Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down the reviled Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in its entirety for violating the fundamental right of speech and expression. Before you bring out the champagne, have a look at some other laws that are still alive and kicking.
Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has been around since 1860 and its wordings are more “vague” than 66A. It relates to “public mischief” and penalises the making, publishing or circulation of statements, rumours or reports likely to cause “fear” or “alarm” to the public. It also penalises statements that are likely to incite, “any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community” and those containing “rumour or alarming news which is likely to create or promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.”
It’s a non-bailable, cognisable offence with a punishment of three years’ jail and/or fine. This means you can be arrested without a warrant and bail is not a matter of right. The much-maligned Section 66A was non-cognisable and bailable.
Section 506 of the IPC provides a punishment of two years jail and/or fine for criminal intimidation, which involves threatening to injure a person, his property or his reputation. If criminal intimidation involves imputing “unchastity” to a woman, the punishment goes up to seven years jail and/or fine. A Facebook post calling a woman a prostitute or commenting upon her losing her virginity would be covered under this.
Section 507 of the IPC penalises criminal intimidation by “anonymous communication” or a communication where the name or address of the communicator is concealed. Facebook or email accounts under fictitious names, posts on a public forum without disclosing your identity, content on a website whose domain was booked using false identity, blogging and tweeting under fake names (beware Alia Bhatt haters) are all covered under this. The punishment is two years’ jail.
If this anonymous communication relates to imputing unchastity to a woman, the punishment is nine years and/or fine. This is because, in such cases, both Sections 506 and 507 apply.
Section 509 of IPC provides one year in jail and/or fine for insulting the modesty of a woman or intruding upon her privacy.
IPC also penalises the offence of defamation, which basically means harming the reputation of a person, or lowering his moral or intellectual character or lowering his character in respect of his caste or profession (calling us lawyers as sharks could land you in prison) or causing it to be believed that his body is in a “loathsome” state. Calling someone “fat” or “ugly” or an “idiot” could land you in jail.
Even a dead person can be “defamed”, if the feelings of the deceased’s family or near relatives are hurt. Not just individuals, even companies, organisations, groups of people can be defamed. Alternative, ironical, or sarcastic statements may amount to defamation and land you two years’ jail and/or fine.
Section 124A of the IPC penalises the offence of sedition, which relates to bringing into “hatred or contempt” the government. It also includes attempts to “excite disaffection” towards the Government in India. The punishment? Imprisonment for life! The government has an option to commute this to 14 years, as is shown in Hindi movies.
Section 295A of the IPC penalises statements that insult religious beliefs, with jail up to two years and/or fine. In many such cases, Section 298 of the IPC may also apply. This section provides jail up to 1 year and/or fine.
In the next few years, many sections of the IPC will gain notoriety like 66A did. It is better if the government reviews these sections before another PIL is filed.
The writer is the president of Asian School of Cyber Laws