Mumbai: On Sunday, a 21-year-old Mumbai woman shared her views on the shutdown of the city as Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's funeral was being held. Her friend "liked" her post. At 10.30 am on Monday, they were arrested, were ordered by a court to serve 14 days in jail and, hours later, were allowed out on bail after paying two bonds of Rs 15,000 each. (Your Say)
The woman had posted, "Respect is earned, not given and definitely not forced. Today Mumbai shuts down due to fear and not due to respect". A local Shiv Sena leader filed a police complaint and the woman and her friend who liked her post were booked under Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for "deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs."
They were later also charged under Section 505 (2) of the IPC for making "statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes", and the police added Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act, which has been severely criticised for being authoritarian and stifling freedom of expression.
The maximum sentence under these sections is three years in jail. The defence counsel for the girls told NDTV, "Their posts don't incite violence. It can't be said they have made any derogatory remarks. They don't belong to any political ideology."
Soon after the Shiv Sena leader made his police complaint, party activists allegedly vandalised an orthopaedic clinic belonging to the uncle of one of the girls, breaking window panes and flowerpots. There were two patients in the clinic at the time alleged Sainiks ransacked it. None of those who ransacked the clinic has been arrested yet.
The women were arrested by the Palghar police; Palghar is about two and half hours of travel from Mumbai. After widespread criticism and uproar, the Maharashtra Police has ordered an inquiry to be led by Sukhwinder Singh, Special Inspector General of Konkan range, into whether there is any merit in the case against the women. Sources said top cops at the police headquarters in Mumbai were livid with the Palghar police. "We have ordered an inquiry...if any further action needs to be taken the probe team will decide and send a report. On this report we will act," Deven Bharti, IG (Law and Order), Maharashtra Police said.
The women have also found very vocal support from Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju, who has demanded "immediate" action against the police personnel who arrested them. In an e-mail to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan sent this afternoon, Mr Katju has warned of "legal consequences" if the Chief Minister fails to act. "I will deem it that you as CM are unable to run the state in a democratic manner as envisaged by the Constitution to which you have taken oath and then legal consequences will follow," Justice Katju said. (Read more)
About five hours later, having not got a response, he emailed Mr Chavan again, this time telling him the "nation wants to know what action you have taken... Please realise that silence is not an option for you." (Read Justice Katju's letters to Prithviraj Chavan)
Rahul Narvekar, the head of Shiv Sena's legal cell, said, "It is for the state administration and police department to investigate complaints that are lodged. I am not aware of any complaint filed by any shakha pramukh of Shiv Sena. We will have to look into it. Uddhav Thackeray has made an appeal to the cadre to maintain peace."
The Shiv Sena leader's death on Saturday afternoon had brought the city to a virtual standstill for the weekend, with shops and other establishments shutting and taxis going off the roads, amid fears of violence by Mr Thackeray's supporters. The fears appeared unfounded, since there was no incident in Mumbai.