular point of view’. Further, the mere causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, etc., or being grossly offensive or having a menacing character is not offences under the [Indian] Penal Code at all. Every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another. What may cause annoyance or inconvenience to one may not cause annoyance or inconvenience to another.”
-Supreme Court (sic.)
At this hour in our country, if we talk about religious sentiments, politically-driven agendas, hatred for certain celebrities for varied reasons etc all, the netizens express their opinions about the aforementioned and it might be liked or disliked by an individual. However when does that opinion become an offence, is something to ponder upon. The definition of ‘grossly offensive’, ‘annoyance’, ‘danger’, etc. with respect to the cyber world needs to be charted out in detail in our legal dictionary. Decoding the constitution will pave the way to less or negligible misuse of law.
Establishing the stratum of intelligentsia
The explosion of cybermedia is waiting so we better be prepared and preventive for it! A panel of the intelligentsia- cyber forensic, cyber law, cyber security experts; psychologists; policymakers; educators are our prevention kit. The rate at which our technology is updating, the blaze at which we are exploring the cyberspace and the reach it has and will have; our laws and ideas need to catch up, update and review itself periodically.
Let’s not forget that “Early bird catches the worm”.
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