FB status row: Mumbai rebuffs arrests of women

Palghar
The arrest of two young girls, one of whom posted a comment on Facebook criticising the bandh after the demise of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, shocked the legal community as much as it did the public at large.

"This is scandalous and ridiculous. There is freedom of speech in this country and a person may disagree with something. It shows complete intolerance," said lawyer Mihir Desai. He represented Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist who booked for sedition, a charge that the government decided to drop later.

Officers of the Palghar police had initially invoked section 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the IPC. Director General of Police, Maharashtra, Sanjeev Dayal has ordered Inspector General (Konkan Range) Sukhwinder Singh to conduct an inquiry into the incident and submit a report by Saturday.

While Shaheen Dhada put up the post on her profile, her friend Renu Shrinivas 'liked' it, the police said.

Criminal lawyer Satish Borulkar said the police cannot arrest anyone without issuing notice as mandated in the Criminal Procedure Code and the two girls must move court for compensation for wrongful arrest. "Why were they arrested? Were they going to abscond or were they a threat to the society? This amounts to police atrocity," Borulkar said.

Senior advocate Amit Desai said the girls can seek the quashing of the FIR and compensation but they will face the stigma of arrest forever. "It is time that steps are taken against officers who exceed their powers," he said.

Some lawyers feel that comments on social networking sites can mould public opinion. "It's a matter of interpretation. Balasaheb Thackeray was a leader with mass following. Some people respected him like a God. If their religious feelings are hurt then why can't section 295 A be invoked," said a leading prosecution lawyer.

Amit Desai said, "The women were not affiliated to any political party and their critisism was mainly directed at the bandh. Their act does not amount to an offence."

Quoting Voltaire, Minister of State Milind Deora tweeted, "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise."

Musician Vishal Dadlani said, "It is a bizarre state of affair. People who post their views online are being arrested whereas corrupt and vandals roam the streets. Are we not free to have an opinion?"

Sunday

6.45 pm: Shaheen Dhada posts a Facebook status saying there was no need for a bandh for Balasaheb Thackeray's funeral. Her friend Renu Srinivas 'likes' it

7 pm: Shaheen's uncle Dr Abdul Dhada starts getting calls from all over Palghar

8 pm: A large mob gathers outside the Dhada residence. Shaheen apologises but is dragged to Palghar police station. Renu is also brought there. Shiv Sena Palghar city president Bhushan Sankhe insists on pressing charges

Monday

2 Am: Shaheen and Renu are allowed to go home after being detained for nearly four hours

7 Am: Police reach the girls' residences. Question them

10 Am: Shaheen, Renu produced in court

2 pm: Bail granted on surety of Rs 15,000 each

Curb your enthusiasm

In March, film maker Sanjay Gupta earned the wrath of Mumbai Police after he allegedly got a letterhead resembling Mumbai Police Commissionerate's designed as an invite for a promotional event. The court observed that the police had lost their sense of humour and showed "over-enthusiasm".

A city which claims to have a liberal culture, had to face the establishment after 150 patrons of a south Mumbai pub LIV were huddled in nine police vans and made to suffer at police station through the night. The Mumbai police claimed that they acted on a 'tip-off' and took action against the patrons as the place was open beyond the stipulated time of 1.30 am.

Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist, was arrested under IPC Section 124 (sedition), Section 66 A of Information Technology Act and Section 2 of Prevention of Insults to Nation Honour Act. He was later released on bail. The state told the court that the sedition charges against him would be dropped.

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