The lawyer who took down Section 66A and the girls who inspired her

  • Bhadra Sinha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 24, 2015 18:29 IST

It all started at the dinner table three years ago. The arrest of two Mumbai girls - Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan - for an innocuous post on Facebook left astro-physics graduate Shreya Singhal outraged.

Being a fifth generation lawyer, she could not stop herself from condemning the arrests.

The two girls were arrested in Thane's Palghar after one of them posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's death and the other 'liked' it.

"It could have been me or my friend. How could one be arrested for questioning a shutdown of the city and also for liking the post," she recalls telling her mother, Supreme Court lawyer Manali Singhal, who, out of jest, challenged her to move the court.

A determined Shreya took her mother's challenge seriously, consulted her lawyer friend Ninad Laud and in 2012 filed the petition seeking an amendment in the section 66A of the information technology act.

"The section gives unbridled powers to the police to arrest anyone who disagrees with a view and posts it on a social website," she says.

A three-year wait was long for Shreya but the result has been fruitful.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the controversial section 66A of the IT act that made posting "offensive" comments online a crime punishable by jail, after a long campaign by defenders of free speech.

The apex court has struck down the provision in the cyber law which provides police power to arrest a person for posting "offensive" content online and provides for a 3-year jail term.

"I did feel saddened in between but never lost hope. I was also hurt to see that despite the matter pending before the SC, police continued to arrest people under section 66A of the IT act. What was heartening was that the arrests did not deter people from posting comments," Shreya told HT.

Twenty-four-year-old Shreya, now a second-year student of Delhi University's law faculty, got unwavering support from her mother. She attended every court hearing while her mother sat in the front row taking notes and briefing senior counsel Soli Sorabjee.

The judgement has brought relief to Shreya. She is excited that the case named after her - Shreya Singhal vs Union of India - would become a case study for law students and a precedent for future verdicts.

Interestingly, she might be studying the judgement herself in the third year of her LLB course.

"I was nervous last night. But, today I would celebrate....and you never know another argument might just lead to another case," she says.

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Here’s why the vaguely-worded Sec 66A must go
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