It was a random post, didnít mean to offend, say women in FB row

In Dr Abdul Dhada's consulting room at the Dhada orthopaedic hospital, two girls with scarves wrapped tightly across their faces are seated on stools awaiting the second round of interviews of the day, their expressions inscrutable. Outside, a man with a hammer nails a battered window into its frame as the hospital returns to being functional.

During a breather between interviews, Rinu Srinivas pulls the scarf off. But Shaheen Dhada doesn't. Ever since Shaheen's Facebook post questioning the closure of Mumbai in the aftermath of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's death, and her arrest that followed, she and her friend Rinu have fielded a volley of questions ranging from what made them do it to what they would do now.

"It was a spontaneous post, I just wrote what I felt like at that time. It was not meant to offend anyone and I did not expect that the issue would become this big," Shaheen said.

"Within minutes of uploading my status message, Rinu 'liked' it. But another friend objected to it. A few family friends then came to our home and told us that what I had done was wrong and that a mob had gathered outside the hospital. I immediately apologised on Facebook but the mob demanded that I issue a written apology. The police came and said we should go to the police station and write an apology," she said.

"I found that my account was hacked and had no idea what the hacker would post in my name. I tendered an apology and deleted my account. I will, however, recreate an account later," Shaheen said.

She is brief and talks to the point, looking constantly at her uncle who fills in her silences.

"The Shiv Sena was very co-operative and did not pressure us to issue an apology. Shaheen apologised after realising that her post had offended a lot of people," said Abdul.

Both girls spent over four hours at Palghar police station Sunday night and were produced before a magistrate the following afternoon. They were given bail after paying a cash bond of Rs 15,000 each. They were initially charged under Section 295 (A) and later also under Section 505 of the IPC and Section 66 of the IT Act.

"After I saw Shaheen's post, I liked it, commented on it and shared it on my page. It was a random post yaar, I did not think it would get my family into so much trouble. I was alone at home and a friend told me that the post had caused trouble. I called up my father and we went to the police station before the mob could surround our home," said Rinu, who graduated in botany from S N Dandekar college in Palghar.

Rinu said she does not know Shaheen very well. "She was my senior in college and I don't know her so well. We aren't close friends," she said, admitting that the only thing that worries her now is her future.

"I want to study sound engineering and have applied to a private institute in Chennai. They told me to come for an interview anytime before November 30. I am a little worried about how I will attend that now," she said.

However, she has no intention of suspending her activities on Facebook. "I have deactivated my account and will activate it again some time," she said.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan took "serious cognisance" of their arrest and promised "strict action" against erring police personnel. Following public outrage, the chief minister's office had late Monday evening said the government had ordered an inquiry by the Inspector General of Police (Konkan range) and asked him to submit a report by Wednesday on the nature of the crime and the circumstances leading to the arrest of the two women. "Strict action will be taken against the defaulting personnel, in case a default is established in the inquiry," he said.

Government sources said that despite the local police officer being advised against applying Section 66 of the IT Act, action was taken against the two girls. The officer was advised by his senior not to register a criminal case in the matter. Senior police officials admitted the case did not merit the sections applied, and that it was almost a foregone conclusion that legal opinion sought as part of the inquiry would prove this.

The police officials said that, in all likelihood, a C summary report might be filed by the police stating there was no evidence against the two women. Once this is done, the women would have legal recourse to seek action against the officers who registered the case against them.

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