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The Free Speech and Expression in a Debacle

People are confused today. Is criticizing a policy program of the government “Antinational”? Does blaming the Prime Minister or Chief Minister of any states – a seditious act? Does performance depicting the dark side of a powerful person running the country a crime?
A news report appeared at this newspaper under the heading “Girl student studying class iv along with her mother and teacher slapped with a sedition charge for projecting Prime Minister in poor light skit presentation” is a serious issue which needs to be pondered by every citizen of the country. There are several cases where citizens are abused by goons, arrested under sedition charges by government machinery for uploading post criticizing individuals or the government functionaries at social networking sites.
Earlier, before the coming of the internet, when newspapers, Television, Theatre, Public Meeting, and Cinemas are medium of commenting to the act of any government machinery or political parties or say to any individual, the first action received was a legal notice under defamation or sedition laws. Those days only a few people can comment on critical ways, and those few people happened to be prominent figures and laws hardly find evidence to prove their criticism as derogatory, seditious or defamatory. Maybe the actors of those days presented their criticism after a thorough knowledge of the law of this land.
Right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed to all the citizens of the country under Article 19 (1)(a) on the condition that this freedom of speech and expression shall not affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law or affect interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India as well as the security of the State. The free speech and expression are also limited when it affects friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or concerning contempt of court.
Now after the coming of the internet and invention of social networking software which makes every individual irrespective of their status or educational qualification or ages now get connected. Any idea of any individual is today seen uploaded by almost all people who access the social networking site particularly the ‘Facebook’. In the last couple of years, these social networking sites are being used as a tool for political purpose by some highly trained professionals. But there are still many people who care nothing about politics but use to express their idea to the social networking site either in good ways or bad ways.
To control this medium, the government amended the Information Technology Act, 2000 in 2008 and get assent from the President on February 5, 2009. Section of the amended IT act sanctioned authority the government machinery to punish any person who sends, information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
This section 66 A of the IT act was however struck down in 2015 by a division bench of Supreme Court relating to restrictions on online speech, as unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The Court further held that the Section was not saved by being a ‘reasonable restriction’ on the freedom of speech under Article 19(2).
However, a news report appeared in The Hindu newspaper that said that on January 7, 2019, said that the 66A of the IT Act already struck down by the Supreme Court was found to be still in use.
However, in the state of Manipur, those arrested in connection with uploading the post which the government felt it derogatory are charged under the sedition act. Under Section 124A. Sedition
Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.
The argument that arises here is that any person if acted against the restriction which is punishable can be dealt with under this act. If the act of the person has no impact and if such action fails to disturb the tranquility of the society without giving any hindrance to the law and order condition, can this person be liable to charge under the act, considering that the person is considered abnormal?
Coming back to the news report regarding the arrest of three female including a class IV student in for performing a skit that the government machinery felt it as a humiliation to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a school function at an Urdu primary school in Bidar in Karnataka, it seems that even talents and artistic peaceful performances are going to be put under strict surveillance. Maybe Films that depict the morals of some MLAs or political party leaders may also be banned. Even Singers may also be targeted some days that is presumably not far from today

Rinku Khumukcham

Rinku Khumukcham, Editor of Imphal Times has more than 15+ years in the field of Journalism. A seasoned editor, was a former editor of ISTV News. He resides in Keishamthong Elangbam Leikai, with his wife and parents. Rinku can be contacted at [email protected] 

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