A UNIQUE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT – FAHEEMA SHIRIN vs STATE OF KERELA
In a landmark and extremely laudable judgment titled Faheema Shirin RK Vs State of Kerala on September 2019, the Kerala High Court took a giant step forward by simply and convincingly stating that the right to access the Internet is a fundamental right that forms part of the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This commendable judgment was delivered while addressing a student petition questioning the unwarranted limits on cell phone use in the hostel.
The question to be addressed was that the restrictions imposed on the use of cell phones by the hostel authorities when enforcing discipline have infringed the constitutional rights of the applicant, even on the basis that such a provision was brought in upon the request of the parents. The High Court addressed questions over infringement of the right to privacy and education and a newly perceived inequality – digital inequality.
The High Court cited the Puttaswamy Case, holding that the right to privacy is considered to be an intrinsic part of the right to life, personal freedom and dignity and, according to the Constitution, a fundamental right. It would be open to the hostel authorities to oversee whether any distraction or disturbance is caused to other students due to mobile phone use or to take action when any such complaint is received.
As per the UGC Regulations, the college is required to run a hostel to encourage the students to live close to the college in order to give them more time to focus on their studies. Hostel authorities are required to impose only certain disciplinary compliance rules and regulations, but the same is not to be achieved by suppressing students' ways and means of gaining knowledge.
The utter restriction on mobile use and the way to surrender it during the hours of study is totally unjustified. When the United Nations Human Rights Council has considered that the right to access the Internet is a fundamental freedom and a resource for ensuring the right to education, it cannot be allowed to stand in the eye of law a rule or instruction which adversely affects the said right of the students. The limitations imposed were quashed by the court’s orders.
With more than half of the population having access to smartphones and high-speed internet, the internet caters the educational needs of a large swathe of students. It is not unknown important it is for the internet to obtain vital knowledge about something that cannot be accessed too easily from other outlets that makes it even more relevant. It should also not be denied that in 2014, also the UN General Assembly deemed the right to internet a human right.
Also, curbing inequality is the foundation of growth and social justice. Reducing disparity also finds reference in the Indian Constitution, Article 39 of the Directive Principles of State Policy. Reading fundamental rights along with the values of the directive with a view to determining the scope and ambit of the former has now become an accepted judicial procedure. The way forward is the promotion of digital literacy and increased usage of online platforms to facilitate the processes of daily life, which, in turn, will make others more amenable to the technology and will allow them to tap its full potential.