But the Truth is something which social media conveniently ignores, and the trolls are expectedly unaware of – that 66A was authored by my predecessors, not me. And all accusations of “Sibal is anti-socialmedia” are based on hand-me-down perceptions, and no real statement, or order from me or my government.
Yes, I have stood up for the government’s right to empower law enforcement agencies, and act against perpetrators of real crimes such as incitement and harassment.
In fact, I will continue to stand against individuals using the anonymity and reach of the internet to cause harm or stress to individuals and society.
That being said, I react to the elimination of 66A with mixed feelings – Happiness, because it cannot be misused by those in positions of power; Trepidation, that the lack of such a provision will be advantageous to anti-social and criminal elements.
The present government, which had also defended 66A, now seeks new ways to monitor and police the internet.
But the bigger fear today, is the rising intolerance toward beliefs, thoughts, and ideas that are different from those in power and those close to them.
In the following article on my blog, I pause and ask you to reflect on the intent of the government in recent times; pause and reflect on the efforts to influence and channel education and available information, toward a self-serving, damaging agenda of an insular, inward looking nation.
Let us ask, is this what the people of India had in mind, when they handed out their mandate in June 2014?
– Kapil Sibal
There can be no casual or fleeting commitment to fundamental freedoms. Of these, liberty and freedom of expression are at the core of liberal democratic societies.
The recent judgment of the Supreme Court in striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (hereinafter referred to as the Act of 2000) is a welcome step.
It is welcome on two counts: First, it seeks to prohibit State’s intrusive incursions into the right to free speech and expression. Second, it shifts the responsibility to individuals to exercise free speech consistent with societal standards. If these are not adhered to, new challenges will have to be addressed by the Court.
We expect some consistency from those occupying high offices, for whom freedom of expression is a matter of abiding faith.
Selective leaks to the press of speeches made when in Opposition betray the reality. If those in power in the BJP felt that Section 66A of the Act of 2000 was unconstitutional, then nothing prevented this Government from moving a Bill to repeal Section 66A.
The Government need not have invited a judgement from the Court if it did not support Section 66A in its then avatar. That would have convinced us that those in power were consistent in their beliefs and not votaries of opportunistic politics.
Instead, Section 66A was vociferously defended by this Government. This is what they said by way of a Note filed by the Counsel for the Government in the Supreme Court: “It is submitted that it is not the case of the Petitioners that (a) State has no compelling interest in enacting Section 66A and that (b) Other least restrictive means are available to advance the said interest.”
The Government also opposed the contention of the Petitioner that Section 66A suffers from vagueness. It stated the following: “The freedom of speech and expression can never encompass within its sweep the freedom to convey “Information” which are either “grossly offensive” or of “menacing character” as contemplated under Section 66(A) of the Act of 2000 or any “information” sent for the purpose of causing “danger”, “obstruction”, “insult”, “injury”, “criminal intimidation”, “intended hatred and ill-will” as contemplated under Section 66(B) of the said Act.”
Therefore, the statement of some Ministers who say they opposed Section 66A when in Opposition, makes us cynical. It behooves ill of politicians who say one thing when in Opposition and do the opposite when in power.
Commitment to freedom requires a liberal mindset and adherence to values in which the individual and his choices are at the heart of policy prescriptions.
Now let us test this Government’s commitment to freedom…
There is disquiet in the manner in which appointments are sought to be made to the post of Director in IITs. Concerns were expressed by Dr. Anil Kakodkar that interviewing 36 aspirants in one day for the positions of Director, IIT-Patna, IIT-Ropar and IIT-Bhubaneshwar is symptomatic not only of a casual approach but is a comment on the State’s attempt to thwart academic freedom.
The way in which the Vice Chancellor of University of Delhi is being hounded also reflects the State’s attempt to interfere in the functioning of the university system.
Dina Nath Batra, an RSS ideologue, seeks to influence school curriculum. In June, 2014 just after Mr. Modi became Prime Minister, the Gujarat Government directed 42,000 primary and secondary schools across the State to make a nine-part series of Batra’s books translated from Hindi to Gujarati.
Batra’s teachings include advising students not to celebrate birthdays with cakes and candles, a practice he considers anti-Indian. He also would have our children believe that aircraft, automobiles and nuclear weapons existed in ancient India and wants our children to imbibe those so-called facts.
To appoint a former editor of the Panchajanya, Baldev Sharma as chairman of the National Book Trust is yet another example of the intrusive nature of the State.
The re-constituted team of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) includes two office bearers of the RSS-backed Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, and a former Professor, who unsuccessfully contested the 2014 elections on a BJP ticket.
Two physicists who wrote about the mythical Sarswati River and made tall claims about science in ancient India have also found place in the team and Y. Sudershan Rao, who considers Ramayana and Mahabharata as true accounts and believes that the caste system worked well at that time, is made Chief of the ICHR.
These are disquieting facts about a government that seeks to project itself as a protector of freedoms. After this government took over, we are witnessing a campaign which seeks to disturb the prevailing peace and harmony.
‘Love Jihad’ and ‘Ghar Wapasi’ campaigns are a part of the national agenda that targets communities. When Ministers pit ‘Ramjadas’ against ‘Haramjadas’, it has a chilling effect on those who are an integral part of our polity. Of course, enough is written and said about the terrible comments made by Union Minister Giriraj.
The recent phenomenon of attacks on churches and the questioning of Mohan Bhagwat on the motives of Mother Teresa along with the call by Sadhvi Prachi alleging that Mahatma Gandhi was a British agent, suggest a level of intolerance not witnessed in this country since 1947.
To call Nathu Ram Godse a patriot by a sitting MP and to call upon every Hindu woman to produce four children to protect the Hindu religion is also suggestive of the arrogance of those in power and their disregard for fundamental freedoms which are the hallmark of a society as multi-cultural and multi-religious as ours.
The recent gang rape of a 71 year old nun in West Bengal and destruction of an under-construction church near Hisar in Haryana only evoked a tweet from the Prime Minister and seeking a report about the incident.
There is also disquiet amongst those who seek news. Our cherished freedom can only be protected with free flow of information.
It is a matter of concern that RTI’s are getting strangled because the post of Chief Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission has been vacant for more than 7 months.
Complaints relating to critical public authorities like the PMO, Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministries of Defence, HRD, Steel and Power are not being heard as there is no Bench to hear them.
13,000 appeals and complaints relating to these public authorities are pending before a Bench which could not be constituted.
So much for this government’s commitment to freedom of information!
While others worry about ease of doing business, journalists worry about the ease of reporting on Modi government’s performance!
Information is blocked. Ministers do not talk and some seeking information are banned from the corridors of power. Till date, Shri Narendra Modi has not had a press conference.
We are experiencing a government which is a one way street, where information trickles down from the top and journalists have a tough time to access it for dialogue, debate and discussion.
Never before have our fundamental freedoms faced such jeopardy.
The Government’s inability to stop the outrageous onslaughts on women, the unprotected and the marginalised worries us. While freedoms for the corporate world seem to be a priority nowadays, the freedom of the common man is in danger.