Recent Facebook misadventure of Shaheen Dhadha raises a lot of question on current state of law in the Democratic Republic of India. We are said to have gained independence back in 1947 (I was not present then so I chose to believe as I am told though I could be grossly misinformed of the events before my birth). So, as I know this independence was gained mostly through nonviolent means which majorly involved showing your protest through writings – poems, pamphlets and sometimes direct slogans. Those were the methods which were endorsed by many leaders whom we keep in high respect even today. Our constitution has always given us rights to protest against any kind of activity, ruling or suggestion if we do not like it if we are not any manner causing harm to tangible and intangible property of nation and others. Protest in form of writing and petitions are considered to be the best form and are totally in ambit of our constitution. Then how doing that landed someone in Jail.
If we examine the arrest closely they were done under Section 295 (a) of the IPC (for hurting religious sentiments) and Section 64 (a) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. About sentiments, who decide that what is offensive and capable of hurting sentiments? What could be extremely unacceptable to a fundamentalist might go down well with a regular practitioner and be totally acceptable to a liberal. Also how is to ascertain if majority is against the made comment. India has an approximate population of 1.2 billion, even a community which is 0.1 % of this population numbers to 12000000 people. If a comment is said to offend majority of this community then there must be at least 6000001 people from that community who come out and say they are hurt. Coming back to Shaheen’s case what it looks like she was said to have hurt religious sentiment and the religion here in question seems to be (I could be totally wrong about it) Hinduism. Now, Hindus constitute roughly 80% population of India i.e. approx. 960000000 people and to hurt sentiment of majority of this religion something should offend at least 480000000 people. Now questions are, did so many people read her status? Do so many people have access to internet? What reasons police had to believe before arresting her that her message has reached so many people and they are definitely affected by it?
Now the IT Act, Section 64(a) doesn’t deal with content displayed on social networking site it rather has something to do with digital signatures and frauds (not being from law background am not sure about exact wordings). So, 64(a) doesn’t apply, I would say it must have been reporting error, and they might have booked her under 66(a) which deals with offensive message through electronic medium and communicative device. This again brings us back to the basis of analysis on which a comment could be considered offensive to a group of people, and another question why anything under this act would need a judicial custody for 14 days?
All of this can be summed up as a gross misuse of law and unawareness of law enforcing bodies about their own laws and its applicability.
Another girl was arrested for showing her agreement with the view of former. Now the question is, if those people who got hurt have a right to come together show their dissatisfaction through police complaint and also criminal means, why those who support the view have no such rights. This way you just quashed the support which the person in question could have garnered, and those people who agreed with her could have been more than offended and then your majority would have been in support of the opinion and you were not required to arrest the first one only.
Next, let’s say in due course of time it comes to light that case is not applicable and girl was innocent. It was a mistake on part of police to arrest her and on part of court to give a 14 day judicial custody. Then what is the course of action? As far I understand police officers should be booked under charges of unlawful arrest and detention. But is that enough? What about the mental trauma and defamation those two girls were subjected to? What about misuse of police rights and responsibility? What about bringing nation to shame by such an irresponsible act? Is not every citizen of India then will be right to file against police officers involved a case bringing disrepute to them, their constitution and country?
Next question is on what basis, two girls in question were singled out of many other such status updates. What mechanism did police used to decide to let others with similar status message go off the hook and arrest this one? Did her background or profile give any evidence of her being intentionally trying to instigate people and offend their sentiments?
At what level police decides that how swift the action taken should be and how immediately a charge sheet to be filed to take a judicial custody? What was the reason behind police putting together their act with such speed here? Had police shown same swiftness in tracking down the person if the same post has been put up anonymously?
I am not expecting these questions to answered by authorities, at best am hoping to not to be charged under sedition or some other similar law. In a couple of days news will die out, the traumatized family of girls will probably not utter a word and girls will quietly visit police station every Wednesday till charges are dropped. I don’t expect anyone compensating her uncle for losses he incurred at his clinic, he will probably try to set things back up in couple of days and go ahead with his daily routine. Life will back same for all of us. But, the question is how long will it be same? What we are seeing today happening here is systematic destruction of freedom. Our constitutional rights are being taken away from us day by day and we are being made to believe that they never existed. Writers, Businessman, Cartoonist and now a simple 20 something girl, one by one people from every faction of society are being targeted and made to believe that keeping quite is the best you can do. It’s a monarchy in making. To establish rules in new land old invading kings were used to suppress population so much that once they are established no one will be in a position to protest against them. Aren’t we seeing something similar here? Suppression, revolution and liberation go in cycles. We can bring one or wait for one to happen, but till then stay gagged in your homeland!