The arrest of 21-year-old Shaheen Dhada over her Facebook status update questioning the shutdown of Mumbai over Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray‘s death, is a clear misapplication of section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (“outrage religious feelings of any class”), according to Pranesh Prakash of the Centre for Internet and Society.
In comments to Firstpost, Prakash said that this law had been misused numerous times in the state of Maharashtra.
“Even the banning of James Laine’s book Shivaji happened under section 295 A, and the ban was subsequently held to have been unlawful. What makes this seem ironic, and almost a parodic news report, is the fact that Bal Thackeray probably violated this provision more times than most other politicians, but was only charged under it once or twice”, he said.
Dhada’s status update reportedly read, “People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that.” A friend of hers who ‘liked’ the comment was also arrested.
Prakash said that the arrest called for a discussion on the regulation of speech and expression. “It being a Facebook status update should not grant it any special immunity; the fact of that update not being punishable under s.295 A should! It isn’t regulation of social media that needs to be discussed, but regulation of speech and expression”, he said.
News of the arrest has understandably drawn a lot of attention on social media, and forums like Facebook and Twitter reflected outrage at the news.
The Times of India also reported that a mob of Shiv Sena workers attacked and ransacked the girl’s uncle’s orthopaedic clinic at Palghar, even though she withdrew her comment and apologised.