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Girls’ arrest over FB post sparks row

The arrest and later release on bail of two college-going girls who criticised the shutdown of Mumbai for the funeral of Bal Thackeray has left the Maharashtra government red-faced.

The girls—Shaheen Dhada, 22, and her friend Renu of the rural town Palghar, 104 km away from Mumbai—were taken into custody on Sunday evening for posting a comment on Mumbai shutdown, following Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death and funeral.

Shaheen and Renu were released on bail on Monday by a local court, but the issue is fast snowballing into a major controversy with Maharashtra Director-General of Police (DGP) Sanjeev Dayal ordering a probe after Press Council of India Chairman Markandey Katju dashed off a strongly worded letter to state Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan demanding strict action against the police officers concerned.

On Sunday, Shaheen Dhada commented on her social networking page: “We should remember Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev—two martyrs of India’s Independence—instead of closing down the city due to the death of Thackeray,” and her friend Renu in response stated “liked” on the page.

A local Sena leader from Palghar filed a complaint at Palghar police station which invoked Section 505 (2) (creating public enmity) and 295 (a) (hurting religious sentiments) of IPC and Section 64(a) of the Information Technology Act 2000 against the girls.

Delayed reports reaching here state that even as Shaheen and Renu were languishing in the Palghar lock-up for criticising the “bandh,” Shaheen’s uncle’s orthopaedic clinic in Palghar taluka was vandalised allegedly by Sena workers.

A case of vandalism was registered by the local police against unidentified people, even though photographs of local people running amok were presented to them.

On Monday morning, Katju requested Prithviraj Chavan to check out case details and suspend the officers who carried out arrest.

The letter sparked off a flurry of movement in the state home department with Sanjeev Dayal ordering a probe into the entire arrest episode as well as that of the vandalising of the medical clinic.

In his letter Katju wrote: “I received an email stating that the woman has been arrested for protesting on Facebook against the shutdown in Mumbai on the occasion of the death of Bal Thackeray. It is alleged that she has been arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.

“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.”

Katju’s letter further stated: “We are living in a democracy and not a fascist dictatorship. It is a crime to wrongfully arrest or wrongfully confine someone who has committed no crime.” Commenting on the issue, senior labour lawyer and secular activist Irfan Engineer stated that the arrest of the two girls is similar to the arrest of the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi made by the Mumbai (Bandra-Kurla Complex) police this year. “The arbitrary use of law by the state smacks of a deeper intention. We are heading towards a society where State would decide what should be commented upon and what should be not commented upon.”

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