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Section 66A has gone, but here are other hurdles to free speech

Last updated on: March 24, 2015 16:11 IST
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Section 66(A) of the Information Technology Act, “is unconstitutional and we have no hesitation in striking it down,” said Justice RF Nariman, reading out the judgment.

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court favoured with free speech on Tuesday as it struck down a provision in the cyber law, which provides power to arrest a person for posting allegedly “offensive” content on websites. 

“The public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66(A),” he added.

The decision has been hailed by all, including politicians -- be it Twitter, Facebook or any other social media, people have expressed their jubilation on the verdict given out by the Supreme Court.

However, there are other laws that still exist on the statute that are still an obstruction to free speech and that could land you in jail.

Here’s a look at what these provisions state:

1) Section 153A, Indian Penal Code:

This provision states that whoever -- by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise -- promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different reli­gious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communi­ties shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.

Case in point: Dinanath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan had invoked this section, among others, to get have Penguin withdraw Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History.

2) Section 292:

Section 292 of the IPC makes it an offence to sell, distribute, circulate, publicly exhibit or even possess obscene content for public exhibition. “Obscene” here is defined as that which “appeals to the lascivious or prurient interest” of the person viewing it. But a crucial aspect of this offence is that it should involve a public element. 

Case in point: Karan Johar, Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor were all booked under this law for participating in the AIB roast recently.

MUST READ: When IT Act's Sec 66A was used to muzzle free speech

3) Section 295A:

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of 273 [citizens of India], 274 [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 4 [three years], or with fine, or with both.]

Case in point: Two girls from Palghar, Maharashtra, who had been arrested for posting a comment on Facebook after Bal Thackeray’s demise, were booked under this law too, in addition to Section 66(A) of the IT Act. Dinanath Batra had invoked this section as well in his legal battle with Penguin over Wendy Doniger's book. 

4) Section 298: 

Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places, any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with im­prisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Case in point: Film director Ram Gopal Varma had an FIR filed against him under this section by a follower of Dera Sacha Sauda for tweeting against the sect's leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

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