Shaheen Dhada, a 21-year-old student from India, was recently arrested for supposedly penning a Facebook status that "hurt and threatened religious sentiments" in the city of Mumbai. Dhada's controversial social media message complained about Mumbai shutting down its streets for the funeral of contentious Hindu nationalist politician Balasaheb Thackeray. Dhada's friend Renu Srinivasan was also arrested and placed in jail for "liking" the apparently hateful comment.
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Dhada was arrested after reportedly writing on Facebook, "Respect is earned, not given and definitely not forced. Today Mumbai shuts down due to fear and not due to respect... People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh [shutdown] for that." She also went on to say that people should remember the martyrs of the Indian independence movement. Srinivasan was also promptly placed behind bars for "liking" the post. The two young women were arrested under terms of Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code which states it is illegal to make "statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes." According to reports, local Shiv Sena chief (only identified as "Mr. Bhushan") filed the complaint against Dhadha because her comment on Facebook hurt his personal sentiments.
India court sentenced the two women to spend 14 days in jail, but both were released on bail after paying a bond of 15,000 rupees ($270).
The arrests spurred a number of protests from free-speech groups throughout the country, but the Facebook remark also deeply agitated many Thackeray supporters. Thackeray was a very controversial figure who once openly called for attacks on Muslims, and even ordered an assault on a clinic owned by Dhada' uncle. Analysts insist to the Associated Press that the arrests may have been a motive be police to discourage any further violence from Thackeray supporters.
Even so, many others are still calling for justice. Former Supreme Court judge and Press Council chairman Justice Markandey Katju fired this angry email to Maharashtra chief minister Prithvirah Chavan about the arrests on Monday (Nov. 19):
"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. In fact this arrest itself appears to be a criminal act since under sections 341 and 342 it is a crime to wrongfully arrest or wrongfully confine someone who has committed no crime.
Hence if the facts reported are correct, I request you to immediately order the suspension, arrest, charge-sheeting and criminal prosecution of the police personnel (however high they may be) who ordered as well as implemented the arrest of that woman, failing which I will deem it that you as Chief Minister are unable to run the state in a democratic manner as envisaged by the Constitution to which you have taken oath, and then the legal consequences will follow."