Malayalam cinema's Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) released a statement on Monday evening, on the problematic Section 118A of the Kerala Police Act. The newly introduced section was put on hold earlier on Tuesday after there was severe criticism on the provisions from several quarters, including supporters of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of Kerala. The WCC, while appreciating the intention of the government to respond to issues of cyber bullying faced by women in Kerala, stated that they are relieved that the law will not be implemented now.
"Women In Cinema Collective has been running an anti cyber abuse campaign for almost a year now. Our own personal experiences on social media and the gathered experiences of the many women we interact with, has led us to expand our efforts in this arena. Against this backdrop, we greatly appreciate the intent of the Kerala Government to respond to the problems of cyber abuse faced by the women of Kerala," said the statement.
It goes on to point out the concerns, including the similarity of 118A with the previously struck down Section 66A of the IT Act and Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act. Both of these were found to be violative of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. "The Shreya Singhal decision of 2013 had underscored the need to ensure that excessive restrictions on online speech are not used as a tool by the State to criminalise free speech on the internet," the WCC statement adds.
It also says that the amendment, which was meant to uphold the safety of women online, makes no specific mention of the same.
"Though the government says the provision was made to uphold the safety of women online, the actual amendment makes no specific mention of the same. The proposal was not put to the public for any kind of wider consultation with womenâ€™s rights activists and free speech rights advocates which flies against the norms of transparency and participative government. There is a very real danger that this law could be applied arbitrarily and subjectively. WCC and its members have never supported draconian laws in the past, nor will we do so in the future. Our concern is online safety for women, and this law does not specifically address that," WCC writes.
Members of the WCC suggest through the statement that legal steps to address these concerns should be put to wider consultation with advocates of women's rights and free speech rights.
"We are pleased to acknowledge reports of faster response times and action from the cyber cells in the past weeks to complaints raised by women. We believe that timely responses and stringent action using already existing laws will go a great way to rebuilding womenâ€™s faith in the system," the statement says.
The WCC also states that the police needs to better implement existing laws like section 119A. "What is also needed is a transformation of how we Malayalis behave online," it adds.