The police and S.66A again……

CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER

It is time for politicians and their civilian aides to brush up the war of words again; the general election knocks at the door and everyone is up to exercise the Rights that actually pillar the core philosophy of democracy. In this course, many Right to free speech chilling laws get tested and the independence of the judiciary is proved again and again. The time has come back with yet another law, S.66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008), which restricts sending offending messages through communication devices in India. This time it is a woman lawyer and human rights activist who is caught in the web world for her exercise of free speech rights under S.66A. While The Hindureported that the accused activist had been sent a legal notice by the complainant and she had also replied to it, I could not ascertain from the news reports whether this accused was given any further chance to prove herself not guilty, as she was reportedly arrested on a police complaint on the same ground by the complainant and sent to judicial custody (See S.Murali, FB posting on T.N.  Governor lands PUCL activist in custody (May14, 2013). Published in The Hindu, pg 1). It is unfortunate to note that this is the same provision which  has been used to arrest the person who had used apparently ‘offensive’, ‘derogatory’ remarks about politicians; the first reported case being  that of a Professor in Kolkata for allegedly distributing cartoons ridiculing  West Bengal chief minister, the second being the case of Palghar girls Facebook case, the third being the case of arrest of  two  Air India employees for their alleged derogatory posts about politicians including the Prime minister of India, the fourth being the case of Twitter posts by a Pondicherry based individual commenting about politician and union minister P. Chidambaram’s son ( see for chronology India’s dilemma continues as highlighted by Subhajit Basu. http://works.bepress.com/subhajitbasu/76/) . Supporters of Free speech demanded the amendment of S.66A due to such thought less misuse of the provision. But at the same time, it has also been understood that the law has some potentials to restrict offensive, unwanted, derogatory speech when it comes harassment of true victims, especially women. I am one of the supporters of S.66A due to it’s this very quality. But consider the statement of the Twitter post accused Ravi, who argued “they could have sent me lawyer’s notice or investigated the complaint before taking action” (see PrasadKrishna, Post and be Damned (Nov 19, 2012), published in http://cis-india.org/news/telegraphindia-opinion-story-kavitha-shanmugham-nov-14-2012-post-and-be-damned). This statement holds the key to quiz the action of the complainants who drove the police to take action in all these cases. S. 66A in its starting phrase in clause (b) puts a water-mark caution by stating that “any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing….”; the provision thus clearly shifts the burden of proof on the person who posts the information and by this the ‘sender’ becomes protected by due process of law. Time and again, this important factor in the apparently controversial S.66A has been over looked by those who wished to use the State to gag the right to free speech without following proper process established by legal rules. Unfortunately, such persons had been successful due to their heavily influential positions and less aware police force. This has been proved in the Palghar Facebook case (see http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-11-19/india/35204312_1_arrest-state-bandh-prithviraj-chavanhttp://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-11-19/india/35204312_1_arrest-state-bandh-prithviraj-chavan).
It is ironical to note the common man’s observation in this regard; in the comment section of the NDTV news website(see http://www.ndtv.com/article/south/woman-human-rights-officer-arrested-for-posting-objectionable-content-on-facebook-account-366280?pfrom=home-lateststories) where this report is published, many persons have expressed their anguish over how the police and the law are up to help the politicians and not the ordinary civilians who may become victims of harassing, abusive, defamatory posts. True!  Such quick reaction from the police is still a distant dream for many victims, majority of who are women. It is further ironical to note that while instantly the posts in the above cases are taken down or the concerned social media are contacted to take down the offensive information, many women victims in actual on-line defamatory cases continue to languish due to slow process of investigation. It needs to be remembered that Police should be used as a machinery to prevent imminent danger to really needy victims and not as a tool to stop the due process of laws by those who can afford to roll it. Understandably costs of hiring a lawyer and sending notice to the alleged harasser may not be affordable for many women who may be financially dependent  on the male members of the family ( I observed this in my presentation in Sweden Criminology Symposium in 2012. The excerpts of my findings are compiled by Johanna Hagstedt, in “Risk behaviours increase exposure to cyber crime” (October 5, 2012) Available @ http://www.criminologysymposium.com/symposium/event-information/2012/archive/news/2012-10-05-risk-behaviours-increase-exposure-to-cyber-crime.html). This makes the police the last hope for the victims. Let us hope that the supremacy of the fair process of laws is established again and the society understands the actual role of the police.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/write-up/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2013), “The police and S.66A again……” 14th May, 2013, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/ 

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