Two young women were arrested here on Monday on charges of “promoting enmity between classes” and “sending offensive messages through [a] communication service,” after one posted, and the other ‘liked,’ a message on Facebook on Sunday, questioning the Mumbai bandh that followed Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death. Both of them were released on bail by a local court on Monday afternoon.
“With all respect, every day, thousands of people die, but still the world moves on,” read the message posted by 21-year old Shaheen Dhada and ‘liked’ by 20-year old Renu Srinivasan from Palghar in the neighbouring Thane district, her lawyer Sudheer Gupta told The Hindu. The post continued: “Just due to one politician died a natural death, everyone just goes bonkers. They should know, we are resilient by force, not by choice. When was the last time, did anyone showed some respect or even a two-minute silence for Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Azad, Sukhdev or any of the people because of whom we are free-living Indians? Respect is earned, given, and definitely not forced. Today, Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect.”
Following public outcry over what has been widely condemned as an attack on the constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech and expression — among others, Press Council of India chairperson Markandey Katju said the arrests were illegal and demanded action against the police — Maharashtra Director-General of Police Sanjeev Dayal ordered a probe into their arrest.
The women were earlier booked for hurting religious sentiments under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, along with Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. On investigation, the police altered the charges, withdrawing Section 295(A). They were formally arrested on Monday morning and later released on bail by a local court on a bond of Rs.15,000.
“On investigation, we withdrew Section 295(A) and booked them under Section 505(2) [of the Indian Penal Code],” Sangramsinh Nishandar, Additional Superintendent of Police, Thane Rural, told The Hindu. Section 505(2) pertains to statements which create or promote enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes.
On Sunday night, mobs of angry Shiv Sainiks ransacked an orthopaedic hospital run by Ms. Dhada’s uncle at Palghar after they came to know of her comment on Facebook. Dr. Abdul Dhada has registered a First Information Report (FIR) in Palghar police station.
“There was some misunderstanding. Something was quoted by my younger brother’s daughter on Facebook. The Shiv Sainiks were unhappy about it. So yesterday [Sunday] night, they ransacked my hospital. But I would not like to talk about it any further as the matter is being resolved now,” Dr. Abdul Dhada told The Hindu from Palghar.
A request to speak with Ms. Dhada, who is a Bachelor of Management Studies, was refused. “She is traumatised. She is not in a frame of mind. It is not possible to talk to her right now,” he said.
But Shaheen’s Facebook page reflected her agony and anger, as her recently-changed profile picture showed a girl’s face whose voice has been muzzled by a tape sealing her mouth.
Her uncle said she had merely reposted the message someone had forwarded to her on Sunday. After she posted it, her friend Renu, a B.Sc (Botany) graduate, ‘liked’ it.
“She had not mentioned Balasaheb Thackeray’s name anywhere. But some Shiv Sena supporters who came to know about the post got angry and ransacked the hospital of Dr. Abdul Dhada,” Mr. Nishandar said.
The head of the Palghar unit of the Shiv Sena, Bhushan Anant Sankhe, filed an FIR against the two women at the Palghar station, even as a mob of Shiv Sainiks gathered there. Another mob of 80-100 Shiv Sainiks surrounded Dr. Dhada’s hospital and pelted it with stones. Police said the mobs broke glass and toppled beds in the hospital.
A case has been registered against 40-50 “unknown persons” under Sections 143, 147, 336, 427, 451 of the Indian Penal Code; Sections 3, 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act and Section 4 of the Maharashtra Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institution (Prevention of Violence, Damage or Loss of Property) Act.
“The girl’s uncle [Dr. Abdul Dhada] received a call from the police on Sunday evening saying that his niece had posted some objectionable comment on Facebook. The police apparently asked him to tell her to withdraw it. Accordingly, the girl deleted her comment and tendered an apology saying that she did not do it with the intention of hurting anyone’s sentiments. Around 8.30, Dr. Dhada got a call from the hospital informing him that mobs were ransacking his hospital,” Mr. Gupta said.
Sources said that though the women were formally shown as arrested on Monday morning around 10.30, they were sent to the police station by the families on Sunday night itself. The FIR was registered against them at 9 p.m. on Sunday. They were produced before the court at 3 p.m. on Monday
Meanwhile, Mr. Sanjeev Dayal said he had directed the Inspector-General of Police of the Konkan Range to investigate the matter and submit a report by Saturday.
Social media platforms were abuzz with support for the two women and anger against the arbitrary police action. Some reposted the message that Ms. Shaheen had posted on her wall, and offered to court arrest. Others offered legal aid to Ms. Dhada and Ms. Srinivasan.
“People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that” — Shaheen got arrested for posting this. Let’s post this on our wall, and let them arrest us too,” Divya Rajagopal posted on Facebook.
“If anyone knows the girl arrested for posting a comment on Facebook, ask them to contact me! Would love to help them filing a case in SC,” media professional Sumit Nagpal posted on Twitter