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Astrophysics student tests cyber limits

New Delhi, Nov. 29: The Supreme Court today wondered why nobody had so far challenged Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.

The court could raise such a question because a Delhi girl had done what India’s parliamentarians did not when the amendment came up in the House.

Shreya Singhal has pitchforked the “chilling effect” of the clause on countless Internet users from television screens and chat rooms to the highest court of the land.

Shreya, daughter of Manali Singhal, a prominent corporate lawyer, joins Shah Bano and Mary Roy in taking up the cudgels in a landmark battle for rights.

Her fight is for a different kind of right: freedom of expression. The young woman, who decided that something needed to be done about the “wide and vague” phraseology of the draconian Section 66A, is not your average lawyer-activist.

She graduated with astrophysics in July this year from the University of Bristol, UK, and is a recipient of the Winton Capital Management Prize for best Final Year Project in Astrophysics.

But Shreya has been involved with legal issues. An alumnus of the capital’s Vasant Valley School, she is now working on a project — Fifth Monitoring and Evaluation Report on the Implementation of the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 — for a non-government organisation.

She has also been working with the litigation section of some prominent legal firms and has compiled research on international legislation put forward by the UN to increase women’s access to justice as well as international laws on domestic violence.

Women’s rights is what Mary Roy, an educator and mother of writer-activist Arundhati Roy, and Shah Bano, a 62-year-old divorced mother of five, had fought for. While Roy won a lawsuit in 1986 that ensured equal rights for Syrian Christian women as their male siblings to ancestral property, Shah Bano won a landmark judgment on maintenance. It’s another matter that the then government, faced with a firestorm of protests from minority organisations, passed an act that effectively nullified the verdict.

Shreya, who has also compiled research on private international law and paternity law, says it’s not that her whole time is taken up with matters legal.

“I am very fond of reading and enjoy the classics,” Shreya told The Telegraph. “I enjoy travelling to different countries and discovering their language and culture, which led me to learn French in my free time. I am an avid swimmer and bake to de-stress. I also enjoy doing pottery and have taken a couple of life drawing classes.”

As an active member of The Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation for the last 10 years, Shreya has helped organise legal aid camps to promote literacy and women and child rights in slums and lower income group areas in and around Delhi.

The foundation has organised eye and blood- donation camps in Delhi High Court.

Shreya has also participated in the Terry Fox Run, organised by the Terry Fox Foundation for Cancer Research and held annually to raise awareness about cancer.

She was also a volunteer for the Special Olympics held in 2005 for mentally challenged children.