People’s Union for Democratic Rights strongly condemns the arrest of two facebook users, Shaheen Dhada who questioned the total shut down of Mumbai for Bal Thakeray’s funeral on Sunday, 18th November 2012, and Rini Shrinivasan, who indicated that she agrees with the post. Though they have been released on bail, the duo were initially charged under S. 295-A, IPC [outraging religious feelings] and S. 66A, IT Act [sending offensive messages through communication services etc.]. On 19th November, a rampaging mob, comprising 40-50 cadres of the Shiv Sena vandalized the clinic of Dr. Abdul Dhada, uncle of Shaheen Dhada. Despite withdrawing her post, the two were questioned by the police and arrested the following day, 20th November. Criticisms over the arrest compelled the police to modify the offence from u/s 295-A to S. 505 IPC [statement promoting and creating enmity and hatred among classes], order an internal probe into the matter and, detain a ‘few persons’ in connection with the incident of vandalism in Dr. Dhada’s clinic.
Ironically, the arrests prove the validity of the facebook comment posted by Dhada. The news media’s uncritical representation of the Mumbai shutdown after Thakeray’s death as a spontaneous one resulting from ‘respect’ is called into question by the severity of the police action against the two women. If the Palghar shakha of the Shiv Sena had not reacted as strongly to Dhada’s comment, perhaps the enforcement of the shutdown by the state machinery may never have been revealed.
Beginning with heavy police deployment when the rumour of Thakeray’s death emerged late last week, and culminating in the Mumbai Police’s call on Saturday evening to stay off roads and trains unless there is an emergency, very little of the shutdown was about ‘respect’. It was mainly about fear. Mumbai citizens chose to stay home after having been beaten into powerlessness by years of hooliganism by the Shiv Sena, acting in collusion with the state machinery.
The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental right granted to all citizens and its brazen and illegal violation by officials of the state in collusion with fascist organizations is a crime. The fact that posting a critical comment online can lead to such repression is an indication of the extent of the Shiv Sena control and clout over the state administration. It is shameful that the young women have had to withdraw their post, even apologize for it, in a place where fascist goons have legitimated, circulated and acted upon the hate speeches of Bal Thakeray and his followers.
- Immediate revocation of charges against Dhada and Shrinivasan
- Criminal proceedings against officials involved in the arrests
- Compensation to Dr. Dhada for financial losses
- Compensation to the two women for harassment and trauma
- Criminal proceedings against Shiv Sena activists involved in vandalism and intimidation.