A lot of newsprint and webpages have been spent discussing the absurd new provision and amendment being sought by State Government of Kerala. Experts have decried and protested this amendment as being draconian and they claim that it will muzzle free speech in the State and Country. Here we take a closer look at the proposed and now accepted Amendment and see how it affects everyone.
The Amendment is being bought to Kerala Police Act, 2011 u/s 118-A and it reads:
118 A. Punishment for making, expressing, publishing or disseminating any matter which is threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory.─Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.”.
The ordinance, making the above into law has been signed by Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan on 21/11/2020.
On a cursory reading, this section may seem fine, because as per the act, abusing, humiliating or defaming someone will be considered a criminal act. However, a closer reading of the section brings out various pertinent issues which will affect everyone.
Firstly, the term ‘threatening’ is too vague and ambiguous and is open to subjective interpretation. Plus, it gives unfettered power to police and they are free to construe even simple criticism as a threat. Besides this includes “any mode of communication” and therefore even Whatsapp conversations, Twitter and Facebook posts or other social media posts would fall under the ambit of this amendment. Thus, common citizens tweeting about the Government, or criticizing the Government of the day or any of their schemes could be vulnerable.
Even legitimate print and electronic media and journalists would be exposed to the whims, fancies and caprices of police if this law sees the light of the day. Therefore, a lot of experts have rightly decried this law as death of freedom of speech and expression which is cherished and much needed in any democracy.
That the Government of Kerala wants to bring this law is not surprising. The Government has been targeted all around, both in mainstream as well as social media for its various scams, corruption, scandals and inept handling of Covid crisis. With elections in the near future, this has put tremendous pressure on the Government and Government has simply taken the easy way out and attempted to muzzle the media and common man and decided that banning all forms of criticism is easier than working to improve the actual Governance.
Update: Due to unrelenting pressure from Media, prominent activists and citizens and common folks, the Government of Kerala has decided to put the above amendment on hold and will decide its fate after consultation with its MLA’s. One hopes that better sense prevails, and such a draconian and anti-democratic amendment never sees light of the day.