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Outrage as Facebook Post Leads to Arrests in India

The city of Mumbai's reaction to the death of Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray, founder of the Hindu right-wing Shiv Sena party in India, has raised concern in India (see Global Voices report). Shops, cinemas, public transport and other businesses in Mumbai were quickly closed either as a show of respect, or in fear of mob violence by Shiv Sena supporters. On Sunday, the funeral of Mr. Thackeray was held in Mumbai and an estimated one million mourners filled the streets of the city bringing it to a halt.

In Palghar, police reportedly detained 21-year-old Shaheen Dhada after she posted this status update on her Facebook:

People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh (total shutdown) for that.

Her friend Renu Srinivas, who ‘liked’ the update, was also arrested. The police took action after a complaint was made at the Palghar police station by Bhushan Sanke, a local Sena leader.

Punjab Chief of Shiv Sena, Mr. Sukhdev Sandhu, along with the other members pay tribute to Bal Thackeray. Amritsar, India. 18th November 2012. Image by Gauravjeet Singh Chhina. Copyright Demotix.

However, journalist Sreenivasan Jain reported in Twitter:

@SreenivasanJain @Viv2511 Acc. to police, girl not arrested. Someone made a complaint, they are looking into it.

Prasanto K Roy added:

@prasanto @SreenivasanJain Reportedly girls not arrested but detained under supervision in police station, charged under section 66A, IT Act @Viv2511

Section 66-A of the Indian IT act deals with messages sent via computer or communication devices which may be “grossly offensive,” have a “menacing character,” or even cause “annoyance or inconvenience”.

The Lighthouse reports:

The girls were arrested today afternoon but have been granted bail after initially being sent to judicial custody.

After effects: The girl apologized for her mistake but then it was not enough to the more than 2000 (the number seems to be exaggerated also) Shiv Sena supporters who later on attacked and ransacked her uncle’s orthopedic clinic at Palghar taluka of Thane district.

The Times of India confirmed the incident:

They (Shiv Sainik) were upset over a comment on Bal Thackeray posted on a social networking site by young Shaheen Dhada, the niece of the owner of the hospital. The sainiks, armed with iron rods and sticks, charged into the Dhada orthopedic hospital at around 9.30pm. They broke expensive hospital equipment and furniture besides vandalizing the operation theatre.

NDTV reports that some of the Shiv Sainiks who were involved in the attack were arrested. The Press Council of India has demanded “immediate” action against police personnel for arresting the girls.

Netizens were outraged. On Twitter:

@drsarosh: @indexcensorship @bdutt @dilipthecherian shaheen questioned the logic of the bandh. by arresting her is the police endorsing the bandh?

@DebSiddharth: “@harikunzru: India's latest free speech #fail. Two girls arrested for fb posts about Bal Thackeray http://t.co/1jkrBLL9” “satyameva Jayate”

@abhisekhberiwal: RT @IndexCensorship: Two women in Mumbai have been arrested for a Facebook post, why are #India's politicians afraid of social media? http://t.co/tx4mwwu5

@DarshanSays: In #India better stop using facebook and twitter.. don't know when you will be jailed.

@dotcompals: Attention Mumbai Police : I endorse Shaheen Dhada's Facebook comments . Please arrest me !

@mesushovan: Henceforth I'll only tweet …………………………. and …………………….. to avoid an arrest. Following the IT act of #India

Mr. Katju, a former judge in India’s Supreme Court, wrote an open letter to the Chief Minister of Maharastra in his blog:

To my mind it is absurd to say that protesting against a bandh hurts religious sentiments. Under Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution freedom of speech is a guaranteed fundamental right . We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship.

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