What a 21-Year-Old Taught Us

(Picture of Shreya courtesy Livemint.com)

She isn’t 21 anymore but she did at 21 what none of us did.  We expressed outrage and anger. We read articles online. We watched loud TV debates. We forgot about it. However, none of us did what this lady did.

Shreya Singhal, a student of law knew that she could approach the Supreme Court directly against the government’s vague and a highly misused law – the SEC 66A of the Information Technology Act which was brought in by the UPA government. Like all of us, she was outraged by the arrests of the two girls who wrote something ‘seemingly’ offensive against the decision to shut everything down in Mumbai because of the death of the late Bal Thackeray. She was also outraged when a small businessman from Puducherry was arrested for criticizing the then minister Chidambaram’s son . However, instead of just expressing anguish on social media like most of us and hoping someone else would do something about it she took the matter in her own hands and filed a PIL in the Supreme Court. [Read a story on her by Mint in Nov 2012 (when she was 21) here.] And today, we are all celebrating the landmark judgement and the regaining of our freedom of expression largely because of her.

Isn’t it disturbing to you that none of us thought about doing this ourselves? I find it amazing that innumerable experts and celebrities participated in loud debates on TV cursing the government but not one thought of actually fighting it out in court.

There are many issues at play here. Firstly, our knowledge about our country is terrible. We lack basic knowledge of civics and law that we citizens are supposed to know. We do not know our rights and definitely do not know our duties. We accept bad laws and tolerate poor governance because we are unaware.

Secondly, we lack courage. The accepted wisdom is that filing PILs or taking any legal recourse is only for those who are politically minded or have the ammunition to fight backlash from powerful people. We are too scared to fight for our own rights. Do we become more scared with age? Does our cynicism increase? Why is it that a 21 year old thought she could change the way things happen in our country and all of us couldn’t? Why didn’t we even try?

For those of us on the right side of the digital divide, we have this false sense of power with social media. (Ironically, Shreya was fighting for us to be able to retain this power.) 2 status updates on the issue and we feel we have done our bit. The other big problem with social media now is that people are so lazy that links and headlines are shared without the story even being read. In most cases, no one cares to check the credibility of the story teller or the platform where the story is being published. Outrage has no relation to facts anymore. Any media house can click bait us or manipulate us into magnifying their agenda.

As far as TV experts go, you can conclude for yourself what the real motivations of these TV outrage expressers are. They claim to be the voices of the nation. It is a nice career. One gets fame and money for just appearing on TV and shouting loudly.

I think it is time we engage directly with our government, local bodies and administrative machinery. We complain to each other about poor roads here in Mumbai but do not even know whether the responsibility of building and maintaining roads and flyovers falls under BMC or MMRDA, let alone actually filing a complaint. We never report gross violations of loudspeaker permissions causing sound pollution. Citizens have an equal responsibility in ensuring the law is followed.  If a law is unconstitutional, we need to not only speak out but do something about it the same way that Shreya did.

If we are to actually live in a country we all wish to live in, we need to go from becoming a nation of commentators to becoming a nation of doers. We – You and I.



The Author is the creator of InsideIIM.com


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