Section 66A: Six cases that sparked debate
The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the controversial section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, deeming it “unconstitutional.” The act has been the subject of intense debate over the last few years, especially after social media sites began proliferating in India.
The section, which deals with “Sending offensive message through electronic means” reads, “Any person who sends by means of a computer resource or a communication device – (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device, (c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”
There have been 10 cases where section 66A has been applied. Here are some prominent ones:
1- Ravi Srinivasan, arrested for sending a tweet on then finance minister P. Chidambaram’s son Karti
A Puducherry-based businessman Ravi Srinivasan was arrested by local police following a complaint from former finance minister P. Chidambaram’s son, Karti, for posting a tweet, which was critical of him. In his tweet on 20 October 2012, Srinivasan said, “got reports that Karti Chidambaram has amassed more wealth than Vadra.” Robert Vadra is Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law.
Nine days later, Srinivasan was arrested and charges were framed against him under Section 66A. The police sought Srinivasan’s custody for 15 days, but the court declined the request.
2- Arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for displaying cartoons that mocked Parliament
Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was charged by the cyber crime cell of the Mumbai Police with sedition under section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act and section 66(A) of the IT Act on 9 September 2012, for displaying cartoons that mocked Parliament and corruption on his website and Facebook page.
Trivedi’s cartoons purportedly depicted Parliament as a giant commode and showed the national emblem with wolves instead of lions. The caricatures were shared on other social media.
3- Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested by West Bengal police for sharing cartoons on Mamata Banerjee
In April 2012, the West Bengal government used Section 66A against a professor of Jadavpur University for circulating emails that mocked chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Ambikesh Mahapatra and his neighbour Subrata Sengupta were arrested for circulating a cartoon lampooning Banerjee that was based on a scene from Satyajit Ray’s popular children’s detective movie Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress). The cartoon showed Banerjee pointing to the Indian Railways’ logo and telling her partyman and railway minister Mukul Roy: ‘See Mukul, the Golden Fortress.’ To which Roy points to his predecessor Dinesh Trivedi and exclaims: ‘That’s an evil man!!!’ At which Mamata says: ‘Evil man, vanish!’
4- Two Air India cabin crew members arrested for allegedly posting indecent jokes about the Prime Minister and for insulting the national flag
In May 2012, the cyber crime cell of Mumbai police arrested two Air India cabin crew members, Mayank Mohan Sharma and K.V.J Rao under section 66(A) and 67 of the IT Act for allegedly posting indecent jokes about the prime minister and other politicians and for insulting the national flag. The men were commenting on a strike by Air India pilots. While they claimed to have merely circulated what was already present online, both spent 12 days in jail and were suspended from work till the charges were dropped.
5- Boy arrested for sending cake to a girl with her picture on top
In what is the most bizarre case of them all, in Ulhasnagar, Maharashtra, a boy was arrested in December 2012 for sending a cake to a girl’s house with her picture on top of it. The parents registered a complaint claiming that he had stolen the picture from the girl’s social media account and used it without authorization, thereby breaking the law.
6- Youth arrested for posting against Azam Khan in Rampur, March 2015
The latest in the series of attacks on free speech was the recent arrest of a youth in Rampur district of Uttar Pradesh, where a class XI student was arrested for allegedly posting defamatory content on Facebook against the ruling Samajwadi Party leader and state urban development minister Azam Khan. The comments could incite communal tensions, circle officer Aley Hassan said. The post targeted Azam Khan over a provocative remark he allegedly made.