A college girl has been arrested in Birati on the northern outskirts of the city for a purported Facebook post that allegedly “hurt the sentiments” of some people in the neighbourhood.
The first-year student, who police said was a minor, had apparently remarked on the outrage that exploded on social media in the wake of the terror attack in Pulwama that killed 40 CRPF troopers.
She was picked up on Saturday night and booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to “printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory”, “intentionally insulting people knowing that such provocation will lead to breakdown of public peace” and “issuing statements causing public mischief”.
If an adult is convicted of these offences, the maximum punishment is up to two years’ imprisonment.
The controversy surrounding the Facebook post started on Friday evening, when a neighbour allegedly visited the student’s home and threatened her with dire consequences. The girl got so scared that she fled home, her family said.
Hours later, close to midnight, she was found by her mother hiding in a desolate corner of a platform at Basirhat railway station, 60.2km from Birati. By that time, the girl’s home had been allegedly ransacked.
Senior officers of the Barrackpore police commissionerate declined to comment on the case. They asked this reporter to contact the local police station.
An officer at Nimta police station said the girl “surrendered” at the behest of her family. “The girl’s mother brought her to the police station to make her surrender. There was a complaint against her by a few persons from that neighbourhood. The case has been forwarded to the Juvenile Justice Board and she has been sent to a government home,” the officer said.
He could not explain how the family came to know of a case being filed over the girl’s Facebook post.
Another officer claimed that the girl had been picked up to ensure there was no further law-and-order problem in the locality.
The family could not be contacted to verify if they had gone to Nimta police station to make the girl “surrender” or to seek protection from the people who had ransacked their home.
The girl is to appear for her first semester exam in March.
“She is a first-year college student. Whatever she has written is her personal opinion. I do not think she has written anything that would attract such grievous charges that she has to be arrested. Children make mistakes, but do we have to arrest them for that?” said an official of the institution where she studies.
“I am not supporting what she has written. But a Facebook post should not jeopardise a student’s career. We are getting in touch with lawyers and will try to support her in all possible ways.”
A police officer who is part of the probe team said: “An FIR can be lodged even against a minor if he/she is a co-accused in a case. According to the complaint, she and others have been accused of the offences mentioned in the case. The section of common intention has also been added. We are investigating the charges.”
According to a senior police officer not involved in the probe, interpretation of personal opinion expressed on social media is subjective. “Before making any move, the police should be doubly sure of the merit of the case. Merely registering a case is not reason enough to arrest an individual, especially a minor.”