The news that two girls were arrested over their Facebook post questioning the shutdown in Mumbai following the death of Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray and sent to 14-day judicial custody, before being released on bail after furnishing personal bonds, has sent shock waves across the nation.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has been inundated with calls from panic-stricken citizens seeking clarifications from the government as to what is cognizable offence with regard to tweets and Facebook comments.
To clarify the Indian government’s position the I&B Ministry has come up with an information brochure, titled “What Not To Post: The Pitfalls Online,” that clearly lists the dos and don’ts for Indian netizens.
Releasing what he called a user-friendly brochure at a press conference, an I&B ministry spokesperson said, “A lot of people are worried whether they will be arrested for the comments they posted on Facebook and Twitter in the past. They don’t have to.”
“The government has decided to let bygones be bygones,” he declared pausing for effect and then continued, “However, you have to be careful about what you post online from now onwards, since the government has made its position clear as to what constitutes a cognizable offence with the release of this brochure.”
“We heard that one of the girls was arrested for merely ‘liking’ the post. Is ‘liking’ a post on Facebook an offence?” asked an excited reporter.
“It is,” said the spokesperson. “When you click ‘like’ you endorse the comment/post, which makes you an accomplice to the crime.”
“What if we ‘unlike’ the comment or even delete it later?” persisted a correspondent of a news channel.
“I know that you have so many queries and doubts. That’s why we deemed it fit to come up with this brochure. This brochure is divided into many sections, one each for all popular social networking sites. There is also an exclusive section that gives general guidelines as to what one should bear in mind while commenting online.”
“The Appendix,” continued the spokesperson, “includes a list of political leaders you should avoid commenting about.”
“Is this brochure applicable to all states of India,” queried another reporter.
“Sorry. Law and order and police are state subjects, and the central government cannot dictate to the states in this regard. That’s why we have advised each state government to come up with their own versions of “What Not To Post.”
“What about Indians living abroad? Are these dos and don’ts applicable to them too?” asked a correspondent with a foreign publication.
“No, as of now. However, we are trying to find out whether a person who posted an offensive comment about an Indian politician from abroad could be extradited.”
“Is this brochure legally sustainable?” asked a legal expert.
“The crimes listed in this brochure can be creatively tried under the existing provisions of various sections of Indian Penal Code. However, we are going to convert this brochure into an ordinance next week. The same will be tabled in the Parliament during the winter session and ratified into a law “The Prevention of Nefarious Online Activities Act 2012,” said the spokesperson.
“Are all political parties in support of the proposed ordinance?” asked an incredibly optimistic reporter.
The spokesperson burst out laughing and said, “You all know the answer to that question.” He then got up to signal that the press conference was over.