In an incident that has reignited the debate over free speech in India, two girls (names withheld) were arrested in Palghar near Mumbai for questioning the shutdown in the city on the day of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s funeral on a social networking site.
They were later released on bail after providing a surety of Rs15,000 each.
Ironically, the 2,000-odd Shiv Sainiks who ransacked a hospital owned by the uncle of one of the girls are still at large.
The first girl, a 21-year-old BMS student, had posted this message on her Facebook profile: “People like Thackeray take birth and die daily and people should not observe bandhs”. Her friend, a botany student who graduated this year, had simply pressed the ‘like’ button.
Incensed by the status, a mob of 2,000 Shiv Sainiks ransacked her uncle’s Palghar hospital on Sunday night. Though the girl, who belongs to the minority community, later apologised and even deleted the message, the damage was done. “The mob damaged medical equipment and even ransacked the operation theatre,” said a doctor from the hospital. Some patients were injured in the violence.
When the situation went out of control, the police were called in.
“The girls were booked under section 295(a) of the IPC for hurting religious sentiments and section 66(a) of the Information Technology Act, 2000,” said inspector Uttam Sonawane. Defense counsel Sudhir Gupta argued that the post did not incite violence and that no religious sentiments were hurt.
Bhushan Sankhe, city president, Shiv Sena, Palghar, said: “We asked the girl to apologise, but she said ‘Tumhe jo karna hai who karo, main maafi nahi maangoongi. This angered us.” He said she apologised later, but by then his partyworkers had ransacked the hospital.
The girl’s father was too shocked to comment, but a relative said she was innocent. Her friend’s father said he was in Mumbai on Sunday night and did not know what had happened.
The arrests have sparked outrage across the country. “This is nothing but criminal intimidation. Has a case been lodged against the destruction of her uncle’s clinic?” asked advocate Susan Abraham.
Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju demanded immediate action against the policemen involved. The Congress said the case against the girls was unfortunate and hoped that the Maharashtra government would take remedial measures.
Meanwhile, Dr Abdul Dhada, owner of the hospital which was ransacked, said he suffered damages worth Rs10 lakh because of the Sena vandalism. He was at Mahabaleshwar with his family when the incident took place and returned on Monday. “Dr Dhada has registered a case against 50 unknown people in connection with the violence. We are investigating the matter and will soon make arrests,” said Shrikant Pingle, police inspector Palghar police station.