Free speech champion

Shreya Singhal filed a petition 2 years ago challenging Section 66-A

March 25, 2015 03:51 am | Updated November 28, 2021 07:39 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Shreya Singhal, petitioner, after the Supreme Court strikes down Section 66A. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Shreya Singhal, petitioner, after the Supreme Court strikes down Section 66A. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Shreya Singhal, who likes listening to alternative music by the likes of Chet Faker and Banks, has just finished reading Donna Tarrt’s The Secret History and describes herself as a “mild tabloid addict.” Sounds like any other 20-something? Not quite.

About two years ago, she filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of Section 66A.

On Tuesday, Ms. Singhal, along with the Supreme Court, emerged as a free speech game changer in the eyes of scores of freedom of speech campaigners, online activists, bloggers and social media users.

“That time, within a span of two months, four people were arrested under the Act, including a businessman in Puducherry, two girls in Maharashtra, a cartoonist ... one of the arrests was for liking a comment on Facebook. I was shocked ... why were people being arrested for posting stuff online ... that is when I decided to file this petition,” she told The Hindu .

Ms. Singhal, who is studying Law at Delhi University, comes from a family of lawyers. Her mother, Manali Singhal, practises in the Supreme Court. Her grandmother Sunanda Bhandare was a Delhi High Court judge.

Prime motivation

On Tuesday, when the Supreme Court struck down Section 66(A) as unconstitutional, Ms. Singhal felt vindicated. The prime motivation for filing the petition, she says, was the pervasiveness of the section. “I felt it could happen to me, my friends ... to you ... because anything can end up annoying, provoking anyone ... we are such a society. What bothered me was that you could say the same things on TV news debates or in print and nothing would happen … but if someone said something online or even shared something that could end up provoking another person, they were liable to be prosecuted,” she says.

She says successive governments have tried to control expression on the Internet because the medium connects a large universe with a wide variety of views.

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