Editors: Abhishek Sharma and Purnendu Pritam
Faheema Shirin, a 19-year-old student of English literature in a college in Kozhikode, Kerala, was told by hostel authorities that she could not use her smartphone or laptop to access the internet from 6 pm to 10 pm. That was the rule in the girls’ hostel, she was told.
Shirin was subsequently expelled from the hostel, allegedly for using the internet and protesting against the rules.
Shirin, a hostel resident and student of Sree Narayana Guru College in Chelannur, filed a petition in Kerala High Court against the discriminatory girls’ hostel rules, specifically banning the use of mobile phones, which restricted them from accessing the internet.
The Kerala High Court, in what has since been hailed as a landmark decision, on 19 September, held the ‘Right to Internet Access’ as a fundamental right.
The court declared that the right to have access to Internet becomes part of the right to education as well as the right to privacy, under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Shirin said the case was also fought to highlight a culture of “sexist discrimination rampant in the college.” She said that the restriction on internet usage applied only to the girl’s hostel, which she described as “unjust”.
“The boys’ hostel is in the same compound and is under the same management. It has no such restrictions or even a hostel warden. So, I felt this is unjust and that’s why I decided to fight against this... which is why I got expelled from my hostel.”Faheema Shirin, Student, Sree Narayana Guru College
Shirin said that, as an English literature student, she frequently visits sites like Google for research in her assignments. “This restriction affected my learning and that’s why I decided to disobey this rule,” she added.
Delhi based not-for-profit legal services organisation Software Freedom Law Centre, India (SFLC.In), intervened in the matter for the petitioner. In the counter-affidavit filed, SFLC.in brought to the court’s notice the ‘arbitrary, unlawful and unconstitutional restrictions’ imposed on the female residents by the hostel authorities, specifically violations of Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 which provide rights to equality, information and personal liberty.
“We intervened in the case because it was about protecting digital freedom, free speech and against censorship,” SFLC.in executive director Sundar Krishnan said.
“I am glad that the court ruled in favour of the student and thus upheld the right to use Internet as a fundamental right,” he added.
Having discussed the issue with her family, Shirin said she decided to take the matter to court and was confident of getting a favourable judgment as the college’s rules were discriminatory and violated her basic rights.
“No more can a modern court turn its back on an issue like this, which violates the fundamental rights of citizens,” Shirin said.