Facebook and Free Speech in India by Sam Kligman


How much can you say online without getting arrested in India? Apparently it doesn’t take much now due to a little-known provision of India’s information technology act known as the 66A. This article points out examples to support the claims. For instance, Shaheen Dhada, a “member of a prominent Muslim family in the town of Palghar” was arrested for her negative Facebook comments about Bal Thackeray, recently deceased leader of the nationalist Hindu party. Moreover, businessman Ravi Srinivasan was arrested for “defamatory/scurrilous tweets” and cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested for “sketches he posted online that attacked government corruption.” All of these instances have been met with public outrage as those who were previously used to having more free speech rights become afraid of the direction the government is going toward. In fact, many got together to petition section 66A in India’s Supreme Court claiming that it violates Indians’ constitutional rights. However, it has been kept in place for the time being with the attorney general’s assurance that the government would be tightening guidelines to check abuse of this section. It is shocking to me that such a guideline ever even passed in India who is known for being open-minded and democratic. Furthermore, I believe it indicates that the Indian government feels threatened by its citizens’ exchange of opinions because it fears that their dissatisfaction is more widespread which if not curbed could lead to organized dissent. This argument might not be agreeable to some but I fail to see any other reason why the government should censor and punish its citizens are sharing their thoughts unless they can actually cause the severe “annoyance, inconvenience, hatred, danger, obstruction, or insult” that 66A is purportedly intended to curb. As the presence and use of online technology grows in India I have to wonder – where will the government settle on to draw the lines about what is “dangerous” and what isn’t?

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