In this era of information revolution, internet has become a part and parcel of our daily life. Over a decade ago internet was used only at selected places like corporate world but today a large section of the society is using it and reaping its benefits. The internet has become a cornucopia of knowledge as it is abound with blogs and myriads of information. This apart, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have brought people closer, enabling them to stay connected. Altogether a new platform has emerged for exchange of information and expressing of feelings. Though the boom in information and technology has brought out many positive changes, it has also left some negative impact on society. The government is facing heat as some people are misusing the internet in the name of freedom of expression. Sometimes the comments made on social sites hurt the sentiments of people and tarnish their images. Objectionable comments made on religious lines trigger disputes and anarchism.
Problems relating to the internet are graver as there is no restriction and people feel free to write and express whatever comes up to their minds. On the other hand the print and electronic media do have provisions to check and delete any objectionable contents. The editors in newspapers allow publication after analysing the contents. However, if any objectionable news is published, the editor takes the responsibility of it. The editor is therefore always careful and meticulous in publishing the contents so as not to hurt sentiments of the people, but such practices are conspicuous by their absence in social media sites.
Several countries have taken steps in this regard and made certain rules and regulations to check abuse of the social media sites. In India too there is a provision of imprisonment up to 3 years under section 66A of the IT act if a person is found guilty of hurting public sentiments and tarnishing their images. But the recent incidents show how the IT rule has been bent by law enforcement agency in order to please some politicians. Whether it is the arrest of the professor involved in making a cartoon of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee or the arrest of Mumbai girls for making comments on Bal Thackeray or the action taken against the youths for making comments against Chidambaram and Raj Thackeray, the police’s action only became a matter of criticism. There is no surprising that that the Supreme Court frowned at the arrest of two Mumbai girls. The reaction of the Apex Court was natural as these incidents have sent a wrong message indicating that anyone caught speaking against a politician would meet the same fate. It is profound irony that those politicians in whose case the police showed unnecessary swiftness in making arrests did not object to it, rather they justified the action.
If India takes a pride on its democratic establishment and constitution, earning more respect than China from the world community, it is only because the people of this country have been guaranteed freedom of speech by the constitution. But the cases of police action against the users of social media sites have indicated that the freedom in this regard is nothing but a myth which can be crushed by state machinery at any point of time. It is also being observed that meaning of freedom in case of politicians is quite different from that of common citizens. It is a stark reality which our politicians also understand. On the one hand, the cases of restraining the rights of common people are quite frequent, on the other politicians are free to speak anything anywhere. Many a times the Election Commission of India takes cognizance of the objectionable and unreasonable statements made by politicians, but at the end, no action is taken against them. Just recently, Markandey Katju, chairman of press council of India, wrote a letter to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on misconducts of the politicians. But the response he received cannot be held proper. It is palpable that no action will be taken in this context. On the contrary, had the similar thing been done by any common people, he or she would have been put behind bars. It is difficult to understand this partiality in implementation of laws especially when every citizen of the country has been guaranteed equal freedom and fundamental rights.
On arrest of two girls in Mumbai, the Supreme Court took cognizance of the police action and sought to know about the ground on which the girls were arrested. But it would have been more pertinent to ask the police that on whose direction they arrested the girls. The bias of police is really irking when they are found to have double standard while acting against an influential person and a common citizen for similar offence. Politicians in our country are already wielding many privileges, but it is irony that their rights are not clearly defined that enables them to take wrong advantage of this situation. It would be wise if the Supreme Court reviews the relevance of section 66A of the IT act as well as traces the reason why the police, acting at the behest of the politicians, consider the small offences of common people as a punishable offence. A debate should also be conducted on why common people feel second class citizen of the country in front of a politician. Which are those privileges that make a politician believe that he is holding aristocratic position? There is a need of discussion on such thing because political leaders are relishing special status by dint of common people.
(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on December 2, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)