2 women arrested in Maharashtra for FB post on shutdown for Thackeray
On Sunday, as many parts of Mumbai and Maharashtra shut down in the wake of Bal Thackeray’s death, a young woman in Palghar put up a status message on her Facebook page, expressing the opinion that the ‘bandh’ was not necessary. A friend ‘liked’ her status message.
Soon, both women had been arrested, charged with hurting religious sentiments, and produced in a court, which granted them bail.
In the face of nationwide outrage — including strong condemnation from Press Council of India chairman Justice (retd) Markandey Katju and an expression of regret from Communications and I-T Minister Kapil Sibal — the police, who initially defended their action, appeared to backtrack.
Late Monday evening, the charge against the women was downgraded from Sec 295 (A) IPC to the less stringent Sec 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and Sec 66 of the I-T Act (hacking with computer system).
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s office issued a release saying the additional DG, Konkan Range, had been asked to inquire and submit a report within two days.
Police said BMS graduate Shaheen Dhada had put up a status message saying there was no need for a ‘bandh’ for Thackeray’s funeral, and that people should remember martyrs like Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev. Her friend Renu Shrinivas, a Botany graduate from S N Dandekar College, had ‘liked’ it.
The police detained both women for a few hours on Sunday night, but allowed them to return home. On Monday morning, they arrested them. The police acted after a mob of about 500 Shiv Sena supporters complained against the women, but failed to make any arrests after the same mob vandalised an orthopaedic hospital run by Dhada’s uncle. They have only registered a complaint of damage to property against unidentified people.
“A large mob gathered outside my house, demanding an apology,” Shaheen’s uncle, Dr Abdul Dhada, said. He said Shaheen apologised readily, but the Sainiks insisted on pressing charges.
On Monday afternoon, Justice Katju wrote an e-mail to Chavan, terming the police action as “absurd”. “We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship. This arrest... appears to be a criminal act since under sections 341 and 342 it is a crime to wrongfully arrest or... confine someone who has committed no crime,” Justice Katju wrote.
In the evening, Katju wrote another e-mail to Chavan, pressing him for quick action. “Please realise silence is not an option for you in the matter,” he said.
On Monday evening, minister Sibal said on CNN-IBN that he was “deeply saddened” by the arrests, and that the I-T Act should not be used to “throttle dissent”.
“I am deeply saddened (by the arrests). It is just their point of view and enforcement of these laws are not to ban people from expressing their views,” PTI quoted Sibal as having said.
Earlier, Palghar subdivisional police officer Ramdas Shinde had said police were constrained to act after Sainiks barged into the police station. “They came with a lawyer, who was armed with printouts of the Facebook message and the address of the girls. I think everyone will agree that the situation was sensitive in the light of Balasaheb Thackeray’s demise,” Shinde said.
He justified charging the women under Sec 295 (A). “Although the offence did not hurt religious sentiments in the proper sense of the word, it hurt the sentiments of a particular group, the Shiv Sainiks. The charge is applicable in such a situation as well.”