We need to uphold the right to democratic expression and freedom of speech: Shehla Rashid Shora

Shehla Rashid Shora, a prominent free speech activist and a eminent researcher on the subjects of Internet Democracy, who   battles for oppressed sections especially the ‘Acid attack victims’ via her activism talks to Rameez Makhdoomi in an exclusive interview with the News Kashmir Magazine, mostly focusing on the latest development in the backdrop of   stroking down of section 66 A by the Supreme court of India.


Rameez Makhdoomi : How do you view the stroking down of section 66 A by Supreme court of India?

Shehla Rashid Shora : This verdict is a great victory for all of us. We have repeatedly highlighted the abuse of Section 66A. After Shreya Singhal’s petition, about 10 other petitions were filed in the Supreme Court of India which were heard together. Various lawyers, notably Karuna Nundy and Apar Gupta, deserve special mention for arguing this case effectively.

Rameez Makhdoomi : As a free speech activist, how does abolishing this section impact our internet freedom? With large number of arrests also carried under Section 153 and 153A , do you think it is not time to go overboard?

Shehla Rashid Shora : While the abuse of law through Section 66A has obviously ceased, other hate speech provisions are consistently used to book minorities and marginalised sections.

We rarely see someone like Sadhvi Niranan Jyoti getting booked for calling minorities “Haraamzade”, but various laws, including Sections 295, 153 and 505 are often abused to target weaker sections.

Rameez Makhdoomi :Critics say with weak laws who can control wrongdoings in cyber world, your take on this?

Shehla Rashid Shora : The key thing really is not weak or strong law, but (a) consistency of application of law, (b) rule-of-law and (c) access to legal justice. The poor can hardly afford good lawyers, so the law often favors the rich or the stronger communities. Law should not be used with vengeance, but with an intention to reform the society. The judiciary has an important role here. But the judges often deliver problematic judgments, due to their own social biases. Judgments such as these are rare. Fali Nariman, one of the judges on the two-judge bench that struck down 66A, has an excellent understanding of social issues. Judges have a duty to uphold constitutional principles.

Rameez Makhdoomi : Who should be allowed to regulate online platforms like Facebook, twitter ?

Shehla Rashid Shora : Crimes committed in India are subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian judiciary. No one should have any misgivings about this. The problem arises when overbroad laws or surveillance measures turn everyone into a criminal, regardless of whether they have committed a crime or not.

Rameez Makhdoomi : Religious blasphemies on online forums often lead to unrest , what can be mechanism to tackle same?

Shehla Rashid Shora: Online media content alone can’t trigger riots- it is always part of a bigger pre-election conspiracy and careful planning. I’m not ready to accept that riots are spontaneous- they are orchestrated and allowed to spread. It is true that in some cases such as Muzaffarnagar riots, fake videos were circulated to whip up communal frenzy. But this was not the only thing. It was preceded by a Mahapanchayat in which Sangeet Som and others from VHP openly instigated violence. That social media can alone trigger a riot is not a sustainable argument. The thing is that the police chose to ignore the violence that was building up in Muzaffarnagar. –

Rameez Makhdoomi : What makes you fight passionately for burning issues on online world?
Shehla Rashid Shora : I can’t tolerate injustice, majoritrianism, hypocrisy and extremism. I fail to understand how people can have tolerance for these. These principles guide not only what I say online but also what I do in my real life.


Rameez Makhdoomi : What is your take on overall paradigms of freedom of speech in India?

Shehla Rashid Shora : We need to uphold the right to democratic expression and freedom of speech. Mere censorship does not eliminate adverse societal tendencies.

Rameez Makhdoomi : Do you think we need further reforms in laws and regulations with reference to laws on freedom of speech?

Shehla Rashid Shora : Yes, the Indian government has assumed massive surveillance powers and this is a dangerous trend. This is the bigger fight ahead.