In an interesting order, the Madras High Court rejected the anticipatory bail plea of a politician who allegedly shared a derogatory Facebook post on women journalists. The court had observed that sharing or forwarding a message on social media is the same as accepting and endorsing it, reported Live Law.
“No one has any right to abuse women, and if done, it is a violation of rights. While calling a person using the name of his/her community itself is a crime, using such unparliamentary words is more heinous. Words are more powerful than acts, and when a celebrity-like person forwards messages like this, the common public will start to believe it that these type of things are going on”, the court reportedly said.
The politician in question, S Ve Shekhar, pleaded to the court that he had received a message from his friend who often sends him “good” and “patriotic” messages. Without reading the contents of the said derogatory Facebook post in question, he had inadvertently forwarded it. Subsequently, another friend pointed to the content of this message, and seeing it; he deleted the same.
“There cannot be any harsher words than this which portray that all working women coming up in life are sacrificing their chastity. The future of such working women is at stake. Instead of wiping out the wrong impression about working women among the public these words create fear and anxiety among people who want to pursue a career,” said the court, referring to the complaint against the politician.
Although the court’s intentions are seemingly correct, there is something problematic about the “words are more powerful than acts” notion being backed by provisions in our Constitution.
According to Article 19(2) of the Constitution, the state can make laws that restrict freedom of speech so long as they impose reasonable restrictions in the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”
Note “public order,” “decency” and “morality.” As argued by many legal luminaries, these are very vague notions and depending on the judge in question can be interpreted to mean anything.
Meanwhile, the said politician in question was booked under Section 504, 505(1)(c) and 509 of IPC, which are to be read along with Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Women Harassment Act. The final judgement isn’t out, but if found guilty the said politician could face jail time up to 1-3 years or a fine, or possibly both.
The next time you want to share or forward a post on social media, take the trouble of reading its content before you put it out there.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)