Column | A lot of toxic content online can be cleared if BJP, CPM gag their trolls

Column | A lot of toxic content online can be cleared if BJP, CPM gag their trolls
Representational image: Stenko Vlad/Shutterstock

The civil society has succeeded in forcing the Pinarayi government to abandon its nefarious attempt to undermine civil liberties by amending the Kerala Police Act through an ordinance.

The government of the day deserves to be thanked for respecting people’s sentiment and putting the ordinance on hold. But that isn’t enough. The government now needs to take steps to bury the draconian law which met with instant death. If the law remains in force for a day even on technical grounds, it would be an insult to Kerala.

Though a central law is in force to deal with cybercrimes, there have been complaints emanating from various states including Kerala about its widespread misuse. Earlier the Supreme Court had examined the law in detail and found that its widely abused provisions were anti-constitutional. The law was then struck down.

But even after the scrapping of this law, the police in some states continued to register cases based on the same provisions. Unfortunately, this is how police functions in this country.

The Pinarayi Government chose the ordinance route to bring a law that vested more powers with the police to intervene in cases of social media abuse. But it is widely felt that the government’s stand on the issue was not sincere.

There is no denying the fact that social media is being used in a manner that is not at all desirable. Mainly two illegal activities are happening in this field: one is the circulation of obscene material; the other is the slanderous campaign targeting political opponents.

While the first one is often done single-handedly, the second one is a more organized political activity. The state government tried to justify the need for bringing such an ordinance citing the abusive and offensive campaign against women on social media. But the fact remains that there are enough provisions in the existing central act to rein in such illegal activities. Many a time the police are reluctant to take action despite women submitting complaints on the strength of the central law.

In a recent instance, three women activists were forced to take on a YouTuber who was continuously harassing them on social media. The women resorted to direct action when police failed to intervene on their umpteen complaints. After the incident, the police swung into action registering a case against women activists for allegedly taking law into their hands and also booked the YouTuber.

So the big question is whether there is any need to give more powers to a police force which is not even using the existing provisions in the law properly and which treats the hunter and the victim alike.

As a person who is closely engaged in new social media, I understand that the BJP is the dominant force in the cyberworld in India and the CPM in Kerala’s cyberworld. The justification brigade and troll army of these parties which target political opponents are working overtime in this field.

They are also in the forefront in carrying out slanderous campaigns against their opponents. Strange as it may sound, they intend to use the police and the legal system to corner their opponents. This also reveals their desire for acquiring absolute power.

If the two major cadre-based parties BJP and CPM manage to rein in their cyberwarriors effectively, most of the political pollution in the cyber world can be removed. In fact, these parties should make an attempt in this direction.

The state government amended the law at a time when news started flowing in against chief minister’s former principal secretary and the son of a top CPM leader in connection with the probe being conducted by central investigation agencies. On these issues, the government and the party have been saying whatever they want to say. Therefore it is not right to prevent discussions on such issues by misusing the law.

Clearly, those who advised the chief minister to bring such an ordinance in the midst of local body poll campaigns and close on the heels of the preparations for Assembly elections are unlikely to have faith in democracy and democratic rights. It is doubtful whether they are Pinarayi’s well-wishers either.

(The writer is a former journalist and a human rights activist. The views are personal)

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