Two Palghar girls, their families, and the lawyer who represented them on Tuesday welcomed the Supreme Court decision to hold unconstitutional provisions of Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act.
Close friends Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan were arrested after Shaheen posted a status update on Facebook on the day Shiv Sena enforced a bandh, crippling life in Mumbai, Thane, and Navi Mumbai on the day of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s funeral on November 18, 2012. Rinu was booked for merely clicking ‘like’ on the post.
Reacting to the Supreme Court decision, advocate Sudhir Gupta, who represented Shaheen and Rinu, told The Hindu, “It was a VIP section. If you see, in most of the cases, it was used under political pressure. It targeted the youth, as they hold key to the Internet revolution today,”
He said the ‘VIP and political culture’ of the country has got many youths into trouble for merely expressing themselves. “Even today, people think twice before writing anything on social media,” he said.
Mr. Gupta also expressed fear that the Supreme Court verdict might not change anything at the ground level. “There are so many good Supreme Court judgments. But nothing percolates to the lower judiciary and the police, which go on grossly misusing their powers,” he said, adding that no one takes the rights of the arrested person seriously.
“The constitutional rights, fundamental rights of the arrested person are hardly taken seriously in the lower judiciary,” he said.
Though the arrest sparked immediate outrage in the media, and built pressure on the government to quash charges against the girls, the episode caused them considerable mental agony and affected their lives in other ways, Rinu’s and Shaheen’s family members told The Hindu .
Rinu, for instance, had to defer her admission into an audio engineering diploma programme in Kerala by six months. Shaheen’s father Farukh Dhada, too, said even though the family has always stood by Shaheen, a police case against a family member left its stigma.
“Even though violating Section 66A of the IT Act was a bailable offence, police also slapped the non-bailable Section 295-A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code compounding our problems. This was unwarranted,” said Mr. Dhada.
Even though both families were critical of the now quashed provision, according to Rinu, some restriction on online content was justified. “Posts should not be abusive. Of course, in arresting us, the police did grave injustice as there was nothing offensive in Shaheen’s post. This can’t be said about every post as there are many which are vulgar and indecent,” she said adding that since the incident, she was extra cautious about what she posted.
Soon after their arrests, both Shaheen and Rinu had become poster girls for right to freedom of speech and expression with institutions from Mumbai University to Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) inviting them to share their experience. On the day, the verdict was delivered neither was present in Palghar. While Shaheen got married in January 2014 and is now settled in Bengaluru, Rinu is currently on a trip to Ahmedabad.