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Meet the litigant whose PIL struck down Sec 66A

By Upasna Pandey
Last updated on: March 24, 2015 19:47 IST
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Shreya Singhal‘I am ecstatic as I believe this is not my victory but it is a win for the people of the country who have a right to freely express themselves. It is the victory for everyone who uses the internet and social media.’

‘I think the internet is all about self regulation, and as long it is about people expressing themselves and not causing any criminal harm to anyone, it should be allowed.’

Shreya Singhal, whose PIL resulted in Section 66A of the IT Act being struck down by the Supreme Court, speaks to Upasna Pandey

Shreya Singhal sounds like any other Delhi University student, who feels strongly about her right to say what she wants to say. She, however, went a long way to defend her right to freedom of expression.

Her decision has put her in the spotlight with the Supreme Court on Tuesday upholding her Public Interest Litigation against Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. The end of the controversial law that allowed arrests for offensive content online, is a big victory for Shreya, who was among the first to challenge it in the apex court.

She is ‘ecstatic’ as she talks about the experience as a “victory of the people of the country and their freedom of speech and expression.”

Rediff.com contributor Upasna Pandey spoke with Shreya, about her first brush with the legal system as a young complainant.

How do you feel on the apex court’s verdict?

I am ecstatic as I believe this is not my victory but it is a win for the people of the country who have a right to freely express themselves. It is the victory for everyone who uses the internet and social media.

How did you get started on filing this PIL?

I come from a family of legal professionals and am studying in the second year at the law school in Delhi University and my mother is also a lawyer in the Supreme Court. It all started with the Palghar arrests of the two girls, one was arrested for simply liking something on Facebook while the other was taken in for writing something which was quite innocuous.

I was quite shocked and had a discussion on this with my mother and it went onto becoming a decision to file a PIL which was drafted by Ninad Laud and Ranjita Rohtagi and the case was argued by Soli Sorabjee. It was quite encouraging to have an eminent legal authority like Sorabjee agreeing to argue the case, as he has dealt with several key judgements on the subject of freedom of speech and expression. He was a great source of strength for me and this subject is close to his heart.

Did you feel worried or threatened vis-a vis your own security in the course of this petition being argued in the Supreme Court?

The reason I felt so strongly about this issue is that I believed that the security of every Indian national was threatened by Section 66A which is quite vague and has been misused in many instances, to arrest or clamp on the freedom of ordinary people. This is being clubbed with other sections of the Information Technology Act. I hope there can be a sincere effort to review this now. I am yet to see the Supreme Court judgement and understand the full ramifications.

Please share about your first experience with the legal system as a complainant.

I am a student of law and am preparing to become a lawyer, but this was my first experience with the actual process of filing a PIL and I am quite excited by this.

How do you see the recent instances of demand of ban on creative works, the most recent one being the student play in Khalsa College for being ‘anti-Hindu’?

I think we are a secular and multi-cultural country and it is healthy to allow debates and difference of opinions. We need to guard against the trend of becoming over sensitive. We must allow everyone to exercise the right to speak their minds.

What is your view on the need for responsible use of the social media, the distinction between discussion, advocacy and incitement?

I think the internet is all about self regulation, and as long it is about people expressing themselves and not causing any criminal harm to anyone, it should be allowed.

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