Mumbai, Nov. 19: Two young women were arrested in Navi Mumbai today for wondering aloud on Facebook, on the day of Bal Thackeray’s funeral, why Mumbai had to shut down because of a death.
Commerce graduate Shaheen Dhada, 21, had put up the post on Sunday afternoon as the entire city ground to a halt to let Thackeray’s funeral procession through, her lawyer Sudhir Gupta told The Telegraph.
“People are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that,” Shaheen wrote. Minutes later, her friend and batch-mate Renu Srinivasan clicked “like” in agreement.
All hell broke loose when, through friends of friends, the simple comment that echoed the feelings of many Mumbai residents reached some Shiv Sena admirers.
Two hours later, some 40 Shiv Sainiks barged into Shaheen’s uncle Abdul Dhada’s orthopaedic clinic in Palghar, where the family lives, and ransacked it. Instead of booking the vandals, the police arrested Shaheen and Renu.
First, the girls were summoned for questioning last night and had their statements recorded before being allowed to go home, possibly because women cannot be kept in a police lock-up at night without court permission. They were arrested at 10.35 this morning.
Around 3pm, the Palghar sessions court freed them on a bail bond of Rs 15,000 each.
The police would not officially confirm it but sources in the force said the arrest was made after a telephone complaint from the Sena’s Palghar chief, Bhushan Sankhe.
“Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan were initially booked under Section 295A for hurting religious sentiments and Section 64A of the Information Technology Act. Later, the charges were reframed and they were booked only under Section 505(2),” Maharashtra director-general of police Sanjeev Dayal said.
This section relates to statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes. Sources later said the girls had also been slapped with Section 66 of the IT Act.
As outrage at the arrest flooded the Internet and top lawyers slammed the move, the police responded to a counter complaint filed by Abdul Dhada.
“The police have lodged an FIR against unknown persons who ransacked Abdul Dhada’s clinic... for arson, vandalising and looting. We have ordered an inquiry. It will find out all the details of the case and check whether the police had overstepped, whether they had acted suo motu or because of the complaint and why the police did not book the rioters as well immediately,” Dayal said.
The inspector-general (Konkan region) will conduct the inquiry and send the report to Dayal by Saturday.
The police denied claims that Shaheen had named Thackeray in the post.
On Monday, Shaheen’s Facebook page had been removed but another page with her name and details had a new profile picture posted around noon — a black-and-white photograph of a girl with her lips taped.
Gupta, Shaheen’s lawyer, would not confirm whether it was a fake page or a new page opened by his client. The Dhadas remained unavailable for comment, as did Renu and her family.
Gupta said the police, who had first charged the girls under Section 295A, climbed down in court.
“The police told the court today that the case does not involve religious feelings. They informed the court they would instead book them under Section 505(2).”
Human rights lawyer Mihir Desai castigated the police, saying invoking either section against the girls was “scandalous”. “It violates the basic freedom of speech and expression which each citizen is entitled to,” Desai said.
Lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani, too, said that prima facie the case “did not appear to be a proper invocation of either section, as obviously it was just a plain observation”.