Why Shreya Singhal Is The New Age Voltaire

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“I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it.” – Voltaire

What is freedom of speech without a loud, resonating voice? Well, a voice has finally, been found, and it is that of Shreya Singhal’s. The petition that led to the scrapping of Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act, last Tuesday, was made by this 24-year-old young lady. A second year student at the University of Delhi’s Faculty of Law, Shreya had filed the petition in 2012. Summing up her reaction in just a word, she said in a statement that she was “overwhelmed” to learn that the judgment has been passed in favor of free speech.

The draconian law allowing arrests for offensive content online has had been a menace since quite some time. What drew Shreya’s attention towards the misuse of this vague as well as poor-worded law was the arrest of two young girls from Maharashtra who had posted and (put a like) on “offensive” status messages on Facebook. As she looked through the legal sections under which the girls were booked, she was shocked. All the girls had done on social media, was question Mumbai’s shutting down after the demise of Shiv Sena’s patriarch, Bal Thackeray. Soon after Maharashtra, there were similar arrests carried out in West Bengal as well as Pondicherry.

According to Shreya, section 66(A) was nothing but a “gag” on the internet. The way this law was put forth, it could criminalize any and all content that was posted online simply because the reader thought something was “annoying” or “of menacing character.” Essentially, this punitive law violated the Fundamental Right to Free Speech laid down by the Constitution of India. Having realized the diabolic nature of the law, Shreya decided to file a PIL for the quashing of Section 66(A). After a “rollercoaster ride” of two and a half years, the apex court at last upheld the Fundamental Right of the citizens, striking down the abusive law.

Calling Section 66 (A) unconstitutional, Shreya said in a statement, “In light of the recent bans, this judgment is even greater because of the government wants to restrict things, and curb and gag us in other ways, then free speech is all we have.” Though she isn’t too active online, herself, yet she advocated for freedom for those who do express themselves on the internet. Emerging nothing less than a new age Voltaire, Shreya added, “You have to keep the internet on par with different forms of media. If you would have said any of the things that led to the arrests, on television or in a written article, it wasn’t criminalized. With Section 66A, posting something on the Internet could give them the right to have someone arrested for three years!”

A budding lawyer, Shreya Singhal certainly looks forward to a promising career ahead!

Sangeeta Purkayastha

Image Source: The Viewspaper